Friday, June 12, 2009

Why is Obama not implementing DADT? I think the price of doing it is too high.

A lot of Obama supporters have been very upset that he did not direct the military to eliminate Don't Ask. Don't Tell. It is costing him popularity on the left. What hasn't he removed that policy? This is my opinion regarding why he hasn't done so. The key is that he wants to pass Health Care Reform, and can't afford any outside political fights that build the political power of his opponents up. It will be the fight of the century as is, going up against more entrenched power than almost anything else he might want. So look at who is the real power defending DADT.

Personally I think the main defenders of the DADT are the majority of the top flag officers in the Pentagon. There's a lot of other who object, but the top Pentagon flag officers are the ones with the greatest political power to thwart what Obama wants done.

The reason the Pentagon flag officers are being catered to is because the Pentagon is absolutely critical to the conduct of the current two wars. But it's more than that. As LtC. John Nagl pointed out in his book (strongly recommended), we Americans have a cultural binary attitude towards how we fight wars. When at peace the civilians run things and when America is at war we turn the operation of the war over to the military. Since the Civil War. This has only becpome more true since the 1860's. Now fighting a total war has involved the entire American society beyond just the military, and we essentially give the generals the power to mobilize the nations to fight. So since the generals have the wartime power to mobilize American society they are using their power to protect the military. This is widely politically accepted and contributed to winning WW II.

The Pentagon Flag officers are very savvy politically and would not be where they are without understanding how to use the power the Pentagon has in American politics. It was and remains their job to make sure that American society supports the war effort. So why do they believe that gays in the military are such a threat to their institutions?

Those men - the flag officers - grew up when I did, and the greatest horror of a straight teenage boy in those days was to be accused of being homosexual. It was an accusation that could not be defended against and it would destroy your social life. Add to that the hyper-sensitivity of teenage boys to social opinion, and almost every male of that age is extremely sensitive to male homosexuality.

Then these generals and admirals all are the same people who entered the hyper masculine world of the military and adapted better than almost anyone else there. They have lived very successfully in that world now for over three decades and they "know" how it works. The military is also a closed society, with relatively few social contacts to the outside society. Those contacts that exist are carefully controlled.

Finally, within the Pentagon and in the American military world those men collectively and to a great extend personally have close to total authority over everything in life. They are also each personally responsible for the effectiveness and efficiency of the military as fighting forces. Even if they are not personally homophobic they "know" that homosexuality is likely to disrupt the efficient functioning of the military in combat. And remember, combat is something they have not personally experienced at the grunt level since Vietnam. This intuition-base- on-experience in long past conditions is a standard flaw (or benefit, depending on the current conditions) in the intuition of all CEO's of big organizations. When the environment changes their intuitive view of what is importantgenerally does not. Correct decisions under changed outside circumstances one has not experienced personally are more difficult. Add to that that introducing major new social conditions to the military gets people killed until everyone figures out how to deal with the changes. History has repeatedly proven that. The military can easily adapt to new technology these days but new social systems are still a major and unpredictable threat.

So we have flag officers who are seriously adverse to accepting social changes for very good reasons. They are also charged with protecting the military from unpredictable changes and have very good reasons for that attitude. They are also in effective charge of a lot of political levers they properly do not hesitate to use to protect the institutions of the military. So how do those levers of power over civilian society work?

An example of the political power the generals at the Pentagon have was General William Westmoreland. He was quite aware that LBJ wanted to pass Medicare, something that was as highly unpopular with the right wing as health care is today. But LBJ was not sending increased troops to Vietnam to support Westy's strategy of attrition against the Viet Cong. So Westy very publicly demanded that LBJ increase troop strength to half a million men so Westy could fight a war of attrition. Had LBJ not caved to the demand we still wouldn't have Medicare or the Civil Rights Law. LBJ knew it, but the General had him over a barrel.

Similarly the flag officers have effective control over many of the Senators and Congresspersons who have major military expenditures in their states or districts. Those areas with military bases, for example, tend to have very conservative representatives. The military caters to such politicians and carefully provides them the pork they need to get reelected. This gives the Pentagon a lot of power in Congress, power that can be used to thwart a President.

The upshot is that Obama is in much the same position as LBJ was. Obama wants Health care to pass, and the flag officers are using that to demand that he not scrap DADT as the (a?) price of them supporting his efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are probably doing it more for the efficient operations of the military than for personal bias, because inefficiencies in the military during combat cause unnecessary deaths. Their intuition on the effects of inefficiencies in the military is spot on.

I am, by the way, fully aware that Obama is on public record opposing gay marriage. But he is a politician first, and a superb one. If there were a powerful Washington political bloc that wanted gay marriage and he needed their support for something he considered important it is my opinion that he would scrap DADT for them in a heartbeat. But if DADT were to cost political power points going into the health care bill as this does, he is also fully aware that Gays in the Military cost Bill Clinton a lot of power and built up his enemies prior to the last effort to pass universal health care. Obama's biggest priority is the health care bill, and I agree with him. DADT isn't going away, the efforts to eliminate it will only grow as the ancients die off and the younger people age, so the priority right now is the health care bill. Universal health care has been stalled for over 70 years.

That is why I do not think that DADT has a chance of being repealed this year. There is too much against it, and I doubt seriously that not repealing it is something Obama feels strongly about. Such an action is just too dangerous to what is much more important right now.

Like any historical argument, I can't prove this one, but I find it fits the facts.

Addendum 6/13/2009 4:40pm CDT
Something that had not occurred to me yesterday. Obama's positions on Gay Marraige and DADT are squarely in the mainstream of Washington, D.C. villager thought. For the Republicans to attack him on them, they have to step outside of mainstream thought for the villagers and for the mainstream media.

That's a great position for Obama to have the Republicans in. For them to attack Obama, they isolate themselves. They build no power credits. Since my thesis is that everything Obama is doing right now is geared towards passing health care reform, he is minimizing the political strength his opponents can have.

Once the health care battle is over, Obama will have Presidential power credits to spend on other issues. At that time, if DADT and Gay Marriage are not part of the issues he addresses, then it seems likely to me that he can be influenced by public opinion. Not before.

I have no inside information, of course. I am entirely speculating. But this makes sense to me.

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