Alex Wagner is the former chief of staff to the 22nd secretary of the Army. He teaches a course at Georgetown Law on LGBTQ issues and is a fellow at the Truman National Security Project.
Wagner writes today at Slate: Trump’s Trans Troops Ban Would Require a Cruel and Exorbitantly Expensive Witch Hunt
Wagner examines the Trump anti-transgender tweetstorm.
After consultation with my Generals and military experts
I served in the Pentagon for over six years, ending the Obama administration as the chief of staff to Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, where I was heavily involved in decisions related to taking care of the Army’s 1.4 million soldiers and civilians. I’ve seen up close how the White House and Pentagon are supposed to work together on high-profile policy decisions and announcements.
That’s not what happened here. According to the New York Times, when Trump refers to “my Generals,” he means a troika of two retired generals, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and incoming White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, as well as his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. But Mattis, who reportedly supports open transgender service, happened to be on vacation when Trump made his announcement. Also apparently out of the loop was Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who hastily issued an internal clarification that there would be “no modifications” to current Defense Department policy allowing transgender service, pending written “implementation guidance.” The day after the announcement, the Army’s top general, Mark Milley, admitted that he learned of the policy change via the media. It is clear that Trump did not actually involve our nation’s most senior military leaders in his decision. Instead, his decision appears to have been rooted solely in politics.
Perhaps he consulted Seb Gorka, who as far as anyone knows has no military experience, but shared his opinion with BBC:
We don't need to help try and force them into the hierarchical military environment where they are under the utmost pressure to kill or be killed. That is why the president is doing this out of the warmth of his consideration for this population.
The military is not a microcosm of civilian society. They are not there to reflect America. They are there to kill people and blow stuff up. They are not there to be socially engineered.
Whatever prompted it, Trump’s declaration has disturbing implications for the Department of Defense and America’s transgender troops. Trump tweeted that “The United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This raises the question of whether he is even aware that transgender troops are already serving openly in the military now—and previously served for decades in silence.
Should Trump’s tweets be formalized into “implementation guidance,” the military will be tasked to delve into the private lives of our armed forces to identify trans troops—who were, just a year ago, encouraged to serve openly. Such a purge of transgender individuals from the ranks would represent an unprecedented attempt to socially engineer a military that is finally is open to all Americans who can meet its high standards.
Although Trump declared transgender troops a “disruption,” I can think of nothing more distracting or disruptive for a military at war in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia than demanding that its leadership identify, locate, and discharge trans service members. The military has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars recruiting, training, and equipping these troops.
Trump’s plan, if implemented, would impose real budget costs, undermining any insignificant savings derived by denying these service members medically necessary health care. Of course, Trump’s tweets are often not the definitive word on a subject. His staff may very well walk back these tweets, as they have done with so many others, And while Americans may have grown numb to Trump’s Twitter rants as deliberate distractions rather than substantive policymaking, the pernicious impact of this ban on good order and discipline, as well as unit cohesion, would be unfathomable and severe.
So I’m optimistic that the backlash resulting from Trump’s trans tweets—even from members of his own Republican Party—might help our president learn one thing about the military: Inclusion and opportunity for all aren’t social experiments but rather fundamental and uniquely American values.
For those readers who think this is all "Culture War" stuff we should underplay (which is too many) because we are losing that war, I'd like you to read Steve Chapman at reason.com: Trump Is on the Losing Side of the Culture War With Transgender Military Issue