The Marines are arguably the most conservative branch of the US armed forces. This is borne out in the results of a survey of 400,000 Service members where 21% of all Service members felt negatively about repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), compared to 32% of Marines who felt negatively. It is also borne out by the fact that the Marine commandant , General James Amos, has been saying that repeal would negatively affect the Marine Corps. Marines, like other Service members, take their cues from the top, and since the top Marine commander has been publicly against repeal, it’s entirely reasonable that the rest of the Corps would be against repeal as well.
And that’s the reason that Richard Cohen of the Washington Post called in his column today for Amos to resign. It may well be that, as Cohen says, Amos “is one step short of being a bigot” and has “not an iota of sympathy for what might be their difficulties or any tolerance for their lifestyle.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Amos should be forced out.
Instead, Amos should be given a choice: lead or leave. Either implement the changes that come with the repeal of DADT, or step aside and allow someone who can implement the changes to do so. However, if Amos is constitutionally capable of implementing the changes, he may well be the best person to do it.
Think about the psychological impact of having your top commander transition from “Keep DADT as the law of the land” to “This is the law of the land now, and we will implement it, starting with me.” That would be leadership, and if Amos can do it, then that level of leadership would ease the transition for the Marine Corps.
It is up to the Pentagon and the President to say whether General Amos is constitutionally suited to the challenge the now faces. If Amos isn’t capable of guiding the Marines through repeal, then he has to get out of the way. But for the sake of the Marine Corps, I hope he’s up to facing what may well be the greatest challenge of his career – reinventing himself along with the Marine Corps.