USA Today claims that Secretary of Defense Mattis tapped the brakes. At Vox, Alex Ward claims just the opposite. The truth is that we simply do not know because of ambiguities in Trump’s memorandum (which might be intentional) and a lack of specifics in Mattis’s statement.
This all started with an unnecessary tweet directed at Trump’s evangelical base, specifically people like hate group leader Tony Perkins. It served no purpose. To the best of my knowledge, the presence of transgender troops has created no problem or even controversy. The military expects people to do their jobs.
Trump claims to have consulted with “his” generals which was a lie. Yet once tweeted a policy had to be put in place. It required more than a month for a policy memorandum to be authored that corresponds somewhat to an extemporaneous and impulsive tweet. The erratic Trump needs adult supervision. Our government would be measurably better were Trump disconnected from Twitter.
It is also glaringly obvious that Trump thinks that Obama was the same kind of impulsive knee-jerk dilettante that Trump is. He is seemingly completely unaware of how we got to where we are at.
Let us look closely at section 1b of the memorandum which reads, in part:
I am directing the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard, to return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals that was in place prior to June 2016 until such time as a sufficient basis exists upon which to conclude that terminating that policy and practice would not have the negative effects discussed above. The Secretary of Defense, after consulting with the Secretary of Homeland Security, may advise me at any time, in writing, that a change to this policy is warranted.
Section 3 reads, in part:
As part of the implementation plan, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military. Until the Secretary has made that determination, no action may be taken against such individuals under the policy set forth in section 1(b) of this memorandum.
Needless to say, President Obama’s policy change did not start with a tweet and wasn’t a spontaneous policy decision. In May of 2014 then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagle (a Republican mind you) started to review the policy and recommended that a review be ongoing and continuous. More than a year later, in July, 2015, Hagle’s replacement, Ash Carter stated:
We have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — real, patriotic Americans — who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit.
Secretary Carter commissioned the RAND Corporation to study the matter. RAND issued a report on June 30, 2016 (more than two years after the Department of Defense started to review the issue). In a press release, the company stated:
If the U.S. military decides to let transgender people serve openly, the number would likely be a small fraction of the total force and have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs …
They also noted:
Eighteen countries allow transgender personnel to serve openly in their militaries. RAND researchers focused on the policies of four with the most well developed and publicly available policies on transgender military personnel: Australia, Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom.
Israel is always under imminent threat of attack. It is safe to assume that readiness and lethality have not been undermined by the service of transgender personnel. In fact, it is safe to assume that the capabilities of the IDF have been enhanced and that, when it comes to their military, there is a general absence of politically correct decision making. In fact, according to the RAND analytical brief:
None of the foreign militaries examined reported a negative impact on the operational effectiveness, operational readiness, or cohesion of the force.
The point is that this matter has been thoroughly studied and, as far as I know, the experience of the U.S. Military has not deviated from the study. In other words, there existed no practical reason to change the policy in the first place. Effective government and political expediency are supposed to be competing forces. Not for Trump!
That brings us to Secretary Mattis. He has until February 21, 2018 to offer his recommendations and there is no means of conducting a meaningful study over the next seven months. It is just not enough time and, more importantly, it has already been done. In his statement he said:
The department will carry out the president’s policy direction, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security. As directed, we will develop a study and implementation plan, which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law. The soon arriving senior civilian leadership of DOD will play an important role in this effort. The implementation plan will address accessions of transgender individuals and transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military.
That paragraph really says nothing. Compliance could mean whatever part of the administration’s memo it agrees with.
Recruitment of trans individuals ends on January 1 and full implementation of the policy is scheduled for March 23. Mattis is required to submit recommendations by February 21, 2018. Therefore, Mattis is ultimately going to determine the fate of transgender personnel in the U.S. military. If he chooses to support their continuing service he has all of the necessary justification provided by over two years of review. In addition to the RAND study, I am certain that there exists a body of internal documents. Whatever the generals have already reviewed and concluded it did not deter the Obama administration from changing the policy in 2016.
Should Mattis choose to eliminate trans service, he can come up with the necessary justifications to do so based upon biased conjecture. The question that remains is; what does Trump want and will Mattis be independent or subservient to Agent Orange? Whatever Trump wants will fluctuate depending upon the last person that he speaks with on the subject. What a way to govern.