Barr Shifts Stance on Gays in Military

Former Rep. Bob Barr, who opposed admitting gays into the military when he served in the U.S. Congress, now says that the military can't afford to exclude this group of Americans.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Fourteen years after the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy was adopted, some people who once opposed the idea of gays in the military are changing their minds. Among them is former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr who wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week that he's become, quote, "deeply impressed with the growing weight of credible military opinion that allowing gays to serve openly in the military does not pose insurmountable problems for the good order and discipline of the services."

Mr. Barr joins us by phone. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BOB BARR (Former Republican Representative, Georgia): Good morning, great to be with you all.

YDSTIE: In the Journal, you make the case that letting gays served openly in the military is consistent with true conservative political philosophy. Talk a little bit about the conservative argument on the philosophical level for making this change.

Mr. BARR: True conservatives - and I do consider myself a true conservative, I'm very active these days with the Libertarian Party - but true conservatives purport to believe that one ought to advance and one ought to have those opportunities based on the merits of one's capabilities, especially in the military, which is supposed to be a meritocracy. And that does not mean that their advancement or their staying in the service should be dependent on their own personal, sexual preferences.

YDSTIE: And you suggest that a Zogby poll reports that the majority of returning servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan are comfortable with gays in the military.

Mr. BARR: This is something that has impressed me greatly. Back when this issue was hotly debated in the early and mid-1990s and, even though I was not in the Congress at the time the initial policy was implemented, I came in shortly thereafter. But at that time, there was not a great deal of either factual study, historical study on the issue of how gays in the military would be perceived and worked with by others in the military.

And what we're seeing in recent years is a growing and deep acceptance of gay men and women in the military so long as they adhere, as all military personnel are required to do, to the rules and regulations regarding one's behavior, then those with whom they serve apparently are very comfortable with them serving and see no problem with it.

YDSTIE: You also argue for letting gays serve openly as a practical matter. I mean, the services are just having a hard time recruiting. I want to quote what you say here: "The military is firing badly needed, capable troops simply because they're gay and replacing them with a hodgepodge that includes ex-cons, drug abusers and high school dropouts." That's pretty strong language.

Mr. BARR: I think we saw this very clearly illustrated in the Abu Ghraib scandal over in Iraq a couple of years ago. On the one hand because of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, we are removing people from the military or not even recruiting people with very important and high educational level skills.

And on the other hand, we seemed to be continuously lowering our standards in bringing people in to meet the number needs of our military that really don't have the appropriate skills to handle the high-pressured jobs that we're putting them into.

YDSTIE: Are you optimistic that the next president, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat, will change the policy on gays in the military?

Mr. BARR: Based on those that took a position at the recent Republican so-called debate, I wouldn't say I'd be optimistic at this point, although even Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney seem to leave the door open a little bit. On the Democrat side, I'd say almost certainly the policy would be altered more in the direction of the liberalization and open policy.

YDSTIE: Bob Barr is a former Republican congressman from Georgia. Thank you very much, Mr. Barr.

Mr. BARR: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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