Breaking news: Tweets are not EOs, especially to those accustomed to giving and taking orders. In the absence of a directive that explicitly ends the military’s mainstreaming of transgender enlisted and officers, the Joint Chiefs are sticking with the status quo:
There will be “no modifications” to the military’s transgender policy as a result of President Donald Trump’s tweets, the chairman of the joint chiefs said in a message to top military officers on Thursday. …
“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” Dunford wrote in the message, a copy of which was provided to POLITICO. “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 guidance.”
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions,” he continued.
Did anyone at the Pentagon know about the policy change before Trump’s tweets? Apparently not. Vice Admiral Robert Burke told his subordinates in an e-mail that Trump’s policy announcement surprised commanders, and that the Navy would not take any steps to change the status of currently serving transgender sailors and officers:
The Navy will not immediately discharge transgender sailors and will continue to provide them with medical treatment despite the tweets fired off by President Trump on Wednesday, according to an email obtained by USA TODAY.
The email from Vice Adm. Robert Burke also acknowledges that Trump’s announcement is “causing concern for some of our sailors and that they likely have questions.”
What’s more, it indicates that the Trump’s tweets – that the U.S. military will not accept transgender troops into its ranks or allow them to serve in any capacity – caught military brass unawares.
Some on social media painted this as a mutiny of sorts, a constitutional crisis in which the military was insubordinately refusing to comply with a commander-in-chief’s orders. A valid order has to be issued before a refusal to comply can take place, however, and social-media postings don’t qualify. The Joint Chiefs are no more required to accept a Twitter update as an order than they would a comment made between a president and a civilian at a cocktail party.
Therefore, the military is acting appropriately in this case. Yes, the president has announced a policy change, but they have to wait to get that directly from either the president himself or his designate, Secretary of Defense James Mattis. He’s on vacation, and apparently “appalled” with Trump’s medium of transmission in this case. Until Mattis gets back, promulgates the policy with effective orders, the military has no choice but to stand pat.
Of course, this is why major military policy changes should be worked out ahead of time with all of the principals, and not emitted via stream-of-consciousness social media posts. Even when the policy is supportable, as in this case, the effort loses all credibility and undermines the chain of command. That’s not the fault of the Joint Chiefs.