Washington (CNN) – The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff walked a fine line Sunday as he stressed the need to complete the military’s internal review of the effects of repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy while remaining sufficiently deferential to Congress, which has taken significant steps in the past week to change the controversial policy.
Watch: Mullen on DADT
Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have both expressed their personal belief that the Clinton-era military policy against gays and lesbians serving openly should be changed. But Gates, the military’s top civilian leader, and much of the military’s top brass, including Mullen, have also said that they believe the Pentagon needs time to survey its rank and file to determine how service members feel about the policy change and to identify potential obstacles and pitfalls in allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Under Gates’ direction, the Pentagon has begun a wide-ranging survey the results of which will not be available until December.
But, in a move that seems to be driven by this November’s midterm elections, both the House and a Senate committee passed measures last week that begin the process of repealing the law that created “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The congressional moves got what can only be described, at best, as a tepid response from Gates and the service chiefs.
Asked about the hurry that the Democratically-controlled Congress now seems to be in to change the policy, Mullen said the military review still needs to be completed and factored into any decision to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“I still think – and so does the Secretary of Defense – [that] it’s really critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most, as we look at the implementation challenges should the law change,” Mullen said Sunday in an interview that aired on CNN’s State of the Union.
“Ideally, I would certainly have preferred that legislation not be brought forward, in terms of the change, until we are completed with that review.,” he added.
And Mullen suggested that the brisk pace of recent congressional efforts to do away with the policy does not necessarily mean the law would change quickly.
“Also, the congressional clock is sometimes pretty difficult to predict,” Mullen told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. “And certainly the votes last week indicate that it’s moving but in terms of when it possibly might change, that’s really not done.”
And Mullen pointed out that the legislation currently winding its way through Congress requires that he, Secretary Gates, and President Obama ultimately approve the policy change before it can take effect.
“That certification is key in terms of when this - when we would be ready to implement it,” he said.
The Joint Chiefs Chairman said he was concerned about the potential impact on the military’s readiness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention.
“All that is in – very much still in play. In ways, it makes this review and collecting the information and understanding what’s going on - at the deck plate level from our troops and our families – that much more critical.
“So, we’ll complete that review. And certainly incorporate what we learn from that into implementation when that time comes.”