In touting the benefits of a military victory over Saddam Hussein's regime, President Bush has cited such things as the potential for democracy in the Middle East and the elimination of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. But there is one unintended outcome of the conflict that neither the White House nor the Pentagon has anticipated: undermining the rationale for "don't ask, don't tell," the Bush-supported military policy regarding gay and lesbian service members.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. and British military forces have collaborated more closely than they have since World War II. Coalition troops have mounted air attacks, run joint special operations, coordinated aerial bombardments and troop movements--in short, lived and died together. And since the United Kingdom ended its ban on gay and lesbian service members in January 2000, American troops are serving alongside openly gay British troops--or at least know that they could be. (A third major coalition partner, Australia, also allows gays and lesbians to serve openly.)
"This historic British and American military integration has obvious implications for 'don't ask, don't tell,'" says Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "The argument has always been that serving alongside gays and lesbians would cause military cohesion to fall apart and place a burden on trust in the field. Clearly that's not happening on the battlefields of Iraq.'
Adds Simon Langley, media spokesman for the Armed Forces Gay and Lesbian Association, a British lobbying and support group: "In some cases the two services are working incredibly closely. We don't have any specific examples yet, but it's inevitable that in the conversations between American and British troops it will come up. The American guys know there are gay guys in the British military and that it doesn't affect anything. They have much bigger things on their minds than sexual orientation."
When "don't ask, don't tell" was adopted in 1993, the power to overturn the policy was transferred from the Pentagon to Congress. And with Republicans in the majority in both the House and Senate, it is unlikely there will be a serious initiative to change the policy before the 2004 election. But when the subject is next debated, the glaring difference between the British and American policies could force proponents of "don't ask, don't tell" to resort to political arguments about homosexuality rather than military efficacy. …