The Big Squeeze

Bob Gates’ abilities as a masterful bureaucrat and Washington shapeshifter have rarely been on more public display than in his just-completed press conference. He was expected to unveil a Pentagon review of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that would clear the way for repeal, but Gates took it a step further with a clarion call to Congress to repeal DADT before the end of the year or else the federal courts might do it by what he called “judicial fiat.”

It was classic Gates: a combination of finesse and sharp elbows. He framed the issue starkly: repeal DADT in an orderly way with enough time for me to implement it, and I can pull this off without jeopardizing our military readiness — or you can leave it to the courts which is “my greatest fear” and which guarantees a disruptive transition that could damage the military.

He offered the choice of stability v. unpredictability, an argument dear to Republican hearts. The topper: What could be worse to leaning congressional Republicans than abdicating their power and control to those dreaded activist judges?

With one big heave, Gates has thrown this issue back into Congress’ lap and tried to box in persuadable Republicans. It’s a remarkable move.