As we reported last night, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has effectively halted the President’s stated and decreed ban on transgender service in the military, suspending the implementation of the order while the military studies the issue. He did this using the authority explicitly given him by the President in issuing the order in the first place.
There will be consequences.
Politically, this is yet another example of someone appointed by Trump who is not doing as Trump has publicly ordered. Trump doubled and tripled down on his tweeted transgender ban, making a political hill to die on. Whatever the reality of the military’s need to review the order and the impact of such a policy, the appearance of being countermanded will matter a great deal to President Trump … assuming he is even exposed to the press discussing it. Rumors have it such negative press reaches his ears far less lately under Kelly’s careful management.
But assuming he does see what people are saying, it certainly puts Mattis in a position familiar to observers of Trump’s most competent appointees: directly opposing Trump’s public positions. That hasn’t worked out great for his many fires.
Taking away the political appearance, the actual issue is itself more complicated than a tweet and the reactions to a tweet make it seem. Despite protestation from the activist left and press, and self-aggrandizing declarations of gender blindness from outspoken personnel, the truth is that allowing openly “transgender” members to enlist and/or serve in their assumed identity, or to take surgical steps at government expense to alter their physical characteristics absolutely and without question will have an impact on other service members. Assessing the extent of that impact, and whether or not it has a negative effect on military readiness, is of the most importance.
It is, in short, prudent, smart, and obvious that Mattis should put every effort into studying whether this would be a net gain or a net negative. In his official statement, he says as much:
Statement by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Military Service by Transgender Individuals:
The Department of Defense has received the Presidential Memorandum, dated August 25, 2017, entitled “Military Service by Transgender Individuals.” 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.
Our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield. To that end, I will establish a panel of experts serving within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction. Panel members will bring mature experience, most notably in combat and deployed operations, and seasoned judgment to this task. The panel will assemble and thoroughly analyze all pertinent data, quantifiable and non-quantifiable. Further information on the panel will be forthcoming.
Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction. In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place. I expect to issue interim guidance to the force concerning the president’s direction, including any necessary interim adjustments to procedures, to ensure the continued combat readiness of the force until our final policy on this subject is issued.
It is that final paragraph that puts the Secretary on the precarious footing in the administration, by the way. That contrary to public statements to the contrary, “transgender” military members will continue to serve at the moment. “In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.”
It’s nearly impossible to predict with accuracy what President Trump will do when reacting to political fallout, so whether he treats this as a countermand or ignores it altogether remains to be seen and I can’t hazard a guess. But that it will be treated in the press as a direct challenge to Trump can hardly be doubted, nor that it will be seen as a victory for the cause of “transgender” military service and against the “backward” or “hateful” position of the administration up to this point.
The readiness and good order and discipline in the military are of the utmost importance here. More than fairness or political causes or religious guidelines or bad press or good press. If there’s anyone I personally trust to make the right decisions going forward, it’s Gen. Mattis. If that means he backs Trump’s ban 100% then I trust that judgment. If it means he 100% opposes the President, I’ll trust that judgment too. That’s what I know.