Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Presidential Management of Complex Issues

There is an interesting piece by Josh Gerstein (on Politico) regarding the Obama administration’s difficulties with DADT. According to Gerstein:

Obama’s current predicament is a result of a collision between a go-slow White House strategy that deferred to Pentagon and military leaders on the pace of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the progress of a stuttering federal lawsuit that a small group of gay Republicans filed more than six years ago.

The Obama White House, led in large part by Clinton veteran Rahm Emanuel, sought to avoid a showdown with the military over the issue. Particularly as Obama, a relative neophyte on national security, faced critical decisions on Iran and Afghanistan, he didn’t want the process derailed by the culturally freighted gays-in-the-military fight.

“The part of this that was smart was that they figured the only way to get this done was to get the Pentagon’s buy-in. That is informed by the Clinton experience,” Socarides said. “You cannot outsmart the Pentagon on this kind of thing.”

Of course, now the courts have forced the administration’s hand and it will be interesting to see how much our first African American president is willing to invest in maintaining a set of discriminatory practices that he has explicitly rejected.

I have no sympathy for the administration on this one.  Candidate Obama struck an unambiguous position on DADT on the campaign trail (and in my mind, the correct one). And although legislative action appears necessary to end DADT, the president could have issued an executive order ending separations on the basis of sexual orientation. It should have been done on day one of his administration.

What seems ironic to me, is that the “go slow White House strategy” with its focus on consultation, investigation, and consensus building might have been quite appropriate for major initiatives including health care and financial reform. In the first case, there was little interest in building a coalition that would have been sufficiently strong to guarantee the long-term success of the policy. In the second case, there was little interest in waiting for the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to complete its work and submit its report (as required by Congress) on 15 December 2010. Both of these critical issues are highly complex, requiring one to make sense of a complicated labyrinth of existing policies, institutions and dynamics. In the end, both were driven by the political calendar with complete disregard for the need to get things right.

On the far simpler issue of ending discrimination, the administration has endless patience.

 

 

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