Welcome to 2007. Though the US death toll in Iraq just hit 3,000, President Bush remains adamant about sending a "surge" of up to 40,000 new troops to the region. But where will these soldiers come from? An overextended military has already increased signing bonuses, raised the age-limit, lowered education requirements and waived restrictions on criminal records, drug and alcohol abuse and obesity. Alas for the Pentagon, it seems that the pool of fat, drug-addled, middle-aged felons wasn't quite deep enough. So who's next? Homosexuals!
In today's NYT former Joint Chief of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili -- once a supporter of Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- proposed allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East," he wrote, "and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."
War makes for strange bedfellows indeed. Though truth be told, Gen. Shalikashvili isn't the first to link the case for military escalation with the advancement of gay rights. C. Dixon Osburn, the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said last year, "The law deprives our nation of thousands of skilled men and women who could be instrumental in fighting the war on terror. Our national security suffers because of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
And back when he was cheerleader-in-chief of the war on terror, Andrew Sullivan waxed on and on about the need for "gay heroes" in the fight against "Islamo-fascism." "For of all wars, this is surely one in which gay America can take a proud and central part. The men who have launched a war on this country see the freedom that gay people have here as one of the central reasons for their hatred," he once wrote.
The new Congress has been cool to Bush's call for more troops. The old Congress was positively frosty to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005, which would have struck down Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So it's difficult to see how either initiative gets much traction this time around.
That said, in his last term, Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) supported both the Military Readiness Enhancement Act and the Defense of Marriage Amendment. In his view, I suppose, gays aren't fit for marriage, but are fit to die for their country. President Bush once called gay marriage a threat to "the most fundamental institution of civilization." Perhaps in 2007, Bush will come around to Boehlert's position: those who most threaten civilization from within (gays) will be called upon to fight those who most threaten civilization from without (Islamo-fascists). Desperate times call for desperate measures.