When it comes to internal rules for the U.S. military, the Obama administration is not going to be wishy-washy. The armed forces will be given, well, marching orders.
When it comes to external relations, however, the opposite will be true. In keeping with pledges to do so, the administration has seated America as just another nation at the table, open to ideas and putting consensus-building ahead of saber rattling.
The internal rules have Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., almost apoplectic.
Specifically, in the House-approved repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rules that date to the Clinton administration, Wicker says White House operatives failed even to keep their own promises.
President Obama, as a candidate, had called for ending the policy that allowed gay men and women in the military, forbade them to disclose their sexual orientation and stopped inquiries about sexuality.
Knowing that, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, kept on from the Bush presidency, started trying to find out how to bring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to an end.
“Gates recommended against any legislative action until the review was complete,” Wicker said of the official repeal now pending in the Senate, “but after being called to a closed-door meeting days ago at the White House, the secretary reversed his position stating he would accept a legislative repeal as long as it does not take effect before the department’s review is finished. This is not a true compromise and means that the policy will be repealed, regardless of review findings or the wishes of our troops.”
With deference to the senator, the “wishes of the troops” have never been a controlling factor. There was no poll of the rank and file in 1948, for example, when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 formalizing desegregation of the military.
Rush to judgment
Still, Wicker believes there has been a rush to judgment that has more to do with fall elections than equal rights for gays in military service.
“There is no compelling national security reason for this change during this time of war,” he wrote. “In fact, I think a lot of Americans would conclude that the only thing that has changed is the politics.”
Obama has been under pressure from gay groups for not delivering during his first year and a half as president. Wicker indicated Obama wants to hand these organizations a win before November voting. The president knows, Wicker said, that if he doesn’t, a repeal will likely be more difficult to pass.
Another matter in the pending defense authorization bill also drew outrage from Wicker. It would require abortions be offered at all military health care facilities.
“Since the mid-1990s, attempts to change this law have been rejected repeatedly,” Wicker said. “Regardless of their views on whether abortion is ever justified, the vast majority of Americans agree that taxpayer dollars should not subsidize such controversial procedures. It is a moral failure of this Congress if allowed to remain in the bill.”
External considerations – where America will sit on the world stage – did not draw comments from Wicker, but also formalize Obama’s previous statements about how he wants the United States viewed by other nations.
His ideas become official policy in what’s called the National Security Strategy, a voluminous work each administration is required to write and publish.
Though very few people ever wade through its arcane and boilerplate provisions, Obama’s version, taken as a whole, reflects this nation becoming a respectful partner.
Again, this is not surprising because the president has characterized America as a bully time and again. It was the first President Bush who talked about creating a “kinder, gentler era,” but it is this president who seems to believe it can happen if we increase our diplomacy and stand down our military.
Buzz words are plentiful in the document completed last month. Michael Gerson of The Washington Post picked out a few: “A new international architecture,” building “partnerships with new centers of influence,” working in “multilateral fora,” breaking down “old habits of suspicion,” to “synchronize our actions” in “shaping an international order” that will “modernize the infrastructure for international cooperation.”
Doublespeak is in the document, too, such as a pledge that America will always act in consultation with other nations except when it decides to act alone.
In something of a novelty, Obama’s update also includes domestic topics such as affordable health care as a security matter.
People tend to regard this president as taking completely new approaches. The fact is that he’s not. Many of his predecessors have also put their faith in increased diplomacy and decreased muscle. It sounds great. The only problem is that it hasn’t worked – yet.
Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.