WHY WAIT ON DADT REPEAL?…. Efforts to scrap the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy seemed to be going pretty well. President Obama had raised the visibility of the issue with a call for repeal in the State of the Union; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen told Congress it’s time to end the policy; polls showed overwhelming support for ending DADT; and the Obama administration’s efforts were endorsed by a variety of relevant figures, including Colin Powell and Dick Cheney.

What’s more, there’s been progress on the Hill, too. Democratic lawmakers were moving forward with their plans to repeal DADT by adding language to this year’s Defense appropriations bill, and while Republicans were going to oppose it, they weren’t exactly raising a fuss. There was ample reason to believe this might actually come together over the next couple of months.

That progress slowed considerably yesterday afternoon.

[I]n a Friday letter to House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Gates recommended “in the strongest possible terms” that Congress allow the Pentagon “to conduct a thorough, objective, and systematic assessment of such a policy change; develop an attentive comprehensive implementation plan, and provide the President and the Congress with the results of this effort in order to ensure that this step is taken in the most informed and effective manner.”

The letter, co-signed by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came in response to a Wednesday missive from Skelton asking for guidance on the matter. Gates said he would “strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process. Further, I hope Congress will not do so, as it would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families.”

This won’t do. The Pentagon’s review — which is intended to evaluate how, not whether, to implement the new policy — was initiated earlier this year, and is expected on December 1. But if Congress waits until the review is complete, repeal almost certainly won’t happen — it would be up to the next Congress to take action. With Republicans likely to make significant gains in the midterms, and possibly take control of at least one chamber, repeal efforts would be delayed indefinitely.

There is, however, another way forward. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who supports repeal, noted yesterday that Congress can approve the change this year, and then have it take effect on the Pentagon’s schedule. In response to Gates’ letter, the senator said, “I have recognized the importance of that study being conducted and of respecting the study’s results. There is no reason why Congress shouldn’t pass legislation this year that would time the repeal to follow the conclusion of the study.”

Sounds right to me.

For what it’s worth, the White House also issued a statement following the release of Gates’ letter: “The President’s commitment to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is unequivocal. This is not a question of if, but how. That’s why we’ve said that the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The President is committed to getting this done both soon and right.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.