Friday, December 03, 2010

Arguing Repeal: Why "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Must Go

As we make our way towards the end of the Lame Duck session – and our last chance to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for a long time – it is important that we ramp up our efforts to lobby our senators to support repeal. But telling them you want repeal isn’t enough: you must demonstrate that there are solid, legitimate reasons behind repealing the policy.

I argue that there are five main reasons why “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” must be repealed as soon as possible: these reasons are fiscal responsibility, national security, military cohesion, equal protection, and respect for our military. Take a look at the arguments below; arm yourselves with knowledge. Then, pick up the phone and call the key Senate swing voters, and tell the aide who picks up exactly why “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” needs to be repealed.

Fiscal Responsibility
Opponents of repeal argue that implementing repeal will cost a lot of money. However, let us not forget that implementing the policy itself costs us a lot of money. A Williams Institute study released earlier this year asserts that approximately half a billion dollars were spent on the policy through 2008, or upwards of $33 million per year. This includes a cost of $22,000 to $43,000 to replace each discharged soldier. So while repeal implementation may be costly, it will eventually pay for itself. Fiscal conservatives should be delighted by the fact that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal provides an easy way to reduce our deficit.

National Security
Opponents of repeal argue that implementing repeal, particularly when we are at war, is a national security risk. Actually, the truth is quite the opposite: that continuing repeal while we are at war is a national security risk. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, around 14,000 soldiers have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since its inception in 1994. That’s more than 1/10 of the number of soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan, including the “surge.” What’s more, 750 soldiers who were labeled “mission-critical” have been discharged because of this policy (that’s through 2003; I would give a more recent number if I had one). When we’re discharging thousands of soldiers during a time of war, we have to seriously consider the legitimacy of such a policy. And when hundreds of mission-critical soldiers are being lost because of something that has nothing to do with their performance, we need to acknowledge the fact that we are putting upon ourselves a significant national security risk. For the sake of our national security, we must end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as soon as possible.

Military Cohesion
John McCain seems obsessed with the notion of “unit cohesion.” He believes that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will have profoundly negative effects on unit cohesion (a term so vague that it’s almost sort of impossible to debate about). But if cohesion means that every soldier in the unit has respect for one another and “has each other’s backs,” then I would say repeal would be very good for cohesion. What’s better for a unit than for every soldier to be open and honest with one another? In order to work well with someone, there can’t be lies, deceit, and issues of trust and discretion. To be open about who you are is

Equal Protection
The United States Constitution guarantees equal rights under the law (see, for example, the various clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment). When Judge Virginia Phillips ruled DADT unconstitutional two months ago, she asserted that the plaintiffs, the Log Cabin Republicans, "established at trial that Don't Ask, Don't Tell Act irreparably injures servicemembers by infringing their fundamental rights." The policy, she said, violates servicemembers’ due process rights, freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment. Phillips is right: our constitution was created to protect people, particularly minorities, from government tyranny; “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” clearly violates servicemembers’ rights. To support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is to support a policy that directly goes against our constitution and the founding principles thereof.

Respect for the Military
It is important that we respect those who serve in our military, even if we do not agree with the wars they are fighting. These are individuals who are prepared and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country: all Americans who wish to serve their country in this way should be, at the very least, respected for their decision to do so. It is estimated that at least 66,000 gays and lesbians are currently serving in the military, or about 2% of all military personnel. To put it simply, those who wish for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to remain in effect demonstrate a sheer lack of respect and appreciation for 2% of the military. That is unacceptable. We must respect everyone who is willing to wear the uniform with pride; let us treat each and every servicemember with the same level of respect.

Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark): 202-224-4843
Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark): 202-224-2353
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine): 202-224-2523
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.): 202-224-4814
Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.): 202-224-6244
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): 202-224-6665
Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine): 202-224-5344
Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio): 202-224-3353

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