Since then, everyone from retired general John M. Shalikashvili, who succeeded Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to former Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander have courageously called for a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But not General Powell. In that same interview with Rachel Maddow, Powell said that the policy should be reconsidered—and that he would back President Obama were Obama to decide to end it—but in the meantime, he would not commit himself to a position on the policy until he heard the views of current military leaders. He then repeated some of the idiotic arguments that were made in favor of the current policy sixteen years ago:

“The armed force of the United States is not the same as the armed force of one of our European friends or Canadian friends”—where gays have been completely integrated into the armed forces without any of the predicted catastrophes coming to pass. 

And then there was this traditional gobbledy gook:

As the courts have held traditionally over the years, and the Congress has as well, the military is a unique institution with rules and regulations and a way of living in close proximity with other soldiers ­and you’re told whom you’re going to live with ­that the military can have a set of regulations and rules that would not pass any kind of legal or constitutional muster if it was in civilian society. And so I think because it is the quality of the force and the ability of the force to apply the nation’s power wherever it’s called upon to do so, we have to be careful when we change this policy.

All of which proves once again the enduring truth of Congressman Barney Frank’s assessment: “Colin Powell appears to be a man of enormous physical courage, and no moral courage whatsoever.”


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Charles Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis and 1968 in America. He has been media editor for Newsweek, a member of the metro staff of The New York Times, and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he covered the press and book publishing. To learn more, visit