The Obama administration’s battle for social change in the military has been long and bloody, costing untold political currency, but exacting massive wins for social justice.
While President Donald Trump has signaled a policy turn of sorts back to modernization, training, and ship building, former President Barack Obama’s military legacy centered on gays, the trans community, and woman service members.
“His administration instituted policy changes that ensure that the best candidates are allowed the opportunity to pursue the jobs for which they are qualified, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” Kate Germano, chief operating officer for the Service Women’s Action Network, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The military has not seen such historic progress in ensuring equal opportunity since desegregation.”
Others, including some now-retired military officials, think the Obama administration’s prioritization of a political and social agenda has left other more fundamental goals of combat readiness and effectiveness in disrepair.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said that real military culture has suffered, due to the Obama administration’s radical political objectives.
“Some changes have been positive, but the extremes imposed by the Obama Administration over the past eight years have vitiated the best qualities of military culture and core values in numerous ways,” Donnelly told TheDCNF. “Instead of assigning highest priority to military necessity and combat readiness, the Obama administration has assigned highest priority to social goals and political payoffs to special interest groups. He has done this repeatedly even though research and data have predicted and documented harmful consequences in terms of military readiness.”
From the very start, it was clear Obama intended to style himself as a radical social reformer.
Obama set the tone during his presidential campaign when he pushed for a full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the 1994 law from then-President Bill Clinton that protected gays in the service as long as they didn’t advertise their sexuality.
DADT was finally repealed Sept. 20, 2011, marking the administration’s first major social victory in the military. The shift was remarkable: Only 29 years earlier, in 1982, it was official DOD policy that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.”
The Obama administration then set its sights on opening of all combat roles to women.
Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the ban on women serving in combat in 2013 and instructed the services to study and develop plans for integration, with a stipulated deadline of January 2016 — just months before Obama’s election — to either implement the new policy or request an exemption.
Then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford formally asked for an exemption to keep some jobs male-only in September 2015. The request came as a result of a Marine Corps study that showed all-male units vastly outperformed mixed-gender units on combat tasks.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus slammed Marine leadership, claiming officials biased the study against women. Mabus’ outburst prompted calls from GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter for his resignation over perceived disrespect.
Carter delivered his final announcement in December 2015: all combat roles would be open to women—no exceptions. Dunford was notably not in attendance, a heralding of continued clashes to come between the highest levels of the DOD and the Marine Corps.
While the Pentagon was busy working on opening combat roles to women, a part of the bureaucracy during 2015 was focused on repealing the prohibition on transgenders serving openly. USA Today reported in August 2015 that the Pentagon intended to repeal the ban by May 2016. According to the piece, Carter established a working group to tear down any barriers to removing the ban and the group moved forward under the presumption transgenders could serve openly, unless insurmountable obstacles were identified.
None apparently came up, and so Carter proceeded to end the ban officially June 30, 2016, which constitutes the Obama administration’s third most prominent social achievement. Since then, the military has been busy ironing out all the details, namely by mandating that all troops undergo transgender behavioral education before July 2017, which is when the services will start accepting transgender recruits. For transgenders already in the service, the military will provide hormone therapy and at least in the Navy and Marine Corps, surgeons are preparing to offer “top” surgery, but will leave the complicated and messy “bottom” surgery to the private sector.
Though not nearly as noteworthy as the above three changes in terms of magnitude, progressive symbolism has crept up elsewhere all throughout the services—even in weapons systems.
Throughout his tenure, Mabus has named numerous ships after controversial progressive activists, rather than following the established Navy tradition of naming ships after military heroes.
“I think you have to represent all the values that we hold as Americans, that we hold as a country. And so that’s why I’ve named ships the Medgar Evers, Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, the Harvey Milk,” Mabus told The Associated Press. “Because these are American heroes too, just in a different arena.”
Milk, lauded for being the first openly gay politician in the United States, was a predator who liked young boys with substance abuse issues.
Moreover, encouraging a system of promotion based on propagating social change has turned the Pentagon inside out and spawned a culture of internal competition to prove commitment to diversity and inclusion through a litany of briefings, training exercises and event participation. So intense is this competition that it’s actually difficult to track every single instance.
“President Obama’s most radical policy changes have turned sound military priorities upside down,” Donnelly said.
And yet, despite major strides, the Obama administration has not succeeded on all fronts of the social change war in the Pentagon.
Although the Republican-dominated Congress has essentially rolled over when it comes to throwing up any serious opposition to policies like repealing the ban on transgenders, legislators have successfully come out in arms against at least one Obama administration-approved policy: forcing women to sign up for the draft.
Introduced as a sort of reductio ad absurdum to illustrate the logical consequences of allowing women access to all combat roles, GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter forwarded an amendment in April 2016 requiring women to sign up for Selective Service, but what Hunter didn’t anticipate is that the amendment would actually pass by the House Committee on Armed Services by a 32-30 vote. However, when it finally came time for House and Senate negotiators to reconcile different version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense bill, legislators ended up dropping the requirement, introducing a proposal instead to study whether the draft system is even necessary anymore.
In early 2016, following Carter’s decision to open all combat roles to women, Marine Corps officials fought back against Mabus’ attempt to integrate male and female Marine recruits at bootcamp. Mabus relented in April 2016, allowing segregation to continue, but he did note that gender integration will come eventually.
“[W]hile we’re going to move in that direction, we’re not going to do it all at once … We’re going to figure out how to better integrate, and do it over time, in a way that doesn’t disrupt training and doesn’t disrupt the way you become Marines,” Mabus said at the time.
The decision not to order integration came as a disappointment to Germano.
“We would like to have seen President Obama require the Marine Corps to integrate recruit training,” Germano told TheDCNF.
Additionally, although Navy Secretary Ray Mabus tried to upend the service’s entire job title system to make it more gender-neutral, the ideological motivation behind the move was so transparent that sailors near universally protested the change, prompting Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson to announce in late December 2016 that the Navy was canceling the shift.
Retired Marine Colonel and professor Gary Anderson argued recently in an op-ed published at the military blog Task & Purpose that he hopes the next administration will dismantle social engineering policies in the military, specifically the Navy. But given GOP President-elect Donald Trump’s simultaneous friendliness to the LGBT community and his castigation of political correctness, it’s unclear exactly what progressive policies will remain and which will be cut under a Trump administration. And this picture has become even more complex recently, as Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, said in his confirmation hearing that he doesn’t intend to oppose LGBT troops serving openly and hinted at not rolling back the decision to open all combat roles to women.
Rep. Hunter, on the other hand, who has proven a stringent critic of the Obama administration, hopes to see Trump bring back the warrior mentality in the military, exclude women from infantry and special operations in accordance and accept transgenders in the service, so long as they transition before entering the military–not after. The recommendation of excluding women from infantry and special operations, Hunter says, came from then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who now serves as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The warrior mentality needs to be put back into the U.S. military,” Hunter told TheDCNF. “It’s not IBM, it’s not like going to work for Walmart, where you have a sterile, corporate environment, which is what I think this administration has tried to make the military.”
Outgoing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has already warned in a recent interview that while the next administration could theoretically repeal progressive policies like female integration, doing so will result in a weaker military, as diversity is the force’s strength.
But Army Secretary Eric Fanning isn’t terribly worried about the prospect of a Trump administration.
“I feel pretty confident that these changes and this direction is here to say,” Fanning said at the Defense One Summit in November.
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