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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Command decision

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Thursday, July 27, 2017 09:09 am

Washington reporting being what it is these days, I can't even begin to guess whether the story of how President Trump came to ban transgendered people from serving in the military is true or even close to it. But it so perfectly illustrates how Trump operates and how people react to him that it should be true:

Numerous House conservatives and defense hawks this week had threatened to derail their own legislation if it did not include a prohibition on Pentagon funding for gender reassignment surgeries, which they deem a waste of taxpayer money. But GOP leaders were caught in a pinch between those demands and moderate Republicans who felt the proposal was blatantly discriminatory.

[. . .]

The president's directive, of course, took the House issue a step beyond paying for gender reassignment surgery and other medical treatment. House Republicans were never debating expelling all transgender troops from the military.

“This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” said one senior House Republican aide. The source said that while GOP leaders asked the White House for help, they weren't expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump's far-reaching directive.

Man, there is so much going on there. You have the president essentially setting policy with a Tweet, which is ill-advised. You have members of Congress actually debating whether the military should pay for gender reassignment surgeries, which is insane. And you have Trump pushing the boundaries of what is expected from a president so hard that it drives everybody absolutely insane. At this late date, how could anybody not know that if you ask Trump to light a candle he might set the table on fire?

In trying to talk rationally about this subject, I think we need to be careful to keep two issues separate: How Trump announced his new policy, and whether that policy itself is advisable and/or defensible. As always when it comes to this president, we tend to let the two co-mingle, and our stupefaction (or outrage as the case may be) at the president's outrageousness keeps us from considering the possibility that there is a sensible policy at stake.

Certainly no chief executive should make such a major policy change so casually. Yes, Trump is the commander-in-chief, and he can pretty much order the military to do what he wants them to. But it appears that he made this decision (or at least this announcement) without any input from Congress or the military. So we don't have any idea how or when this policy will be implemented, and for the past day we've had the absurd situation of the Pentagon referring questions to the White House and the White House referring questions to the Pentagon. And some questions simply cannot be answer by anyone (at least until a certain someone tweets about it), such as how this might affect transgendered military members already serving.

But Trump's impetuousness aside, whether there is a place in the military for transgenderism is a valid question, even an important one if military preparedness is given the attention it deserves. Trump hatred seems to have blinded a number of people to that possibility, even Republicans who usually are a little more clear-headed about the military. "I don't think we should be discriminating against anyone," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. "Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them." From Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who wields a lot of control over the Pentagon's budget from his perch on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee: “You ought to treat everybody fairly and give everybody a chance to serve." From Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.): “I would have significant objections to any proposal that calls for a specific group of American patriots currently serving in uniform to be removed from the military.”

"Transgender people are people." Well, that's profound. "Give everybody a chance to serve." That, forgive me for saying it, is absolute crap. A lot of people are disqualified for serving in the military for a lot of reasons. The question is whether a person is equipped to handle the mental and physical requirements of military life, whether they would contribute to unite cohesion, whether they would detract from the military mission of preparing to stand up against our enemies. I think the burden of proof is on those who think transgenderism can fit into the military culture, not on those who question it. The reasons are many, most of them more than obvious:

Taking the ongoing SJW debate over transgender issues out of the civilian arena and into the military environment was always going to be a sticking point. In America we live in a generally free society and bend over backward to let everyone express themselves however they wish as long as they aren’t interfering with the privacy and rights of their fellow citizens. The military is simply a different world and it’s one where you sign away some of your fundamental rights (including free speech among others) when you take the oath. And the requirements for living in a frequently cramped, high pressure society such as that, along with the need for uniformity to obtain optimal force performance don’t allow for the same range of self-expression.

Whether in fact a transgendered person, or any person, can be suitable for military service, should of course be up to the Pentagon. Military fitness, to state the obvious, is a military decision:

The military is no place for social experiments, or really any other social-policy battles, from the left or the right. The stakes are too high. The only issue in determining who serves in the military should be military fitness, readiness, and loyalty. Any deviation from those priorities gets people killed.

[. . .]

Because this is an issue of military fitness and the good order and discipline of military units, there should be a strong presumption that those decisions be made by the people in uniform. The “chickenhawk” argument that nobody can have an opinion on military matters if they haven’t served is dumb and offensive on a lot of levels. Decisions of war, peace, and national security are too important to the nation to be left only to the soldiers and generals. But there’s an important lesson here on experts in general. Like any group of experts, the military needs to be left to manage its day-to-day affairs without a lot of outside interference, but also needs civilian oversight and subordination to civilian authority on the major, big-picture decisions. The question of fitness to serve is much more in the day-to-day affairs area, so the rest of us should generally stay out of it.

The Pentagon was, I believe, already about a month into a six-month study of transgenderism and the military. I presume it would have included looking at the effects of transgendered people already in the military, and such obvious questions as who uses which bathroom and shower.

That study was exactly what was appropriate, the military studying what the military needed, which would have resulted in a recommendation to the commander-in-chief, who could have then issued the appropriate directive.

But that kind of protocol is obviously too slow and ponderous for the impatient and impulsive Mr. Trump, so what we have is a big, fat mess.

As usual.

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