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Nunn Watch

Now available online: My piece in the latest TNR making the case for Sam Nunn as Obama's veep.

As it happens, Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart has a plea against Nunn today. Capehart focuses on Nunn's most obvious political liability: His opposition to Bill Clinton's 1993 effort to let gays serve openly in the military.

The military's current "don't ask, don't tell" policy seems pretty absurd and even counter to our security interests (especially when it comes to translators). But I don't think Nunn's role in shaping it means he's a bad person--or even someone that gay rights activists should be alarmed about. Certainly it's not worth passing up this formidable candidate on the basis of this one issue.

For starters, the gays in the military fight happened fifteen years ago. Social attitudes, including within the military itself, were pretty different. (I'd be curious to know what Jim Webb or Jim Jones thought about this question at the time.) Bill Clinton broached the debate with extreme clumsiness and a lack of preparation. And thanks to his draft-dodging, he had precious little credibility within the military. Both those factors stiffened opposition within the ranks. From what I can tell Nunn seemed less personally offended by the idea than duty-bound as chairman of the Armed Services Committee to represent the strong feelings of the military brass. (There also seemed to be some power politics at play, with Nunn asserting his committee feifdom against the new president and his defense secretary, Les Aspin.) And finally, Nunn now says he's open to reconsidering the current policy.

More important, perhaps, it's hard to see a Vice President Nunn exercising some reactionary influence over social policy in a young, fresh and socially-enlightened Obama administration. With that in mind, I would think that Nunn's deep expertise on defense issues generally--and on the terrifying threat of nuclear terrorism specifically--should outweigh this overblown concern.

--Michael Crowley