The US military will not enlist transgendered recruits, nor allow them to serve in “any capacity” within the armed forces, Donald Trump announced on Twitter. The move contradicts the policy direction set by Barack Obama in the final months of his presidency, and will create a firestorm of controversy that will likely far outstrip the practical impact of the ban.

This will likely knock the feud with Jeff Sessions off the front pages of American newspapers, which may be the point of this Twitter announcement:

Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the end of a ban on transgenders in the military almost exactly thirteen months ago. In September of last year, the DoD issued a handbook on the new policy, which remains available on the DoD website. The handbook states the policy at the beginning:

In July 2015, the Secretary of Defense directed the Department of Defense to identify the practical issues related to transgender Americans serving openly in the military and to develop an implementation plan that addresses those issues consistent with military readiness. On June 30, 2016, the Secretary announced a new policy5 allowing open service of transgender Service members and outlined three reasons6 for this policy change:

  • The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard need to avail themselves of all available talent in order to remain the finest fighting force the world has ever known. The mission to defend this country requires that the Services do not have barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve or preventing the Department of Defense (DoD) from recruiting or retaining Service members.
  • There are transgender Service members in uniform today. DoD has a responsibility to them and their commanders to provide clearer and more consistent guidance.
  • Individuals who want to serve and can meet the Department’s standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so

However, that policy got delayed in implementation while the Pentagon reviewed the resources and adjustments necessary for its success. A month ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced an extension on that delay as more thought went into that question. Until today, no one was certain which direction the new administration would go.

Few would have predicted a total ban. Some had raised the possibility of using the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy used for twenty years or so when dealing with gays and lesbians serving in the military, but that would be impractical as well as hypocritical. Perhaps Trump and Mattis felt pushed into an all-or-nothing approach after hearing former Joint Chiefs chair Admiral Mike McMullen urging Congress yesterday to embrace transgenders and all their medical costs:

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen called on Congress Tuesday to resist dictating policy to the Pentagon on how to treat transgender troops.

Mullen was the highest-profile military leader to oppose the military’s policy barring gay troops from serving, lending his considerable prestige to that ultimately successful movement. He oversaw the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 and compared it today to efforts aimed at limiting funding for medical treatment of transgender troops.

“I led our armed forces under the flawed ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy and saw firsthand the harm to readiness and morale when we fail to treat all service members according to the same standards,” Mullen said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Thousands of transgender Americans are currently serving in uniform and there is no reason to single out these brave men and women and deny them the medical care that they require.”

How much would that have cost? A RAND study commissioned by the Pentagon estimated annual medical costs at $8.4 million year, which isn’t chump change but isn’t necessarily a relative fortune either. Across an estimated 6,630 transgender troops, it comes to $1267 a year per person — but that could increase significantly if enlistment bans ended permanently.

The best argument for the policy change back to the traditional model is the one that Trump offered on Twitter. The duty of the the armed forces is to defend the nation and maintain readiness at maximum efficiency, not train soldiers to shower with “women who have male genitalia.” The counterargument is that the ban will keep talented recruits from making the service as good or better than it already is, but the additional medical costs and complications for their transgender status argues against efficiency, at least. That’s very different from having gays and lesbians serve openly, as the only difference between them and other recruits is sexual orientation, not medical issues.

With that said, why not have James Mattis make this announcement in a more traditional manner? Ben Shapiro wondered the same thing on Twitter. Mattis would have much more credibility to make this claim, which might moderate some of the political blowback. The point here is to establish Trump as the decision-maker, I suppose, but that wastes a lot of Mattis’ political capital.

Anyway, get ready for the lawsuits. And you know who’d be a good Attorney General to fight them, one who has deep connections to the social conservatives Trump will need to rally? Er

Update: Apparently the White House didn’t give Republican leadership on Capitol Hill a heads-up. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was in the middle of a Washington Post interview with David Ignatius when someone handed Ignatius the tweets. Corker, surprised, said he’d look into it, but certainly didn’t look happy to be surprised.

Update: Why not have Mattis announce the new policy? He’s on vacation:

Couldn’t this have waited another five days?