Sixty-three votes for cloture to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Procedural hurdles cleared, final repeal inevitable. Now for the Pentagon’s “deliberate” certification on implementation, signed by Gates and Mullen in consultation with the service chiefs. This is going to take a while — through 2011, certainly — but repeal is as good as law.

That’s a nod to the leadership of Bob Gates and Admiral Mullen. Popularity of repealing DADT in the country notwithstanding, without them, repeal would be a disruptive move forced on the military. For the criticism they faced from the left for chartering the year-long Ham/Johnson study of servicemember perspectives on repeal, that study provided all the cover necessary for repeal. Even the service chiefs’ dissent is a part of that: Gates and Mullen figured that you couldn’t make repeal a reality without letting the chiefs express their reservations or outright disapproval.

You can call me an apologist and you can call me a clueless, straight civilian reporter insufficiently attuned to the emotional realities at stake on all sides. But Gates and Mullen haven’t just been focused on repeal as an event, they’ve been focused on repeal as a process, making sure it proceeds as a nonevent. That’s the goal here: to demonstrate that open gay service doesn’t inspire a reaction. No matter how much John McCain’s bitterness led him to disgrace himself on the Senate floor this morning, that’s the danger repeal actually poses to the military. This is a long game here. But three years from now, thanks to the path Gates and Mullen charted, chances are good people will wonder how anyone could have thought lifting DADT was problematic.