Tagged: images

0

Military Chiefs' Reluctance to March

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the media on military operations in Niger, at the Pentagon on Oct. 23, in Arlington, Virginia.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a dizzying series of tweets and news stories on Monday, the Pentagon appeared to simultaneously embrace transgender recruits[1] while the Trump administration was losing[2] its bid in court to deny their entry into the service. Once the dust settled[3], it became clear that, for now, the slow policy change on transgender service that began under President Obama will continue under President Trump. Transgender people who want to serve their country in uniform may enlist starting on Jan. 1; those now serving can continue, with appropriate support from the military’s medical and personnel systems. Far from being a military coup[4], this was merely a case of the Pentagon following existing law while the courts haggle over what exactly the law is.

That fact may itself be startling at a time when senior administration officials seem more willing to unlawfully promote their boss[5]—or misuse[6] their offices[7]—than follow the law. The Pentagon chiefs’ response to the transgender litigation illustrates how they differ from other senior officials, for better or worse. In response to Trump, the military’s leadership has improvised a new norm of civil-military relations: something in between a yes and a no that doesn’t amount to insubordination but does help modulate Trump’s excesses.

Advertisement

Although civilian Cabinet officials, generals, and admirals are all “Officers of the United States[8]” under the Constitution, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, they have very different traditions of service. Over more than 240 years, but especially since World War II, the military has evolved[9] into a profession[10] that puts a premium on apolitical service to presidents of both parties. Senior military officers serve tours in key positions that are staggered so that they transcend administration boundaries. Senior officers and junior troops alike are bound by military justice provisions[11] and regulations[12] that sharply curtail their political activity. By rule, custom, and inclination, today’s military leaders shun direct involvement in partisan politics, such as standing on stage during rallies, even at the request of their commander in chief. Those officers who do politick for the boss—like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster writing a controversial[13] op-ed[14] supporting Trump’s “America First” policy—stand out as conspicuous exceptions to the rule.

The policy on transgender service has taken a convoluted path akin to an Army land-navigation course. Whether Trump likes it or not, things stand now as they would have had he never tweeted his demand for a trans ban in July. Pentagon leaders delayed[15] implementation of Trump’s tweet[16], seeking clarification, and then set in motion[17] the slow, grinding machinery of bureaucracy and litigation. The yearslong process begun in 2016 by then–Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will continue moving toward its logical conclusion: open service of transgender troops. Unless Trump’s Justice Department convinces a higher court to overrule two lower court injunctions, the military will continue to include thousands of transgender troops[18] who serve today[19] and thousands more who will volunteer in the future at disproportionately higher rates[20] than the population at large.

In this, as in other cases[21], like the public debate over racism after Charlottesville, military leaders have struck a posture that’s not disloyal but still allows the ship of state to correct its course when steered in the wrong direction by an errant president. It is significant and telling that the highest-ranking military officers—such as Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the four chiefs of the armed services—did not file affidavits in support of the government in the transgender cases. The government relied instead on a handful of unpersuasive affidavits of midranking uniformed officers and senior Pentagon civilians. It’s unclear how much the generals’ prestige would have affected the cases’ outcomes—especially at this early stage, where the facts are less of an issue than the law. However, District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly signaled in her opinion that the government failed to persuade her that the military was as concerned about this policy as Trump was. “In short,” Kollar-Kotelly concluded in her October opinion[22], “the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself.”

If senior military leaders truly stood with Trump on the trans ban, they might have distanced themselves from the studies[23] referenced by the court that suggest allowing transgender troops will have few costs and minimal impacts on military readiness. Defense Secretary James Mattis did so to some degree early on[24], although he merely said he wanted more rigorous evaluation, not different results. Similarly, military leaders like Mattis, Dunford, or the four-star officers responsible for recruiting, training, and maintaining the services could have averred that the Obama administration was wrong or that there were tangible readiness impacts from the new policy that Trump was right to fix. That none of these senior military leaders did so speaks volumes.

Join Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz as they discuss and debate the week’s biggest political news.

Advertisement

Make no mistake: This is not defiance and does not foreshadow a military coup. Rather, I think we are seeing military leaders doing their best to navigate complex and sometimes conflicting legal imperatives while also preserving the professional (and necessarily apolitical) ethos of the all-volunteer force. The service chiefs cannot march in step with a president[25] who fawns over violent extremists at Charlottesville while simultaneously maintaining good order and discipline within their ranks. Likewise, military leaders cannot simultaneously salute the president on transgender policy while saying[26] the Army’s “greatest asset is our people” and the Army is “indivisible.” The service chiefs know, based on their manpower and recruiting numbers, that they can ill afford to publicly champion a policy that shrinks the eligible pool of qualified recruits, especially at a time when they are seeking to grow their ranks.

Call it respectful disobedience or selective engagement or lawful resistance or some other euphemism—but it’s clear that military leaders have found a formula for saluting their commander in chief while keeping his worst excesses at bay. In this, they are probably aided by a secretary of defense and White House chief of staff who have literally worn their shoes. Jim Mattis[27] and John Kelly may not be able[28] to moderate the president’s worst statements or most egregious tweets, but they almost certainly provide cover for senior military leaders behind closed doors, where they can explain to the president why the generals are behaving a certain way.

This provides a reason to be optimistic. On issue after issue, there seems to be a gap emerging between the president’s first (and often outlandish) statements and the policy that eventually emerges downstream. Perhaps the military leaders have correctly intuited that Trump’s initial positions are simply an opening bid in negotiations. Or perhaps these leaders have learned behind closed doors that they can, in fact, stand up to Trump. Whatever the logic, this dynamic can apply in a broad array of fronts, from reducing the risk of war[29] with North Korea to refining immigration policy[30] to better support of military recruiting—and may just end up saving the republic.

References

  1. ^ embrace transgender recruits (apnews.com)
  2. ^ losing (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ Once the dust settled (www.slate.com)
  4. ^ Far from being a military coup (www.slate.com)
  5. ^ unlawfully promote their boss (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ misuse (www.politico.com)
  7. ^ offices (www.politico.com)
  8. ^ Officers of the United States (www.heritage.org)
  9. ^ evolved (en.wikipedia.org)
  10. ^ profession (data.cape.army.mil)
  11. ^ provisions (www.law.cornell.edu)
  12. ^ regulations (ogc.osd.mil)
  13. ^ controversial (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ op-ed (www.wsj.com)
  15. ^ delayed (www.slate.com)
  16. ^ tweet (www.slate.com)
  17. ^ set in motion (www.slate.com)
  18. ^ thousands of transgender troops (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu)
  19. ^ serve today (www.rand.org)
  20. ^ disproportionately higher rates (www.thetaskforce.org)
  21. ^ cases (www.nytimes.com)
  22. ^ October opinion (www.slate.com)
  23. ^ studies (www.rand.org)
  24. ^ did so to some degree early on (www.defense.gov)
  25. ^ cannot march in step with a president (www.theatlantic.com)
  26. ^ saying (twitter.com)
  27. ^ Jim Mattis (thehill.com)
  28. ^ may not be able (www.politico.com)
  29. ^ reducing the risk of war (twitter.com)
  30. ^ refining immigration policy (www.washingtonpost.com)
0

Military Chiefs' Reluctance to March

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the media on military operations in Niger, at the Pentagon on Oct. 23, in Arlington, Virginia.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a dizzying series of tweets and news stories on Monday, the Pentagon appeared to simultaneously embrace transgender recruits[1] while the Trump administration was losing[2] its bid in court to deny their entry into the service. Once the dust settled[3], it became clear that, for now, the slow policy change on transgender service that began under President Obama will continue under President Trump. Transgender people who want to serve their country in uniform may enlist starting on Jan. 1; those now serving can continue, with appropriate support from the military’s medical and personnel systems. Far from being a military coup[4], this was merely a case of the Pentagon following existing law while the courts haggle over what exactly the law is.

That fact may itself be startling at a time when senior administration officials seem more willing to unlawfully promote their boss[5]—or misuse[6] their offices[7]—than follow the law. The Pentagon chiefs’ response to the transgender litigation illustrates how they differ from other senior officials, for better or worse. In response to Trump, the military’s leadership has improvised a new norm of civil-military relations: something in between a yes and a no that doesn’t amount to insubordination but does help modulate Trump’s excesses.

Advertisement

Although civilian Cabinet officials, generals, and admirals are all “Officers of the United States[8]” under the Constitution, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, they have very different traditions of service. Over more than 240 years, but especially since World War II, the military has evolved[9] into a profession[10] that puts a premium on apolitical service to presidents of both parties. Senior military officers serve tours in key positions that are staggered so that they transcend administration boundaries. Senior officers and junior troops alike are bound by military justice provisions[11] and regulations[12] that sharply curtail their political activity. By rule, custom, and inclination, today’s military leaders shun direct involvement in partisan politics, such as standing on stage during rallies, even at the request of their commander in chief. Those officers who do politick for the boss—like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster writing a controversial[13] op-ed[14] supporting Trump’s “America First” policy—stand out as conspicuous exceptions to the rule.

The policy on transgender service has taken a convoluted path akin to an Army land-navigation course. Whether Trump likes it or not, things stand now as they would have had he never tweeted his demand for a trans ban in July. Pentagon leaders delayed[15] implementation of Trump’s tweet[16], seeking clarification, and then set in motion[17] the slow, grinding machinery of bureaucracy and litigation. The yearslong process begun in 2016 by then–Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will continue moving toward its logical conclusion: open service of transgender troops. Unless Trump’s Justice Department convinces a higher court to overrule two lower court injunctions, the military will continue to include thousands of transgender troops[18] who serve today[19] and thousands more who will volunteer in the future at disproportionately higher rates[20] than the population at large.

In this, as in other cases[21], like the public debate over racism after Charlottesville, military leaders have struck a posture that’s not disloyal but still allows the ship of state to correct its course when steered in the wrong direction by an errant president. It is significant and telling that the highest-ranking military officers—such as Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the four chiefs of the armed services—did not file affidavits in support of the government in the transgender cases. The government relied instead on a handful of unpersuasive affidavits of midranking uniformed officers and senior Pentagon civilians. It’s unclear how much the generals’ prestige would have affected the cases’ outcomes—especially at this early stage, where the facts are less of an issue than the law. However, District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly signaled in her opinion that the government failed to persuade her that the military was as concerned about this policy as Trump was. “In short,” Kollar-Kotelly concluded in her October opinion[22], “the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself.”

If senior military leaders truly stood with Trump on the trans ban, they might have distanced themselves from the studies[23] referenced by the court that suggest allowing transgender troops will have few costs and minimal impacts on military readiness. Defense Secretary James Mattis did so to some degree early on[24], although he merely said he wanted more rigorous evaluation, not different results. Similarly, military leaders like Mattis, Dunford, or the four-star officers responsible for recruiting, training, and maintaining the services could have averred that the Obama administration was wrong or that there were tangible readiness impacts from the new policy that Trump was right to fix. That none of these senior military leaders did so speaks volumes.

Join Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz as they discuss and debate the week’s biggest political news.

Advertisement

Make no mistake: This is not defiance and does not foreshadow a military coup. Rather, I think we are seeing military leaders doing their best to navigate complex and sometimes conflicting legal imperatives while also preserving the professional (and necessarily apolitical) ethos of the all-volunteer force. The service chiefs cannot march in step with a president[25] who fawns over violent extremists at Charlottesville while simultaneously maintaining good order and discipline within their ranks. Likewise, military leaders cannot simultaneously salute the president on transgender policy while saying[26] the Army’s “greatest asset is our people” and the Army is “indivisible.” The service chiefs know, based on their manpower and recruiting numbers, that they can ill afford to publicly champion a policy that shrinks the eligible pool of qualified recruits, especially at a time when they are seeking to grow their ranks.

Call it respectful disobedience or selective engagement or lawful resistance or some other euphemism—but it’s clear that military leaders have found a formula for saluting their commander in chief while keeping his worst excesses at bay. In this, they are probably aided by a secretary of defense and White House chief of staff who have literally worn their shoes. Jim Mattis[27] and John Kelly may not be able[28] to moderate the president’s worst statements or most egregious tweets, but they almost certainly provide cover for senior military leaders behind closed doors, where they can explain to the president why the generals are behaving a certain way.

This provides a reason to be optimistic. On issue after issue, there seems to be a gap emerging between the president’s first (and often outlandish) statements and the policy that eventually emerges downstream. Perhaps the military leaders have correctly intuited that Trump’s initial positions are simply an opening bid in negotiations. Or perhaps these leaders have learned behind closed doors that they can, in fact, stand up to Trump. Whatever the logic, this dynamic can apply in a broad array of fronts, from reducing the risk of war[29] with North Korea to refining immigration policy[30] to better support of military recruiting—and may just end up saving the republic.

References

  1. ^ embrace transgender recruits (apnews.com)
  2. ^ losing (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ Once the dust settled (www.slate.com)
  4. ^ Far from being a military coup (www.slate.com)
  5. ^ unlawfully promote their boss (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ misuse (www.politico.com)
  7. ^ offices (www.politico.com)
  8. ^ Officers of the United States (www.heritage.org)
  9. ^ evolved (en.wikipedia.org)
  10. ^ profession (data.cape.army.mil)
  11. ^ provisions (www.law.cornell.edu)
  12. ^ regulations (ogc.osd.mil)
  13. ^ controversial (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ op-ed (www.wsj.com)
  15. ^ delayed (www.slate.com)
  16. ^ tweet (www.slate.com)
  17. ^ set in motion (www.slate.com)
  18. ^ thousands of transgender troops (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu)
  19. ^ serve today (www.rand.org)
  20. ^ disproportionately higher rates (www.thetaskforce.org)
  21. ^ cases (www.nytimes.com)
  22. ^ October opinion (www.slate.com)
  23. ^ studies (www.rand.org)
  24. ^ did so to some degree early on (www.defense.gov)
  25. ^ cannot march in step with a president (www.theatlantic.com)
  26. ^ saying (twitter.com)
  27. ^ Jim Mattis (thehill.com)
  28. ^ may not be able (www.politico.com)
  29. ^ reducing the risk of war (twitter.com)
  30. ^ refining immigration policy (www.washingtonpost.com)
0

How military leaders slowed down Trump's transgender troop ban.

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the media on military operations in Niger, at the Pentagon on Oct. 23, in Arlington, Virginia.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a dizzying series of tweets and news stories on Monday, the Pentagon appeared to simultaneously embrace transgender recruits[1] while the Trump administration was losing[2] its bid in court to deny their entry into the service. Once the dust settled[3], it became clear that, for now, the slow policy change on transgender service that began under President Obama will continue under President Trump. Transgender people who want to serve their country in uniform may enlist starting on Jan. 1; those now serving can continue, with appropriate support from the military’s medical and personnel systems. Far from being a military coup[4], this was merely a case of the Pentagon following existing law while the courts haggle over what exactly the law is.

That fact may itself be startling at a time when senior administration officials seem more willing to unlawfully promote their boss[5]—or misuse[6] their offices[7]—than follow the law. The Pentagon chiefs’ response to the transgender litigation illustrates how they differ from other senior officials, for better or worse. In response to Trump, the military’s leadership has improvised a new norm of civil-military relations: something in between a yes and a no that doesn’t amount to insubordination but does help modulate Trump’s excesses.

Advertisement

Although civilian Cabinet officials, generals, and admirals are all “Officers of the United States[8]” under the Constitution, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, they have very different traditions of service. Over more than 240 years, but especially since World War II, the military has evolved[9] into a profession[10] that puts a premium on apolitical service to presidents of both parties. Senior military officers serve tours in key positions that are staggered so that they transcend administration boundaries. Senior officers and junior troops alike are bound by military justice provisions[11] and regulations[12] that sharply curtail their political activity. By rule, custom, and inclination, today’s military leaders shun direct involvement in partisan politics, such as standing on stage during rallies, even at the request of their commander in chief. Those officers who do politick for the boss—like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster writing a controversial[13] op-ed[14] supporting Trump’s “America First” policy—stand out as conspicuous exceptions to the rule.

The policy on transgender service has taken a convoluted path akin to an Army land-navigation course. Whether Trump likes it or not, things stand now as they would have had he never tweeted his demand for a trans ban in July. Pentagon leaders delayed[15] implementation of Trump’s tweet[16], seeking clarification, and then set in motion[17] the slow, grinding machinery of bureaucracy and litigation. The yearslong process begun in 2016 by then–Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will continue moving toward its logical conclusion: open service of transgender troops. Unless Trump’s Justice Department convinces a higher court to overrule two lower court injunctions, the military will continue to include thousands of transgender troops[18] who serve today[19] and thousands more who will volunteer in the future at disproportionately higher rates[20] than the population at large.

In this, as in other cases[21], like the public debate over racism after Charlottesville, military leaders have struck a posture that’s not disloyal but still allows the ship of state to correct its course when steered in the wrong direction by an errant president. It is significant and telling that the highest-ranking military officers—such as Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the four chiefs of the armed services—did not file affidavits in support of the government in the transgender cases. The government relied instead on a handful of unpersuasive affidavits of midranking uniformed officers and senior Pentagon civilians. It’s unclear how much the generals’ prestige would have affected the cases’ outcomes—especially at this early stage, where the facts are less of an issue than the law. However, District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly signaled in her opinion that the government failed to persuade her that the military was as concerned about this policy as Trump was. “In short,” Kollar-Kotelly concluded in her October opinion[22], “the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself.”

If senior military leaders truly stood with Trump on the trans ban, they might have distanced themselves from the studies[23] referenced by the court that suggest allowing transgender troops will have few costs and minimal impacts on military readiness. Defense Secretary James Mattis did so to some degree early on[24], although he merely said he wanted more rigorous evaluation, not different results. Similarly, military leaders like Mattis, Dunford, or the four-star officers responsible for recruiting, training, and maintaining the services could have averred that the Obama administration was wrong or that there were tangible readiness impacts from the new policy that Trump was right to fix. That none of these senior military leaders did so speaks volumes.

Join Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz as they discuss and debate the week’s biggest political news.

Advertisement

Make no mistake: This is not defiance and does not foreshadow a military coup. Rather, I think we are seeing military leaders doing their best to navigate complex and sometimes conflicting legal imperatives while also preserving the professional (and necessarily apolitical) ethos of the all-volunteer force. The service chiefs cannot march in step with a president[25] who fawns over violent extremists at Charlottesville while simultaneously maintaining good order and discipline within their ranks. Likewise, military leaders cannot simultaneously salute the president on transgender policy while saying[26] the Army’s “greatest asset is our people” and the Army is “indivisible.” The service chiefs know, based on their manpower and recruiting numbers, that they can ill afford to publicly champion a policy that shrinks the eligible pool of qualified recruits, especially at a time when they are seeking to grow their ranks.

Call it respectful disobedience or selective engagement or lawful resistance or some other euphemism—but it’s clear that military leaders have found a formula for saluting their commander in chief while keeping his worst excesses at bay. In this, they are probably aided by a secretary of defense and White House chief of staff who have literally worn their shoes. Jim Mattis[27] and John Kelly may not be able[28] to moderate the president’s worst statements or most egregious tweets, but they almost certainly provide cover for senior military leaders behind closed doors, where they can explain to the president why the generals are behaving a certain way.

This provides a reason to be optimistic. On issue after issue, there seems to be a gap emerging between the president’s first (and often outlandish) statements and the policy that eventually emerges downstream. Perhaps the military leaders have correctly intuited that Trump’s initial positions are simply an opening bid in negotiations. Or perhaps these leaders have learned behind closed doors that they can, in fact, stand up to Trump. Whatever the logic, this dynamic can apply in a broad array of fronts, from reducing the risk of war[29] with North Korea to refining immigration policy[30] to better support of military recruiting—and may just end up saving the republic.

References

  1. ^ embrace transgender recruits (apnews.com)
  2. ^ losing (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ Once the dust settled (www.slate.com)
  4. ^ Far from being a military coup (www.slate.com)
  5. ^ unlawfully promote their boss (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ misuse (www.politico.com)
  7. ^ offices (www.politico.com)
  8. ^ Officers of the United States (www.heritage.org)
  9. ^ evolved (en.wikipedia.org)
  10. ^ profession (data.cape.army.mil)
  11. ^ provisions (www.law.cornell.edu)
  12. ^ regulations (ogc.osd.mil)
  13. ^ controversial (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ op-ed (www.wsj.com)
  15. ^ delayed (www.slate.com)
  16. ^ tweet (www.slate.com)
  17. ^ set in motion (www.slate.com)
  18. ^ thousands of transgender troops (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu)
  19. ^ serve today (www.rand.org)
  20. ^ disproportionately higher rates (www.thetaskforce.org)
  21. ^ cases (www.nytimes.com)
  22. ^ October opinion (www.slate.com)
  23. ^ studies (www.rand.org)
  24. ^ did so to some degree early on (www.defense.gov)
  25. ^ cannot march in step with a president (www.theatlantic.com)
  26. ^ saying (twitter.com)
  27. ^ Jim Mattis (thehill.com)
  28. ^ may not be able (www.politico.com)
  29. ^ reducing the risk of war (twitter.com)
  30. ^ refining immigration policy (www.washingtonpost.com)
0

How military leaders slowed down Trump's transgender troop ban.

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the media on military operations in Niger, at the Pentagon on Oct. 23, in Arlington, Virginia.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a dizzying series of tweets and news stories on Monday, the Pentagon appeared to simultaneously embrace transgender recruits[1] while the Trump administration was losing[2] its bid in court to deny their entry into the service. Once the dust settled[3], it became clear that, for now, the slow policy change on transgender service that began under President Obama will continue under President Trump. Transgender people who want to serve their country in uniform may enlist starting on Jan. 1; those now serving can continue, with appropriate support from the military’s medical and personnel systems. Far from being a military coup[4], this was merely a case of the Pentagon following existing law while the courts haggle over what exactly the law is.

That fact may itself be startling at a time when senior administration officials seem more willing to unlawfully promote their boss[5]—or misuse[6] their offices[7]—than follow the law. The Pentagon chiefs’ response to the transgender litigation illustrates how they differ from other senior officials, for better or worse. In response to Trump, the military’s leadership has improvised a new norm of civil-military relations: something in between a yes and a no that doesn’t amount to insubordination but does help modulate Trump’s excesses.

Advertisement

Although civilian Cabinet officials, generals, and admirals are all “Officers of the United States[8]” under the Constitution, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, they have very different traditions of service. Over more than 240 years, but especially since World War II, the military has evolved[9] into a profession[10] that puts a premium on apolitical service to presidents of both parties. Senior military officers serve tours in key positions that are staggered so that they transcend administration boundaries. Senior officers and junior troops alike are bound by military justice provisions[11] and regulations[12] that sharply curtail their political activity. By rule, custom, and inclination, today’s military leaders shun direct involvement in partisan politics, such as standing on stage during rallies, even at the request of their commander in chief. Those officers who do politick for the boss—like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster writing a controversial[13] op-ed[14] supporting Trump’s “America First” policy—stand out as conspicuous exceptions to the rule.

The policy on transgender service has taken a convoluted path akin to an Army land-navigation course. Whether Trump likes it or not, things stand now as they would have had he never tweeted his demand for a trans ban in July. Pentagon leaders delayed[15] implementation of Trump’s tweet[16], seeking clarification, and then set in motion[17] the slow, grinding machinery of bureaucracy and litigation. The yearslong process begun in 2016 by then–Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will continue moving toward its logical conclusion: open service of transgender troops. Unless Trump’s Justice Department convinces a higher court to overrule two lower court injunctions, the military will continue to include thousands of transgender troops[18] who serve today[19] and thousands more who will volunteer in the future at disproportionately higher rates[20] than the population at large.

In this, as in other cases[21], like the public debate over racism after Charlottesville, military leaders have struck a posture that’s not disloyal but still allows the ship of state to correct its course when steered in the wrong direction by an errant president. It is significant and telling that the highest-ranking military officers—such as Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the four chiefs of the armed services—did not file affidavits in support of the government in the transgender cases. The government relied instead on a handful of unpersuasive affidavits of midranking uniformed officers and senior Pentagon civilians. It’s unclear how much the generals’ prestige would have affected the cases’ outcomes—especially at this early stage, where the facts are less of an issue than the law. However, District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly signaled in her opinion that the government failed to persuade her that the military was as concerned about this policy as Trump was. “In short,” Kollar-Kotelly concluded in her October opinion[22], “the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself.”

If senior military leaders truly stood with Trump on the trans ban, they might have distanced themselves from the studies[23] referenced by the court that suggest allowing transgender troops will have few costs and minimal impacts on military readiness. Defense Secretary James Mattis did so to some degree early on[24], although he merely said he wanted more rigorous evaluation, not different results. Similarly, military leaders like Mattis, Dunford, or the four-star officers responsible for recruiting, training, and maintaining the services could have averred that the Obama administration was wrong or that there were tangible readiness impacts from the new policy that Trump was right to fix. That none of these senior military leaders did so speaks volumes.

Join Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz as they discuss and debate the week’s biggest political news.

Advertisement

Make no mistake: This is not defiance and does not foreshadow a military coup. Rather, I think we are seeing military leaders doing their best to navigate complex and sometimes conflicting legal imperatives while also preserving the professional (and necessarily apolitical) ethos of the all-volunteer force. The service chiefs cannot march in step with a president[25] who fawns over violent extremists at Charlottesville while simultaneously maintaining good order and discipline within their ranks. Likewise, military leaders cannot simultaneously salute the president on transgender policy while saying[26] the Army’s “greatest asset is our people” and the Army is “indivisible.” The service chiefs know, based on their manpower and recruiting numbers, that they can ill afford to publicly champion a policy that shrinks the eligible pool of qualified recruits, especially at a time when they are seeking to grow their ranks.

Call it respectful disobedience or selective engagement or lawful resistance or some other euphemism—but it’s clear that military leaders have found a formula for saluting their commander in chief while keeping his worst excesses at bay. In this, they are probably aided by a secretary of defense and White House chief of staff who have literally worn their shoes. Jim Mattis[27] and John Kelly may not be able[28] to moderate the president’s worst statements or most egregious tweets, but they almost certainly provide cover for senior military leaders behind closed doors, where they can explain to the president why the generals are behaving a certain way.

This provides a reason to be optimistic. On issue after issue, there seems to be a gap emerging between the president’s first (and often outlandish) statements and the policy that eventually emerges downstream. Perhaps the military leaders have correctly intuited that Trump’s initial positions are simply an opening bid in negotiations. Or perhaps these leaders have learned behind closed doors that they can, in fact, stand up to Trump. Whatever the logic, this dynamic can apply in a broad array of fronts, from reducing the risk of war[29] with North Korea to refining immigration policy[30] to better support of military recruiting—and may just end up saving the republic.

References

  1. ^ embrace transgender recruits (apnews.com)
  2. ^ losing (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ Once the dust settled (www.slate.com)
  4. ^ Far from being a military coup (www.slate.com)
  5. ^ unlawfully promote their boss (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ misuse (www.politico.com)
  7. ^ offices (www.politico.com)
  8. ^ Officers of the United States (www.heritage.org)
  9. ^ evolved (en.wikipedia.org)
  10. ^ profession (data.cape.army.mil)
  11. ^ provisions (www.law.cornell.edu)
  12. ^ regulations (ogc.osd.mil)
  13. ^ controversial (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ op-ed (www.wsj.com)
  15. ^ delayed (www.slate.com)
  16. ^ tweet (www.slate.com)
  17. ^ set in motion (www.slate.com)
  18. ^ thousands of transgender troops (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu)
  19. ^ serve today (www.rand.org)
  20. ^ disproportionately higher rates (www.thetaskforce.org)
  21. ^ cases (www.nytimes.com)
  22. ^ October opinion (www.slate.com)
  23. ^ studies (www.rand.org)
  24. ^ did so to some degree early on (www.defense.gov)
  25. ^ cannot march in step with a president (www.theatlantic.com)
  26. ^ saying (twitter.com)
  27. ^ Jim Mattis (thehill.com)
  28. ^ may not be able (www.politico.com)
  29. ^ reducing the risk of war (twitter.com)
  30. ^ refining immigration policy (www.washingtonpost.com)
0

How military leaders slowed down Trump's transgender troop ban.

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs the media on military operations in Niger, at the Pentagon on Oct. 23, in Arlington, Virginia.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a dizzying series of tweets and news stories on Monday, the Pentagon appeared to simultaneously embrace transgender recruits[1] while the Trump administration was losing[2] its bid in court to deny their entry into the service. Once the dust settled[3], it became clear that, for now, the slow policy change on transgender service that began under President Obama will continue under President Trump. Transgender people who want to serve their country in uniform may enlist starting on Jan. 1; those now serving can continue, with appropriate support from the military’s medical and personnel systems. Far from being a military coup[4], this was merely a case of the Pentagon following existing law while the courts haggle over what exactly the law is.

That fact may itself be startling at a time when senior administration officials seem more willing to unlawfully promote their boss[5]—or misuse[6] their offices[7]—than follow the law. The Pentagon chiefs’ response to the transgender litigation illustrates how they differ from other senior officials, for better or worse. In response to Trump, the military’s leadership has improvised a new norm of civil-military relations: something in between a yes and a no that doesn’t amount to insubordination but does help modulate Trump’s excesses.

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Although civilian Cabinet officials, generals, and admirals are all “Officers of the United States[8]” under the Constitution, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, they have very different traditions of service. Over more than 240 years, but especially since World War II, the military has evolved[9] into a profession[10] that puts a premium on apolitical service to presidents of both parties. Senior military officers serve tours in key positions that are staggered so that they transcend administration boundaries. Senior officers and junior troops alike are bound by military justice provisions[11] and regulations[12] that sharply curtail their political activity. By rule, custom, and inclination, today’s military leaders shun direct involvement in partisan politics, such as standing on stage during rallies, even at the request of their commander in chief. Those officers who do politick for the boss—like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster writing a controversial[13] op-ed[14] supporting Trump’s “America First” policy—stand out as conspicuous exceptions to the rule.

The policy on transgender service has taken a convoluted path akin to an Army land-navigation course. Whether Trump likes it or not, things stand now as they would have had he never tweeted his demand for a trans ban in July. Pentagon leaders delayed[15] implementation of Trump’s tweet[16], seeking clarification, and then set in motion[17] the slow, grinding machinery of bureaucracy and litigation. The yearslong process begun in 2016 by then–Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will continue moving toward its logical conclusion: open service of transgender troops. Unless Trump’s Justice Department convinces a higher court to overrule two lower court injunctions, the military will continue to include thousands of transgender troops[18] who serve today[19] and thousands more who will volunteer in the future at disproportionately higher rates[20] than the population at large.

In this, as in other cases[21], like the public debate over racism after Charlottesville, military leaders have struck a posture that’s not disloyal but still allows the ship of state to correct its course when steered in the wrong direction by an errant president. It is significant and telling that the highest-ranking military officers—such as Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the four chiefs of the armed services—did not file affidavits in support of the government in the transgender cases. The government relied instead on a handful of unpersuasive affidavits of midranking uniformed officers and senior Pentagon civilians. It’s unclear how much the generals’ prestige would have affected the cases’ outcomes—especially at this early stage, where the facts are less of an issue than the law. However, District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly signaled in her opinion that the government failed to persuade her that the military was as concerned about this policy as Trump was. “In short,” Kollar-Kotelly concluded in her October opinion[22], “the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself.”

If senior military leaders truly stood with Trump on the trans ban, they might have distanced themselves from the studies[23] referenced by the court that suggest allowing transgender troops will have few costs and minimal impacts on military readiness. Defense Secretary James Mattis did so to some degree early on[24], although he merely said he wanted more rigorous evaluation, not different results. Similarly, military leaders like Mattis, Dunford, or the four-star officers responsible for recruiting, training, and maintaining the services could have averred that the Obama administration was wrong or that there were tangible readiness impacts from the new policy that Trump was right to fix. That none of these senior military leaders did so speaks volumes.

Join Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz as they discuss and debate the week’s biggest political news.

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Make no mistake: This is not defiance and does not foreshadow a military coup. Rather, I think we are seeing military leaders doing their best to navigate complex and sometimes conflicting legal imperatives while also preserving the professional (and necessarily apolitical) ethos of the all-volunteer force. The service chiefs cannot march in step with a president[25] who fawns over violent extremists at Charlottesville while simultaneously maintaining good order and discipline within their ranks. Likewise, military leaders cannot simultaneously salute the president on transgender policy while saying[26] the Army’s “greatest asset is our people” and the Army is “indivisible.” The service chiefs know, based on their manpower and recruiting numbers, that they can ill afford to publicly champion a policy that shrinks the eligible pool of qualified recruits, especially at a time when they are seeking to grow their ranks.

Call it respectful disobedience or selective engagement or lawful resistance or some other euphemism—but it’s clear that military leaders have found a formula for saluting their commander in chief while keeping his worst excesses at bay. In this, they are probably aided by a secretary of defense and White House chief of staff who have literally worn their shoes. Jim Mattis[27] and John Kelly may not be able[28] to moderate the president’s worst statements or most egregious tweets, but they almost certainly provide cover for senior military leaders behind closed doors, where they can explain to the president why the generals are behaving a certain way.

This provides a reason to be optimistic. On issue after issue, there seems to be a gap emerging between the president’s first (and often outlandish) statements and the policy that eventually emerges downstream. Perhaps the military leaders have correctly intuited that Trump’s initial positions are simply an opening bid in negotiations. Or perhaps these leaders have learned behind closed doors that they can, in fact, stand up to Trump. Whatever the logic, this dynamic can apply in a broad array of fronts, from reducing the risk of war[29] with North Korea to refining immigration policy[30] to better support of military recruiting—and may just end up saving the republic.

References

  1. ^ embrace transgender recruits (apnews.com)
  2. ^ losing (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ Once the dust settled (www.slate.com)
  4. ^ Far from being a military coup (www.slate.com)
  5. ^ unlawfully promote their boss (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ misuse (www.politico.com)
  7. ^ offices (www.politico.com)
  8. ^ Officers of the United States (www.heritage.org)
  9. ^ evolved (en.wikipedia.org)
  10. ^ profession (data.cape.army.mil)
  11. ^ provisions (www.law.cornell.edu)
  12. ^ regulations (ogc.osd.mil)
  13. ^ controversial (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ op-ed (www.wsj.com)
  15. ^ delayed (www.slate.com)
  16. ^ tweet (www.slate.com)
  17. ^ set in motion (www.slate.com)
  18. ^ thousands of transgender troops (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu)
  19. ^ serve today (www.rand.org)
  20. ^ disproportionately higher rates (www.thetaskforce.org)
  21. ^ cases (www.nytimes.com)
  22. ^ October opinion (www.slate.com)
  23. ^ studies (www.rand.org)
  24. ^ did so to some degree early on (www.defense.gov)
  25. ^ cannot march in step with a president (www.theatlantic.com)
  26. ^ saying (twitter.com)
  27. ^ Jim Mattis (thehill.com)
  28. ^ may not be able (www.politico.com)
  29. ^ reducing the risk of war (twitter.com)
  30. ^ refining immigration policy (www.washingtonpost.com)
0

North Korean Submarine Missile Threat Prompts US-Led Military Drills

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HONG KONG — Amid fears that North Korea is rapidly developing its submarine-launched ballistic missile technology, the United States, Japan and South Korea are teaming up for a drill to track such hard-to-detect missiles, military officials said Monday.

The drill is taking place over two days in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and will involve destroyers from the three nations doing computer-simulated training to track submarine missile launchings by North Korea.

The drills come in the wake of news reports that North Korea is making progress developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs. The website 38 North[1], based at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, obtained images[2] of cylindrical objects, evidence that “suggests construction of a new submarine” at a facility on North Korea’s east coast.

Any North Korean capability to field submarine-launched ballistic missiles in open waters would be particularly worrying for the United States and its allies, since such missiles are hard to detect before launching. In August 2016, North Korea successfully tested such a missile[3] from near its submarine base in Sinpo, sending it 310 miles toward Japan in a launch that came after several failed tests.

The military maneuvers come a week after the United States and South Korea began holding joint drills[4] that included flyovers of advanced stealth fighters and B1-B Lancer bombers over the Korean Peninsula, exercises that led North Korea to accuse the United States of pushing the region “to the brink of nuclear war.”

To step up pressure, South Korea on Monday imposed a new round of sanctions on 20 North Korean groups and 12 individuals. The sanctions, an effort to curtail North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, were imposed in retaliation for the North’s launching of a missile in late November that experts said was capable of hitting much of the continental United States[5].

Separately, Nikki R. Haley, the American envoy to the United Nations, said over the weekend that the United States would send a full delegation of athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Her remarks on “Fox News Sunday” came days after she sowed doubt[6] about participation in the Games by saying it was an “open question” whether American athletes would participate, given the tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

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0

North Korean Submarine Missile Threat Prompts US-Led Military Drills

Advertisement

HONG KONG — Amid fears that North Korea is rapidly developing its submarine-launched ballistic missile technology, the United States, Japan and South Korea are teaming up for a drill to track such hard-to-detect missiles, military officials said Monday.

The drill is taking place over two days in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and will involve destroyers from the three nations doing computer-simulated training to track submarine missile launchings by North Korea.

The drills come in the wake of news reports that North Korea is making progress developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs. The website 38 North[1], based at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, obtained images[2] of cylindrical objects, evidence that “suggests construction of a new submarine” at a facility on North Korea’s east coast.

Any North Korean capability to field submarine-launched ballistic missiles in open waters would be particularly worrying for the United States and its allies, since such missiles are hard to detect before launching. In August 2016, North Korea successfully tested such a missile[3] from near its submarine base in Sinpo, sending it 310 miles toward Japan in a launch that came after several failed tests.

The military maneuvers come a week after the United States and South Korea began holding joint drills[4] that included flyovers of advanced stealth fighters and B1-B Lancer bombers over the Korean Peninsula, exercises that led North Korea to accuse the United States of pushing the region “to the brink of nuclear war.”

To step up pressure, South Korea on Monday imposed a new round of sanctions on 20 North Korean groups and 12 individuals. The sanctions, an effort to curtail North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, were imposed in retaliation for the North’s launching of a missile in late November that experts said was capable of hitting much of the continental United States[5].

Separately, Nikki R. Haley, the American envoy to the United Nations, said over the weekend that the United States would send a full delegation of athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Her remarks on “Fox News Sunday” came days after she sowed doubt[6] about participation in the Games by saying it was an “open question” whether American athletes would participate, given the tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

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0

North Korean Submarine Missile Threat Prompts US-Led Military Drills

HONG KONG — Amid fears that North Korea is rapidly developing its submarine-launched ballistic missile technology, the United States, Japan and South Korea are teaming up for a drill to track such hard-to-detect missiles, military officials said Monday.

The drill is taking place over two days in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and will involve destroyers from the three nations doing computer-simulated training to track submarine missile launchings by North Korea.

The drills come in the wake of news reports that North Korea is making progress developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs. The website 38 North[1], based at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, obtained images[2] of cylindrical objects, evidence that “suggests construction of a new submarine” at a facility on North Korea’s east coast.

Any North Korean capability to field submarine-launched ballistic missiles in open waters would be particularly worrying for the United States and its allies, since such missiles are hard to detect before launching. In August 2016, North Korea successfully tested such a missile[3] from near its submarine base in Sinpo, sending it 310 miles toward Japan in a launch that came after several failed tests.

The military maneuvers come a week after the United States and South Korea began holding joint drills[4] that included flyovers of advanced stealth fighters and B1-B Lancer bombers over the Korean Peninsula, exercises that led North Korea to accuse the United States of pushing the region “to the brink of nuclear war.”

To step up pressure, South Korea on Monday imposed a new round of sanctions on 20 North Korean groups and 12 individuals. The sanctions, an effort to curtail North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, were imposed in retaliation for the North’s launching of a missile in late November that experts said was capable of hitting much of the continental United States[5].

Separately, Nikki R. Haley, the American envoy to the United Nations, said over the weekend that the United States would send a full delegation of athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Her remarks on “Fox News Sunday” came days after she sowed doubt[6] about participation in the Games by saying it was an “open question” whether American athletes would participate, given the tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

References

  1. ^ 38 North (www.38north.org)
  2. ^ obtained images (www.38north.org)
  3. ^ successfully tested such a missile (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ began holding joint drills (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ much of the continental United States (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ days after she sowed doubt (www.nytimes.com)
0

North Korean Submarine Missile Threat Prompts US-Led Military Drills

HONG KONG — Amid fears that North Korea is rapidly developing its submarine-launched ballistic missile technology, the United States, Japan and South Korea are teaming up for a drill to track such hard-to-detect missiles, military officials said Monday.

The drill is taking place over two days in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and will involve destroyers from the three nations doing computer-simulated training to track submarine missile launchings by North Korea.

The drills come in the wake of news reports that North Korea is making progress developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs. The website 38 North[1], based at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, obtained images[2] of cylindrical objects, evidence that “suggests construction of a new submarine” at a facility on North Korea’s east coast.

Any North Korean capability to field submarine-launched ballistic missiles in open waters would be particularly worrying for the United States and its allies, since such missiles are hard to detect before launching. In August 2016, North Korea successfully tested such a missile[3] from near its submarine base in Sinpo, sending it 310 miles toward Japan in a launch that came after several failed tests.

The military maneuvers come a week after the United States and South Korea began holding joint drills[4] that included flyovers of advanced stealth fighters and B1-B Lancer bombers over the Korean Peninsula, exercises that led North Korea to accuse the United States of pushing the region “to the brink of nuclear war.”

To step up pressure, South Korea on Monday imposed a new round of sanctions on 20 North Korean groups and 12 individuals. The sanctions, an effort to curtail North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, were imposed in retaliation for the North’s launching of a missile in late November that experts said was capable of hitting much of the continental United States[5].

Separately, Nikki R. Haley, the American envoy to the United Nations, said over the weekend that the United States would send a full delegation of athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Her remarks on “Fox News Sunday” came days after she sowed doubt[6] about participation in the Games by saying it was an “open question” whether American athletes would participate, given the tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

References

  1. ^ 38 North (www.38north.org)
  2. ^ obtained images (www.38north.org)
  3. ^ successfully tested such a missile (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ began holding joint drills (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ much of the continental United States (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ days after she sowed doubt (www.nytimes.com)