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Ken Adelman
Political advisor

Ken Adelman

A Reagan-era Ambassador and Arms Control Director, Ken Adelman is co-founder and vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which offers executive training and leadership development.

Changing for the wrong reasons

In response to the On Leadership question: On the issue of gays in the military: Under what conditions should leaders change their minds? How do you assess McCain and Powell's leadership on this issue?

No problem for a leader to change his or her mind, so long as the change is explained convincingly. Neither John McCain nor Colin Powell did so.

Before, McCain said he'd leave the decision to the military commanders. Whatever they deemed best, he'd go along with. They've come around to supporting gays in the military, and yet he doesn't. Why not? Because, he claims, the military already is over-burdened.

Okay, but that's something the military commanders might realize as well -- even more than McCain -- and factor in their judgment. The good Senator doesn't care more about overburdening the military than the military commanders.

Powell points out that acceptance of gays in society is far higher than when "don't ask, don't tell" was adopted, and that military values reflect society values. Both good points, but not good enough. Basing decisions like this on studies by sociologists or pollsters isn't convincing.

What would be? More evidence.

Indeed, we do know more than we did back then. The British, Australian, and Israeli militaries all now have solid experience with open gays in uniform. Their forces don't suffer in performance; the gay service members there don't seem to upset the straight members much. And U.S. forces, though in far greater numbers, don't differ culturally or functionally too much from their colleagues in these militaries.

When evidence changes, leaders should change. Not because they face political opposition, like McCain, or can't abide being outside today's conventional wisdom, ala Powell, but because of a change in evidence. That's convincing, and the right thing to do.

By Ken Adelman

 |  February 4, 2010; 2:28 PM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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When Truman forced the integration of the military after WW2, it was against the military's wishes. Clearly, he was being a leader ahead of the prevailing winds.
Reacting to changes in society and changing positions to suit that is not being a leader. It is being a follower (or a politician, you choose).
A real leader would have been supporting this move for the last 17 years, regardless of the opposition, because it is the right thing to do.
It would likely take all this time for the rest of society to catch up to them, but that's part of being a leader.
Bill Clinton was almost a leader on this subject, but he reverted to being a politician.

Posted by: natecar | February 4, 2010 9:40 PM
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Seriously think about it. The gays haven't changed, just the people around them.

Posted by: bobbarnes | February 4, 2010 6:06 PM
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That, my friend, is an un-winnable position, in today's climate. McCain is, by principle, rock stupid. He will stick by it, with authority, with gritting teeth. Close your eyes and pray and all will heal.

Posted by: mouli_7982 | February 4, 2010 4:16 PM
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McCain needs to GO. He is too old and does not relize life has passed him by. He does not speak for America. Go HOME and see if you can get your family to follow you before you consider trying to lead us.

Posted by: navydvldoc | February 4, 2010 3:38 PM
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