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February 16, 2010

75% of Americans, including Dick Cheney, believe DADT should go, but experts fear Pentagon will mismanage policy change

Post-ABC News poll last week found that 75 percent of Americans favor letting gay people serve openly in the military. This compares with just 44 percent when the poll asked the question in 1993, reports the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson:

Those in favor of tolerance include 64 percent of Republicans -- along with bigger majorities of Democrats and independents -- and, in what may be the poll's most significant finding, 81 percent of adults under 30. In other words, abandoning the policy has overwhelming support in the age group that the nation depends on to enlist in the all-volunteer armed forces. 

Just how much the politics of DADT has changed was underscored this past weekend when Dick Cheney said "it's time to reconsider the policy."  As Robinson reports, Cheney observed, "I think the society has moved on. I think it's partly a generational question."

Nonetheless, according to the Palm Center at UC-Santa Barbara, a think tank devoted to issues of the military and sexual orientation, experts are expressing heightened concern about the rationale for a new Pentagon study group on gays in the military:

According to Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America, “Political and military leaders are saying that unless we study the feelings of straight troops, the Pentagon won't know how to manage the sensitive transition to an inclusive policy.  But the 1993 RAND report and other studies conclude that the way to implement this kind of change is to do it quickly and simply, and that if it’s done this way, and with the full support of senior leadership, it will be a smooth transition.” 

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said this month that it would be “stupid” to “impose a policy from the top without any regard for the views of the people who were going to be affected.” Frank agreed it is important to consult the troops but distinguished between consulting and asking permission. “The military is a top-down institution for a reason,” he said. “The risk here is that political obstructionists will exploit whatever the troops say.”  

“Ironically,” said Palm Center director Aaron Belkin, "the Pentagon is doing the one thing that the research says not to do if you want to minimize problems, which is to drag the process out and act like it is fragile.  That's exactly how the 1993 conversation turned toxic.”


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