Monday, June 17, 2024

Opinion | Enough, Sen. Tuberville. It isn’t ‘pro-life’ to damage military lives.

Opinion | Enough, Sen. Tuberville. It isn’t ‘pro-life’ to damage military lives.

The story of every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine is unique, just as the story of every civilian American is unique. But there is a crucial difference. When men and women enlist in the U.S. military, they voluntarily put themselves under the authority of everyone in their chain of command. They depend on that chain of command for their lives.

At every level, those below depend on the competence of those above. The nation’s political leaders, admittedly, might not have always selected the best generals and admirals to put at the top. But until now, never in my memory have those down in the ranks been given reason to believe that the political leadership is intentionally screwing up the chain of command by ensuring the best people are kept out of the top jobs. Or, rather, that a solitary individual on Capitol Hill is doing this to the U.S. military.

That person is Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). He has frozen hundreds of nominations and promotions of senior military leaders to express his unhappiness over Defense Department abortion policies.

Tuberville should immediately stop holding the military chain of command hostage. That was also the message delivered by retired U.S. Adm. James Stavridis in a radio interview with me on Monday. Stavridis noted that Tuberville is famed in Alabama for running the Auburn University football program, adding, “but this is not a game.”

Tommy Tuberville: My hold on military nominees doesn’t affect national security

Tuberville’s tactic is “immensely distracting to national security,” he said. “I hope it would appeal to a former superb football coach: Organizations need stable leadership. They need to know who’s in charge.”

Putting a military organization in the position of filling senior positions with “acting” officers is “extremely deleterious,” Stavridis said. “Would he want a football team with an acting coach, always wondering when the real coach is going to show up?”

The former supreme allied commander of NATO, with responsibility for Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, and former head of U.S. Southern Command added this insightful note:

“What happens when Senator Left Wing says ‘I’m not going to approve anyone until DOD cuts its entire fuel budget down to zero.’ Once we go down that path of allowing a particular senator who feels passionately about a particular issue, and I don’t doubt that [Tuberville] does, wait until the left starts using it and you have dragged our national security dead into the center of whirlpool of domestic controversy.”

Tuberville currently has more than 270 nominations and/or promotions on hold — and they will remain that way until he removes the hold. He accuses Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of abusing his power to extend leave and travel benefits to members of the military who want an abortion but are stationed in a state where abortion isn’t legal.

Make no mistake, Austin’s policy choice is a terrible one — but that doesn’t excuse Tuberville’s decision to imperil the men and women of the U.S. military. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

Anyone with a spouse, a parent or a child in the service wants the leadership to be the very best available. This is not to diminish the pain inflicted on the families of the senior officers caught up in Tuberville’s machinations. But it “broadens the pool of pain,” to borrow a phrase from Stavridis, when you begin to think about the families of these officers, their staff and their families, and then every single officer and enlisted person serving below them.

Uncertainty is just paralysis, and paralysis in the military can be deadly. On every level, this action by the Alabama senator is morally and strategically wrong, the sort of self-inflicted scar that invites a future Republican primary challenge, or maybe a faceoff against a retired military hero on the Democratic side.

If Tuberville thinks that he’s bolstering support with the Republican base by claiming he’s just acting on his pro-life convictions, he’s mistaken. I have been vocally pro-life much longer than Tuberville has been a politician, but always through the means designed to actually advance the agenda of saving unborn children. It is inexcusable to use a pro-life stance to upend the lives of countless Americans who volunteered to protect their fellow citizens.

The “first rule of holes” is that to escape one, you have to stop digging. The Republican-controlled House on Friday passed a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with an amendment that would repeal the Austin policy funding travel for abortion. Even if that provision doesn’t make it all the way to the NDAA’s enactment, it is bound, at a minimum, for consideration in a conference committee. The issue will have been highlighted. Even though Tuberville in the past has said such prominence wouldn’t be sufficient, the senator should declare victory — a.k.a., stop digging, right now. And stop playing with the lives of U.S. military personnel.

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