Elections Have Consequences

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Here’s a Washington item from the dead-tree issue of Time just out where I survey the rockier road ahead for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a couple of other national-security matters, in the mid-term’s wake…

Any chance that Congress would repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is fading quickly now that Republicans have retaken one chamber and reduced the margin in the other. And those lawmakers who support continuing the 17-year-old bar on openly gay men and women serving in uniform have a new champion in the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, who said on Nov. 6 that “there’s risk involved” with a sudden shift in policy while U.S. troops are fighting hard in Afghanistan. Amos fretted that ending the ban could undermine combat effectiveness— particularly for Marines who, unlike other enlisted personnel, often double up in private living quarters.

Amos’ remarks surprised Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who supports repealing the ban. Mullen didn’t begrudge Amos his opinion but complained about his airing it publicly and complicating the Pentagon’s attempt at a discreet process. Mullen explained that military leaders would review behind closed doors a recent survey of troop opinion about the proposed change. (Most don’t care.) Only then would they make their recommendations—in confidence—to President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, both of whom also support repeal. “What we’ve agreed to,” Mullen said, “is to do this privately.”

But opponents of repeal are now touting the words of Amos (who in October took over the Marine Corps from another strong ban defender, James Conway). And while Democrats came just a few Senate votes shy of overturning the ban in September, Senate Republicans—led by Arizona’s John McCain—will oppose any attempt to try again in a lame duck session of Congress later this month. Prospects for repeal will be even dimmer next year, when the new Congress is in place. That makes “Don’t ask, don’t tell” one of several national-security issues whose path is muddied by the GOP’s electoral gains. Others include a new START treaty with Russia and perhaps even planned defense spending hikes should new Tea Party members swing their budget-cutting axes at the Pentagon. “You have,” said newly elected Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul, “to look at everything.”