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Separating facts from spin in the Pentagon’s DADT report

The Washington Post takes a look at the two authors of the Pentagon’s report about the armed forces’ attitudes toward gays in the military. They are Jeh Johnson and Army Gen. Carter Ham.
I have some familiarity with Johnson. He was a partner in a prominent New York law firm and an activist in Democratic politics, including presidential campaigns. President Obama named him General Counsel of the Defense Department. He has never served in the military.
Johnson’s stellar advocacy skills and his status as a partisan liberal made him an ideal candidate, from the Obama administration’s perspective, to write the Pentagon report. Obama, it seems to me, has always viewed the question of whether to repeal DADT as at least in part an ideological one.
From my perspective, by contrast, Johnson was a poor choice, notwithstanding his distinguished legal career. For me, the question of whether to repeal DADT depends entirely on facts (albeit facts that are not easy to determine). If repeal can be accomplished at no appreciable cost to the military’s ability to fight, then DADT should be repealed instantly. Otherwise it should not be repealed.
It follows that the Pentagon report should have written exclusively by (1) people who have served extensively in the military and (2) non-partisans. Johnson fails to meet either criteron.
I’m not familiar with Gen. Ham, though he obviously meets the first criterion. According to the Post, he has said, “If I didn’t believe what’s in that report, I wouldn’t have signed it.” That should go without saying. For Ham to say it suggests a fair amount of defensiveness. I suspect that, to a considerable extent, Johnson drove this report.
Fortunately, the report includes a purely empirical component — the responses of members of the military to certain questions. The responses by those who do the actual fighting for our country should give no comfort to those who favor repeal. 48 percent of those in combat units and 58 percent of those in Marine combat units fear that repeal would affect their combat readiness.
Johnson and Ham attempt to explain away this problem by asserting that these responses are driven by “by misperceptions and stereotypes.” In other words, half of our warriors are plagued by false consciousness. This, of course, is the authors’ opinion; the statistics about how our warriors responded are facts. If the authors were prepared to dismiss the responses, perhaps they shouldn’t have asked the question. That way, they wouldn’t have been told.
Johnson and Ham say the concerns expressed by those in combat units are “not consistent with the reported experiences of many service members.” But these reported experiences have occurred in the context of the DADT policy. The question addressed to service members pertained to a world without DADT.
Moreover, Johnson and Ham discussion of “the reported experiences of many service members” strikes me as less reassuring than they suppose. The survey found that 69 percent of respondents said they had served with someone in their unit who they believed to be gay or lesbian. Of those who did, 92 percent stated that their unit’s ability to work together was very good, good, or neither good nor poor. Again, serving with someone believed to be gay isn’t the same thing as serving with someone who is openly gay and free from the constraints imposed DADT. And a unit whose ability to work together is “neither good nor poor” is not a unit our military should settle for.
The report’s core finding is that ending the ban probably would bring about disruption to unit cohesion and retention, but that the authors do not “believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting.” Again, the finding about disruption to unit cohesion and retention seems solidly rooted in the data. The belief that the disruption will be isolated and short-lived is an opinion, and arguably a leap of faith.
That belief may prove to be correct — if put to the test, I certainly hope it is. But I don’t see the sense in taking that risk in a time of war.
What we now know from the survey is this — the closer one gets to harm’s way, the more problems one has with ending DADT. So this looks like a case of non-warriors imposing their values on those who are risking their lives to defend the country.
I can imagine a situation where this might be appropriate. We wouldn’t want the attitudes of our combat troops to result in a ban on the service of African-Americans or, for that matter, gays. But DADT doesn’t impose such a ban.
Thus, given the survey results, as opposed to the spin offered by Johnson and Ham, the Pentagon’s report should not be seen as supporting an end to DADT. At a minimum, Congress needs more than a few days of hearings to digest the report and decide this question for itself, upon careful reflection.

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