Obama needs to keep his word on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

At Daily Kos and VetVoice, Brandon Friedman of VoteVets brings us the news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has authorized a new pilot program allowing the armed forces to recruit “up to 1,000 foreigners who have lived in the states legally for at least two years” and who have medical and language skills that are “vital to the national interest.”

As Friedman points out, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy led to 3,715 troops being discharged between 2002 and 2006. Clearly, many of those people had been trained as doctors, nurses and linguists. (Friedman profiles one person who falls into each category.) In 2007 alone, 58 gay Arabic-language speakers were forced to leave the U.S. armed forces.

It makes no sense for the military to recruit foreigners to do jobs Americans are willing and able to do. Barack Obama has promised to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Aubrey Sarvis, who heads the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, says he is confident Obama will keep that promise. But last month Sarvis indicated Obama may wait several months or even until 2010 before asking Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Whether a delay is smart politics is debatable. Perhaps finding consensus on other issues first is important. Perhaps packaging the repeal as part of a larger bill on military staffing makes sense. Punting this move until an election year may or may not be wise. Although a majority of Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, the issue has the potential to rile up the Republican base.

But the need for the military to have sufficient skilled personnel should trump all political arguments. If Obama is serious about being pragmatic (putting policy above political considerations), then he and his defense secretary cannot justify recruiting foreigners to do jobs Americans can do. Remember, these medical and language skills are “vital to the national interest.”

Your move, President-elect Obama.  

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