General David Petraeus, who as head of US Central Command runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has added his voice to a growing number of senior military leaders who have voiced support for an overhaul of the US military's policy on gays.
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus told lawmakers that "the time has come to consider a change to 'Don't ask, don't tell.'"
But the four-star general qualified his statement, arguing that any change to the policy "should be done in a thoughtful and deliberative manner that should include the conduct of the review that [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates has directed."
Petraeus also said any change to the policy should "consider the views in the force on a change in the policy [that] would include an assessment on the likely effects on recruiting, retention, morale and cohesion and would include an identification of what policies might be needed in the event of a change."
The general's declaration will likely be praised by gay-rights advocates, but his insistence on Sec. Gates' review of the policy, expected to take all year, further suggests that a repeal of the controversial "Don't ask, don't tell" policy likely will not come this year.
That could frustrate some progressives who had been hoping the 17-year-old policy, which has seen at least an estimated 11,000 men and women in uniform ejected from the military over their sexual orientation, would come to an end this year.
On Monday, US House Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), head of the gay contingent on Capitol Hill, called on the administration to repeal the policy this year. And, as John Aravosis reported on AmericaBlog, Human Rights Campaign, the group leading the charge against DADT, has been pushing for a repeal of the law in 2010 since President Obama took office.
But Petraeus' support of a review indicates that the US military leadership is lining up behind President Obama's position, re-iterated in his State of the Union address, that the policy should end.
In February, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced his support for a repeal of the policy, saying ending DADT is "the right thing to do."
As The Hill notes, Petraeus was evasive about his position on DADT as recently as a few weeks ago, when he didn't answer a question on Meet the Press about the subject. That led some observers to speculate he would oppose the repeal in Tuesday's testimony.
Earlier this month, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced legislation repealing the military's ban on gays serving openly.
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