There’s a similarity between the state of play on the issue of Middle East peace and the state of play on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In both cases, a consensus has formed about how the issue should be resolved, but those who will be asked most directly to live with the resolution don’t like it.
In the case of the Middle East, we often hear from members of the foreign policy elite that “everyone has known for a long time what the solution is.” Yet the solution – two states with borders very similar to those that existed in 1967, etc. – has not been adopted by the parties. Why? Because the Palestinians don’t like the solution and, knowing that the Palestinians don’t like it, the Israelis don’t see it as a real solution.
Similarly, the liberal elite has long been convinced that DADT should be repealed. Now, some polls suggest, the public at large has come around to that view. The problem is that, according to data contained in the recent Pentagon report, half or more of those who actually put their life on the line engaging in combat on behalf of this country have serious reservations about ending DADT.
Just as with the Middle East, this state of play drives some liberals crazy. To get a sense of this, one need only read the Washington Post’s coverage of the issue. In the Post’s latest offering, Philip Rucker and Ed O’Keefe seem beside themselves over congressional resistance to ending DADT:
This was supposed to be the year that the law banning gays from serving openly in the military would be repealed. President Obama and the top Pentagon brass made clear their distaste for “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Polling suggests the nation has moved past it. The Democrats who control Congress, as well as some Republicans, are ready to overturn it. And last week a final potential obstacle was removed when an exhaustive Pentagon study found little risk in undoing the law.
Yet with the lame-duck session of Congress hurtling toward a chaotic close, the effort to repeal the policy is in peril. (Emphasis added)
Unfortunately, Rucker and O’Keefe are not sufficiently honest to acknowledge the sticking point. While touting the Pentagon study, they do not mention the fact, documented in the study, that a huge number of those in the military who do the real fighting think their units will be less effective if they operate with openly gay comrades. Thus, although Rucker and O’Keefe call the situation a “classic Washington tale of competing priorities and shifting political realities” (whatever that means), the problem for proponents of repeal isn’t Washington, it’s Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever else the U.S. deploys combat troops.
More fundamentally, the problem for repeal proponents lies in the values of the portion of our society that produces a disproportionately large number of our combat troops. As Victor Davis Hanson points out, that portion of society is “more southern, more Christian, more traditional and nationalistic” than the general population. And the warriors we produce are “exceptional in comparison with [their] European counterparts, especially in [their] eagerness to accept hazardous combat assignments.”
Our more liberal precincts are not producing their share of warriors. Indeed, as Hanson also observes, our truly liberal precincts have long been, at best, ambivalent about the military for reasons unrelated to DADT. Thus, we take a major risk in terms of unit cohesion and recruitment if we override the values of our warrior class, in favor of more liberal values, in the spaces where the warriors work, fight, and sleep.
The forces pushing for repeal understand why Congress would be reluctant to take this risk. That’s why the Obama administration made sure that Jeh Johnson, a liberal political appointee and stellar trial lawyer who has never served in the military, was one of the two individuals responsible for producing the Pentagon report. It knew that a good deal of partisan spin would likely be required. It’s also why the report was leaked to the Washington Post well before publication. The hard data in the report undercuts the case for repeal, so proponents of repeal needed to get their spin out in advance, via the ever-helpful liberal reporters at the Post.
However, there is (to return to my initial comparison) an important difference between the state of play in the Middle East and the DADT state of play. In the Middle East, it’s unlikely that the attitudes of the parties who would have to live with the consensus “solution” are going to change in the foreseeable future. Hatred of Israel remains an ingrained part of mainstream Palestinians thinking, and is part of the everyday instruction of Palestinian school children.
By contrast, attitudes towards homosexuals are evolving fairly quickly throughout this land. Thus, while the liberal lame duck Congress offers proponents a clear chance to repeal DADT, this will not be their last clear chance.