Elisabeth Bumiller provides a tick-tock on a White House meeting about gays in the military, showing President Obama as the driving force behind repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

President Obama and top Pentagon officials met repeatedly over the past year about repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law that bans openly gay members of the military.

But it was in Oval Office strategy sessions to review court cases challenging the ban — ones that could reach the Supreme Court — that Mr. Obama faced the fact that if he did not change the policy, his administration would be forced to defend publicly the constitutionality of a law he had long opposed.

As a participant recounted one of the sessions, Mr. Obama told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that the law was “just wrong.” Mr. Obama told them, the participant said, that he had delayed acting on repeal because the military was stretched in two wars and he did not want another polarizing debate in 2009 to distract from his health care fight.

But in 2010, he told them, this would be a priority. He got no objections.

This sets the stage for tomorrow’s Senate Armed Services hearing on DADT, where reports are that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will announce a new Pentagon policy, that the Defense Department will not discharge any service member outed by a third party.

The article does show Obama in a leadership position on the issue, essentially making this year a deadline for the military to figure out how to repeal the policy. But the military continues to press a go-slow strategy that has frustrated gay rights advocates.

Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, a research group that focuses on repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said he expected Mr. Gates to announce on Tuesday that the Pentagon would end discharges based on third-party accusations, but also that it would move slowly, which Mr. Belkin opposes.

“By signaling that integration is a complicated, fragile process and slow-rolling it over a number of years, you give obstructionists in the military the chance to stir up trouble in their units,” he said.

What facilitates a go-slow approach, and undermines the determination expressed in this article on the part of the President, is that repealing DADT does not appear in the President’s budget. The policy does have a minimal cost, and so could have been added in the defense section. This makes it easier for the armed services to slow-walk the policy, when they could have been advised to follow the directives of the civilian leadership.

Congress could add the repeal to the defense authorization bill, but including it in the budget would have made that process easier.

UPDATE: The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network notes that discharges from the DADT policy were down 30% in Obama’s first year in office. 100% would be preferable.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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