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DADT Sooner or Later


After President Barack Obama pledged to work with Congress and the military "this year" to "finally repeal" the military's gay ban, the question quickly became: Is this a throwaway line to score some political points or is there real power behind it?

Democratic Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, the highest-ranking veteran elected to Congress who has also worked at the Pentagon, said it was an important mandate.

"The Commander in Chief has spoken and I think you're going to see that the military is supportive of this," Sestak said. "It's a significant statement and he would not have made that statement if he had not already discussed with the military beforehand that he was going to make it."

So how much groundwork was being laid behind the scenes? It appears that the administration had been quietly laying some foundations for this announcement.

The White House got the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen to sign off on the president's language, according to The Atlantic.

"The Pentagon is with us," a White House official said.

The Advocate has also learned from a source with close ties to the Pentagon that a senior staff meeting was held this week to discuss the policy change and rein in opposition to it. Multiple outlets have reported that Marine Corps commandant General James Conway, for instance, has registered concerns about changing the policy.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the pro-repeal lobby group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the onus of lining up the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) with the president's wishes falls on Adm. Mullen. "He's the chairman - part of his job is to see if he can bring a majority of the chiefs with him on the president's stated intent to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell.'"

At next Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Authorization bill, DOD funding legislation for Fiscal Year 2011, Gates and Mullen are both expected to testify about how repeal might be executed.

"The Department leadership is actively working on an implementation plan and will have more to say about it next week," said a Defense Department spokesperson.

A source with knowledge of the Pentagon said analysts inside the building have been planning for a policy change since Obama was elected and maybe even before.

"They've been preparing for this eventuality - they war game every scenario," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But the source said exactly what Gates and Mullen will say on Tuesday regarding the policy is a mystery to most.

"This is the closest held they've kept this information in a long time," said the source, noting that leaks usually unleash a torrent of lobbying by special interest groups.

Much has been made of the fact that the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not clap when President Obama said he intended to overturn the policy, but Congressman Sestak called that neutrality par for the course.

"We are supposed to be non-political," he said of members of the military. "That's the tradition. My guess is that they did not clap because there was a conscious decision to be objective about this."

Although the JCS did applaud when Obama intimated that Iran's leaders would face "growing consequences" if they continued to isolate themselves from the international community, Sestak said that was an aberration from the norm.

He added that having Secretary Gates -- who is very respected by Republicans and Democrats alike -- applaud the line, was a very positive sign.

But the road map to repeal still has yet to be laid out and some conflicting reports have emerged.

On the morning following the address, The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson said on MSNBC that an administration official told him repeal still might not happen in 2010.

"What I heard this morning from somebody at the White House was probably not this year," he said.

Meanwhile other scenarios emerged that involved potentially softening or easing the number of discharges under the policy. Last year, President Obama asked Secretary Gates to review how the policy could be implemented differently until the law could be overturned.

But Sestak, for one, is still waiting to see the picture that emerges from the hearing on Tuesday.

"Let's make sure this is done in a timely way," he said.

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