Editor’s Note: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a a CNN contributor and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of “Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: Military leaders have championed the idea that anyone qualified to serve should serve
Trump should listen to them, she writes
In July, President Donald Trump tweeted that the government “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US military.”
Then two senators – New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins – tried to amend the wide-ranging $700 billion defense bill the Senate approved Monday with a measure that would challenge that ban and “protect” transgender troops.
And now Sen. John McCain is co-sponsoring a bill that would ban preventing transgender service members who want to continue serving America. Senators Gillibrand and Collins are part of the McCain-backed legislation.
“When less than 1% of Americans are volunteering to join the military, we should welcome all those who are willing and able to serve our country,” McCain said in a statement. “Any member of the military who meets the medical and readiness standards should be allowed to serve – including those who are transgender.”
That the US military is even considering a transgender ban is just one more sign of a country so divorced from what it is asking of those in uniform that it prioritizes items such as kicking out otherwise qualified troops, rather than focusing on readiness and fighting the wars already underway. Indeed, military leaders understand this and have championed the idea that anyone qualified to serve should serve. Period.
Just this past week, Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a memo saying that transgender service members may re-enlist and continue getting medical care – at least until a commission studying the issue releases its guidance early next year.
Late last month, Mattis ordered creation of the panel to study the transgender ban, effectively buying some time on its implementation. In the meantime, the current policy, which allows transgender troops to serve in the military, will continue, the secretary said.
And a day after President Trump’s tweet banning transgender individuals from serving, Gen. Joseph Dunford wrote in a memo saying there will be “no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines.”
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” Dunford wrote. “As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
And these are the issues: North Korea, Iran, Syria. These are the pressing matters facing the White House. The gender of service members is not. The White House would best serve its military, and the nation, by handling those urgent questions on the policy front.
In guidance issued to officers while the secretary of defense worked to “discern the President’s intent,” the head of Navy personnel, Vice Adm. Robert Burke, reminded them that “treating service members with dignity and respect is something we expect from our sailors at all times.”
Discerning President Trump’s intent on a tweet they did not know about ahead of time is hardly the best use of time for those charged with protecting America. The military is already on alert. Facing threats. Fighting multiple wars. Deterring others. Since coming to office, this administration has devolved a significant amount of decision-making power concerning America’s wars to its war fighters. It should follow that path here as well.
Trump’s secretary of the Navy said it well, telling reporters that “on a fundamental basis, any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military.” Those are words the White House must hear. For the sake of America’s security.