Kristol claim that DADT is a “success” undermined by cost in “personnel and treasure”

In a Weekly Standard editorial headlined “Don't Mess With Success,” editor William Kristol approvingly cited Sen. John McCain's reference to Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) as a “successful policy” and stated that it “works pretty well at accommodating the complex demands of a war-ready military nestled in a liberal society.” Those claims are undermined by the discharge of thousands of servicemembers under the law at a cost to replace them of hundreds of millions of dollars.

From Kristol's editorial for the February 8 edition of The Weekly Standard, headlined “Don't Mess With Success”:

But, “It's the right thing to do,” said the president.

Here is contemporary liberalism in a nutshell: No need to consider costs as well as benefits. No acknowledgment of competing goods or coexisting rights. No appreciation of the constraints of public sentiment or the challenges of organizational complexity. No sense that not every part of society can be treated dogmatically according to certain simple propositions. Just the assertion that something must be done because it is in some abstract way “the right thing.”

John McCain's response to Obama's statement was that of a grown-up: “This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.” Whatever its muddled origins and theoretical deficiencies, the fact is “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” works pretty well at accommodating the complex demands of a war-ready military nestled in a liberal society.

Thousands of servicemembers fired under policy, including decorated officers and those with “critical occupations”

Award-winning Joint Forces Quarterly essay: DADT “has had a significant cost in both personnel and treasure.” In an essay published in the 4th quarter 2009 issue of Joint Forces Quarterly - which is “published for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University” -- Col. Om Prakash wrote that DADT “has had a significant cost in both personnel and treasure,” while “the stated premise of the law -- to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness -- is not supported by any scientific studies.” Prakash further wrote:

If one considers strictly the lost manpower and expense, DADT is a costly failure. Proponents of lifting the ban on homosexuals serving openly can easily appeal to emotion given the large number of people lost and treasure spent -- an entire division of Soldiers and two F-22s.

Prakash's essay won the 2009 Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition.

13,500 service members -- including decorated officers -- reportedly fired under DADT. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a “non-partisan, non-profit, legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by” DADT, “More than 13,500 service members have been fired under the law since 1994.” Decorated servicemembers are among those who have been or are in the process of being discharged. For example:

  • Victor Fehrenbach. In an August 3, 2009, article on Fehrenbach, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force currently in the process of being discharged under DADT, The Washington Post reported that he “has nine Air Medals, including one for heroism under fire during an enemy ambush near Baghdad in 2003” and “during 18 years of service has flown combat missions in F-15E fighters and other aircraft over Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia.”
  • Steve Loomis. According to CBS News, Loomis was discharged under DADT as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force after receiving two Bronze Stars (one for heroism), a Purple Heart, and four “meritorious service awards.”
  • Margaret Witt. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Witt, who was discharged under DADT as a major in the Air Force after 18 years as a nurse, had received the Air Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
  • Jenny Kopfstein. According to a biography posted on SLDN's website, Kopfstein was discharged under DADT as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the Navy, after having received “numerous awards, including the Navy Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation (2), Battle 'E' Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal (2), Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Navy Expert Rifle Medal, Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal, and Surface Warfare Qualification Breast Insignia.”
  • David Hall. According to a biography posted on SLDN's website, Hall was discharged under DADT as a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force, after having received “numerous awards including the Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Air Force Training Ribbon, NCO Professional Military Education Ribbon, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Ward, Air Force Good Conduct Medal and Distinguished Graduate of Airman Leadership School.”

2005 GAO report: More than 750 fired servicemembers had “critical occupations.” “Servicemembers with critical occupations were separated for homosexual conduct from fiscal year 1994 through fiscal year 2003. Examples of critical occupations, as defined by the military services, include 'voice interceptor,' 'data processing technician,' and 'interpreter/translator.' The occupations most frequently cited as 'critical,' that is, eligible for selective reenlistment bonuses are listed in appendix III. (See table 9.) We found that 757 (about 8 percent) of the 9,488 servicemembers discharged for homosexual conduct during this time period held critical occupations.” [General Accounting Office report, issued February 2005]

2005 GAO report: Servicemembers with “Some Proficiency in an 'Important Foreign Language'” fired under DADT. According to the GAO report, from fiscal years 1994 through 2003, 209 servicemembers who attended the Defense Language Institute to study an “Important Foreign Language” were fired under DADT; 98 had achieved “proficiency scores.” 54 of the fired DLI attendees had studied Arabic; 20 of those had achieved “proficiency scores.”

Report: Almost 4,000 additional LGB military personnel each year would have been retained if they could serve openly. According to a March 2007 estimate by Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA law focused on sexual orientation law and public policy, “an average of nearly 4000 LGB [lesbian, gay, and bisexual] military personnel each year on active duty or in the guard or reserves would have been retained if they could have been more open about their sexual orientation.”

Studies: Servicemembers fired under policy cost hundred of millions of dollars to replace

GAO put financial cost of training and recruiting servicemembers fired under policy replacements at more than $190 million through fiscal 2003. “The total costs of DOD's homosexual conduct policy cannot be estimated because DOD does not collect relevant cost data on inquiries and investigations, counseling and pastoral care, separation functions, and discharge reviews. However, DOD does collect data on recruitment and training costs for the force overall. Using these data, GAO estimated that, over the 10-year period, it could have cost DOD about $95 million in constant fiscal year 2004 dollars to recruit replacements for servicemembers separated under the policy. Also, the Navy, Air Force, and Army estimated that the cost to train replacements for separated servicemembers by occupation was approximately $48.8 million, $16.6 million, and $29.7 million, respectively.” [General Accounting Office report, issued February 2005]

Blue ribbon commission: Total cost of implementing DADT at least $368.8 million through fiscal 2003. A blue ribbon commission which included former Defense Secretary William J. Perry that was convened by University of California at Santa Barbara's Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM, now the Palm Center) found in a February 2006 report that the “lower-bound estimate” for “the cost of implementing” DADT from fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 2003 was $363.8 million. The commission wrote of the GAO's report:

The Commission has found that GAO made several errors in compiling and processing its data. In particular, (1) GAO did not incorporate into its estimate any value that the military recovered from gay and lesbian service members prior to their discharge; (2) GAO omitted various costs such as the costs of training officers that could have been included; and (3) GAO used various unrealistic figures in its estimates. For example, even though GAO itself reported in a 1998 study that the average cost to train each enlistee was $28,800, in the current study GAO accepted the Army's claim that its average cost to train an enlisted service member is $6,400.

As discussed throughout this report and in the section on future research, we were not able to correct for all of the deficiencies in GAO's report. For example, similar to GAO, we were unable to obtain reliable data for some cost categories such as the cost of recruiting officers. That said, we were able to correct for what we believe were the most important oversights in GAO's methodology, both in terms of GAO's overestimations and underestimations of the actual cost of implementing “don't ask, don't tell.” In particular, we were able to (1) estimate the value that the military recovered from gay and lesbian service members prior to their discharge, and credit the military with this value, hence lowering the overall estimate of the costs of implementation; (2) include various costs that GAO omitted such as the cost of training officers; and (3) use more realistic figures based on publicly-available data including GAO and Pentagon data.

Kristol also pushes conservative canard that DADT repeal would affect “unit morale and cohesion”

From Kristol's column:

There is no basic right to serve in the military. That's why forms of discrimination we would ban in civilian life are permitted: Women have less opportunity to fight than men. The disabled are discriminated against, as are the short, the near-sighted, and the old.

Advocates of repeal will say sexual orientation is irrelevant to military performance in a way these attributes are not. But this is not clearly true given the peculiar characteristics of military service.

We'll hear a lot, as the debate moves forward, about gay Arabic translators being discharged from military service. A decision to separate from the military someone who is sitting in an office in Northern Virginia may look silly. But the Obama Defense Department is entirely free to ensure that those men and women continue to use their skills to serve their country in those same offices as civilians. And translators who are uniformed members of the military are subject to the usual demands of training and deployment, so the questions about the effect of open homosexuals on unit morale and cohesion in training and combat situations remain relevant.

Studies indicate that decisions to lift gay bans in other countries and allow open service have not undermined “morale or unit cohesion.” In his essay, Prakash writes of DADT that “the stated premise of the law -- to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness -- is not supported by any scientific studies.” Indeed, as Media Matters for America has documented, at least 25 nations - including more than a dozen North America Treaty Organization member countries - allow openly gay people to serve in their armed forced. Multiple studies of the impact of the decisions to lift bans on gays and lesbians serving openly in those countries have indicated that, in the words of one General Accounting Office report, “the inclusion of homosexuals in their militaries has not adversely affected unit readiness, effectiveness, cohesion, or morale.”