As with most things President Trump does, the response to the news that transgender soldiers will no longer be allowed to serve in the military has involved multiple expressions, with the typical one usually involving charges of the move being unnecessary or an act of discrimination. Those who support the president’s tweet claim that such policy is needed as a result of medical costs. Which side is correct? Well, both in a way.
The comment concerning costs from the tweet seems to come from a RAND study that the Pentagon commissioned last year. In it, the conclusion was that including transgender soldiers in the military would lead to incurring anywhere from $2.4 to 8.4 million in increased medical costs (http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_briefs/RB9900/RB9909/RAND_RB9909.pdf). The number of serving transgender soldiers isn’t truly known, but various studies (the RAND study being one) estimate the number being around a few to several thousand. Interestingly, the same RAND study also looked at 18 countries which permitted transgender soldiers to join their armed forces, and didn’t find any problems with readiness or unit cohesion. Such an outcome therefore does undercut the supposed concern of disruption. Also, while there is indeed concern of budgetary bloat in the military, it doesn’t require something as excessive as an outright ban. It also ignores the vast bounty upon which much of military activity is based. The defense apparatus (DoD, VA, etc.) offers much in the way of expenditures and benefits which don’t line-up with battlefield concerns, as well as incompetence, inefficiency, and mismanagement with contracting, rank growth, endeavors overseas, and veterans care among other things. Such bloat covers billions…or even trillions…of dollars to reconsider (https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-f-35-is-a-terrible-fighter-bomber-and-attacker-and-unfit-for-aircraft-carriers-c6e36763574b; http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2013/07/24/the-pentagon-has-too-many-troops; https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/withdrawing-overseas-bases-why-forward-deployed-military-posture; https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/va-improperly-spent-6-billion-on-care-for-veterans-senior-agency-leader-says/2015/05/13/ab8f131c-f5be-11e4-b2f3-af5479e6bbdd_story.html; http://nypost.com/2017/07/26/us-military-blows-millions-a-year-on-viagra-for-its-troops/; http://hotair.com/archives/2017/07/28/government-needs-end-military-freebies-recruitment-tactics/). If public officials and others are concerned with attempted abuse of medical procedures covered under military budgets, like the media-covered controversy of gender reassignment surgery, such freebies could simply be removed. Such a change seems much more viable than completely locking out capable individuals from serving their country irrespective of whether they are seeking aid or not….a collectivist form of punishment if there ever was one.
If nothing else, just as with the travel ban (and recent comments against the filibuster), this episode shows how much President Trump doesn’t much care for process. While he claimed in his tweet that he had sought the advice of his generals, it turned out that the Joint Chiefs and other defense officials were blind-sided by the announcement (http://thehill.com/policy/defense/344290-mattis-appalled-by-trump-tweets-announcing-transgender-military-ban-report). Therefore, they have refused to make any changes to policy until further notice. Indeed Trump isn’t constitutionally obligated to do so, being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces (Article II), but it usually isn’t a good idea to blindside those who will be tasked with making sure that policy is carried out. It also is rather unnecessarily rushed on the part of the president to announce such a change to military policy, when the Department of Defense was already reviewing it’s policy on transgender enlistees to determine if they affect “readiness and lethality”. It is set to release the review in December (http://redalertpolitics.com/2017/07/26/lgbt-gop-group-members-white-house-blindsided-trans-ban/). Such findings would have added to the data mentioned above, and therefore could potentially have offered more substance to the conversation. Perhaps it might have even given support and political cover to President Trump in a potential policy of reform. Instead, the chief executive decided to throw such proceedings out the window for a post on Twitter. Why? I don’t know. Then again, as I and many have come to experience over the past several months, there doesn’t seem to be much logic in a lot of what President Trump does. Unfortunately, that activity might serve to darken sentiment toward other forms of policy that could have positive implications, such as tax and regulatory reform. Not a good sign.