Yep, the Joint Chiefs Blew It on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Military leaders who opposed 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal should be held accountable.

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Despite mountains of evidence by then that U.S. military units which already contained openly gay troops did not exhibit a deterioration in unit cohesion, morale, and combat readiness; despite protestations by allied military leaders whose forces were fighting and dying in combat alongside our own troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that the presence of openly gay troops had no negative impact within their ranks; and despite any affirmative evidence to support their hypothesis of degraded readiness, the drumbeat of doom and gloom coming from the service chiefs grew louder and louder as 2010 went on and as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Repeal Acts moved forward in the House and Senate. The most vocal opponent of this policy change, Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos, even went as far as to shockingly suggest that repeal could lead to "distractions" that might result in Marines losing limbs in combat. This represented a moral low point in the opposition's tactics to artificially obstruct this policy change, and the commandant's crossing of such a line significantly eroded confidence in his judgment and leadership abilities among many Marines with whom I spoke at the time.

Given the gravity of the claims made about the impact of this policy change, especially compared with the complete lack of any negative impact within the force after the change was made anyway, much less such a grave impact, some form of severe professional accountability should be in order for such a severe shortfall in "professional military judgment" on a major policy issue. There is good reason to offer deference to senior military leaders on highly technical defense policy considerations or the specialized and unique conditions of military service. But because so much trust is placed in these statutory advisors by our nation's most important civilian decision makers and even by unaccountable judicial officers, the consequences for misuse of this power or severe errors in judgment must be certain and severe. Without such accountability, we are inviting this to happen again in the future. As a former president, who was also accused of a severe error in judgment, once said, "Fool me once… shame on you. Fool me… you can't get fooled again."

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