Stephen M. Walt

NY Times editors “don’t ask”; retired general “doesn’t tell”

What does it tell you about the New York Times op-ed page that they would publish a lengthy attack on the repeal of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell by a former air force chief of staff, which contains one obvious falsehood and another obvious omission? The op-ed (by retired general Merrill A. McPeak) rehashes the old ...

By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

What does it tell you about the New York Times op-ed page that they would publish a lengthy attack on the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell by a former air force chief of staff, which contains one obvious falsehood and another obvious omission?

The op-ed (by retired general Merrill A. McPeak) rehashes the old argument that permitting gay Americans to serve openly in the armed forces would undermine unit cohesion.  He falsely claims that "advocates for gays in the service have by and large avoided a discussion of unit cohesion."  This assertion is simply untrue; in fact, advocates for repealing DADT have addressed this issue repeatedly, as a thirty-second Google search would reveal.  Indeed, a prize-winning article in the DoD's own Joint Forces Quarterly argued last year that "[T]he stated premise of the law -- to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness -- is not supported by any scientific studies."  (For more on this issue, go here.)

What does it tell you about the New York Times op-ed page that they would publish a lengthy attack on the repeal of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell by a former air force chief of staff, which contains one obvious falsehood and another obvious omission?

The op-ed (by retired general Merrill A. McPeak) rehashes the old argument that permitting gay Americans to serve openly in the armed forces would undermine unit cohesion.  He falsely claims that "advocates for gays in the service have by and large avoided a discussion of unit cohesion."  This assertion is simply untrue; in fact, advocates for repealing DADT have addressed this issue repeatedly, as a thirty-second Google search would reveal.  Indeed, a prize-winning article in the DoD’s own Joint Forces Quarterly argued last year that "[T]he stated premise of the law — to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness — is not supported by any scientific studies."  (For more on this issue, go here.)

So much for the false information purveyed in this article.  The glaring omission in McPeak’s op-ed was his failure to discuss any of the countries where gays do serve openly, such as Israel, Australia, Canada, or Great Britain.  Have these states-all close U.S. allies and regarded as effective military performers-suffered a catastrophic decline in "unit cohesion?"  The answer is no.  As the JFQ article cited above notes:

"In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops."

In short, McPeak doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  And though the experience of modern militaries where gay people serve openly would seem to be germane to any discussion of this issue here in the United States, the Times’ editors do not appear to have queried him about it.

I’m not surprised that a retired Air Force general has outdated and poorly-informed views on sexuality.  Nor am I bothered  that the Times gave him space to express them on their op-ed page, because it should be a platform for public debate and present a wide range of views.  What I don’t understand is why the Times’ editors would let him make obviously bogus or misleading claims, without any perceptible attempt to verify them beforehand?  Or maybe all those budget cuts have eliminated the fact-checkers?

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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