Clinton Pins 'Don't Ask' Failure on Top Brass

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The first step is acknowledging that there is a problem. President Clinton did that Saturday when for the first time he allowed that his famous "Don't ask, don't tell" solution to the question of gays in the military wasn't working out as hoped. At this point, he may be the last person in America to have come to that conclusion. He was beaten to the punch, certainly, by two high-profile developments of recent days: His wife's coming out against the policy toward the end of last week, and the conviction of an Army private for the murder of gay soldier Barry Winchell, a killing that raised new questions about the Army's ability to police the Clinton doctrine.

So what about the next step, finding a solution? The President wouldn't go as far as his wife, who said that gays should be allowed to openly serve, but rather said that the military should just enforce the policy as it had been intended upon its inception in 1994. That policy says that commanders cannot ask about a soldier's sexual orientation without specific evidence of homosexual conduct; soldiers for their part are allowed to serve as long as they keep their sex lives private. But the policy's many critics charge that this is not a realistic assessment of what happens in the barracks and that the policy actually creates a poisonous atmosphere of suspicion and deceit within the ranks. Clinton says the policy is the best he could hope for against opposition from Congress and the military. Increasingly, though, it looks like the solution is part of the problem.