Pentagon Civilian Leaders’ Attacks On Tuberville Are ‘Eroding Their Credibility,’ Experts Say

Micaela Burrow 

  • The top civilian leaders of the Army, Navy and Air Force urged Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville to lift his hold in a media flurry this week.
  • While the service secretaries are within their remit to counter the senator, their defense of the Pentagon abortion policy at the center of the legislative standoff could negatively affect credibility, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • “I have never seen anything like this: Three top civilian military leaders setting an extremely bad example for subordinate troops, who are supposed to stay out of politics,” Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told the DCNF.

Experts and Republican lawmakers said the Pentagon’s top civilian leaders may be undermining their own efforts to resume military promotions with a media blitz launched against Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama on Tuesday, they told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall urged Tuberville to relent his hold on military nominations over the Pentagon’s abortion policy because they believe it is eroding America’s military readiness and reputation, in a Washington Post editorial and subsequent CNN interview that aired Tuesday. Military experts and Tuberville supporters took umbrage with the way the Pentagon and Democrats have doubled down on using funds for abortion access seemingly over getting the nominees confirmed.

“The generals and admirals who will be leading our forces a decade from now are colonels and captains today. They are watching this spectacle and might conclude that their service at the highest ranks of our military is no longer valued by members of Congress or, by extension, the American public,” the secretaries wrote on Tuesday.

“Our potential adversaries are paying attention,” Kendall said in the CNN interview later the same day. “It is affecting how they view the United States and our military capabilities and support for the military. This needs to stop.”

Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro appeared to take it even further, saying Tuberville’s actions supported America’s adversaries.

“Born in a communist country, I would never have imagined that one of our own senators would be aiding and abetting communist and other autocratic regimes around the world,” Del Toro said in the interview. Del Toro was born in Cuba, and his father was imprisoned by communist dictator Fidel Castro, according to his biography.

“Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s hand-wringing about what a Chinese colonel thinks of America’s political system is another administration bow to a nation where countless babies, before and after birth, are routinely killed under orders from ruthless dictators. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro’s over-the-top accusations against Sen. Tuberville are an embarrassment,” Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told the DCNF.

Tuberville in a CNN appearance Tuesday said it was “concerning” that a secretary of the armed services “would say something like that.”

His allies in Congress suggested Del Toro — who commissioned as a surface warfare officer and served in the Navy for 22 years — had stepped out of line in his comments.

Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee called the statement “unfortunate and inappropriate” and said he hoped Del Toro would retract the accusation and apologize to Tuberville during a floor speech Thursday.

“He’s essentially accused a member of our body … personally of treason, of directly jeopardizing the security of the United Sates and putting it at risk by aiding and abetting communists and other autocratic regimes around the world. Personal attacks against members of Congress” based on differences of policy or strategy “violate the high standard of decorum that has long been honored and is typically held and exhibited by the leadership of the United States Armed Forces,” Lee said.

This is rich from a Secretary aiding [and] abetting the destruction of our military with woke social engineering in an administration aiding [and] abetting terrorists [and] cartels through open borders,” Republican Texas Rep. Chip Roy said in a statement.

Arguing with Tuberville over Biden administration policies is within the remit of the service secretaries, who are appointed civilians, experts said.

“It is appropriate for the service secretaries to make the case for Biden administration policy and not to ask the military to carry that political water for them. We need to give the military non-combatant immunity in the culture wars, which means civilian partisans on both sides need to stop targeting the military and stop hiding behind the military when it comes to controversial policies,” Dr. Peter Feaver, a professor at Duke University who specializes in civil-military relations, told the DCNF.

Kurt Schlichter, a trial lawyer and retired Army colonel, told the DCNF he wasn’t worried about the service secretaries publicly feuding with Tuberville. As civilian leaders in the Department of Defense, engaging in politics is inherent in their job descriptions and a feature of the checks and balances system underpinning American democracy, he explained.

The service secretaries should be focusing on readiness deficiencies plaguing their respective services, he said.

“The idea that they want to unlawfully spend money on some social fad and we’re just supposed to go along with it? It’s so ridiculous it’s hard to take it seriously,” Schlichter said. “They should never do it. They are doing it and it’s further eroding their credibility. And you don’t have to ask me, go ask them if they can sign up normal Americans to fill the ranks. They can’t.”

Their examples could have a negative effect on troops, Donnelly said. “I have never seen anything like this: Three top civilian military leaders setting an extremely bad example for subordinate troops, who are supposed to stay out of politics,” she said.

Those siding with Tuberville say Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin could solve the impasse by rescinding the policy memo authorizing DOD funding for travel and leave for servicemembers seeking abortions out-of-state.

Tuberville has also said he would allow individual votes in the Senate on the nominees, according to talk show host Erick Erickson.

However, Senate Democrats say the process would consume too much floor time, according to CNN, and have not shown a willingness to vote on even some of the highest ranking positions.

“If the threat to national security and if the abortion travel policy was as important as the three service secretaries claim, then prioritizing the votes on the nominees should be a no-brainer,” William Woodruff, a professor of law emeritus and a former chief of the litigation division of the Army JAG headquarters, told the DCNF. The Senate took a five-week recess in August and ended the week Thursday.

“It appears, however, that Sen. Schumer thinks keeping the abortion issue alive politically is more important than any national security considerations,” Woodruff said.

The Pentagon did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

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