The hypocrisy of weeding out identity politics in the military

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U.S. service members stand beneath the U.S. flag in this Jan. 17, 2019, file photo.

The backbone of an effective military comes down to one very simple principle: the chain of command.

The nature of the United States Defense Department makes it a distinct enterprise in modern warfare is in its composition — even though the draft remains intact, the DoD is comprised of an all-volunteer profession of arms. When an aspiring recruit volunteers for service and is whisked off to basic training to begin service to their country, they voluntarily give up certain privileges in exchange for the benefits of military service. Some of those privileges include foregoing the right to choose your every action, where many of those options are dictated by a senior ranking individual. Ergo, a ‘chain of command’ is necessary to instill good order and discipline, maintain unit cohesion in combat and ensure a meritocracy within a selective and demanding community.

If Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) wanted to undermine the DoD’s chain of command, they found a good way to do it by implementing a ‘whistleblower’ function to their congressional websites, allowing service members to file complaints for things deemed “woke” in the military. For two elected leaders whose public facades of accountability and pro-military evocation are foundational, calling for line troops across the services to undermine their leaders by reporting them “for identity politics/political witch hunts” is counterintuitive.

This initiative stems from the recent removal of Space Force squadron commander Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, who appeared on multiple podcasts asserting that Marxist ideologies are permeating the DoD, a topic for a book of his authoring which he was also promoting. Now, if Marxist or leftist ideologies are permeating the ranks, that is an issue, but the ousted commander offers no details on the matter, only stating “I recognized those [inferred narratives] being Marxist in nature.” 

Military members are free to believe in their political ideologies and vote like anyone else, yet making public assertions in affiliation with their roles as a military member is strictly prohibited by the regulations that dictate service member political participation — it’s one of the key features of an apolitical military in our democracy. Cotton and Crenshaw have erstwhile used Lohmeier’s removal as a springboard.

The irony, of course, is that Cotton and Crenshaw are both mired so deeply in their fringier spectrum of the GOP as to be their own identity polity. Banding together in order to “weed out ‘wokeness’ from the military” is, in their unique flavor, identity politics: “groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity [that] tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group.” 

What is worse is that the divide between civilians and the military is all but certain to widen, because making such an anonymous repository — which has already spanned twitter feeds with parody reporting — creates a veritable “paper tiger” that won’t improve public faith in the military as an institution. This is not power to the people, it’s a thinly veiled swing at ‘the left’ and undermines good order and discipline. A key indicator that this is little more than politicizing the military for voter base points lies in fine print: the form advises military members submitting a report that they still incur serious risks when reporting and advises the member “consults a legal expert experienced in whistleblower law for further guidance.” Fronting a disclaimer in the event of public relations blow back, while vectoring military members back to established protocols for reporting, is not exactly sticking to your guns on a potentially serious issue,.

When abuses of power or unethical conduct occur in the military, mechanisms are in place for service members to request higher echelons investigate wrongdoing — that would be the inspector general, whose role is “[a] staff officer who provides the commander with a sounding board for sensitive issues and serves as a fair, impartial and objective fact-finder and problem solver.” 

A whistleblower is someone who reports fraud, waste and abuse, corruption, or dangers to public officials who are in a position to rectify the wrongdoing. Examples of particular notoriety include Karen Silkwood exposing unsafe nuclear energy practices in 1972, the Vindman brothers during the Ukraine inquiry in 2020 and the Watergate scandal. While differing opinions exist regarding the ‘should’ aspect of whistleblowing, these examples coincide with whistleblowing standards. Whatever this new reporting mechanism is alleged to be, in reality, it is a witch hunt, the likes of which its progenitors claim to be weeding out.

Rather than virtue signaling to the voter base on issues that coincide (hypocritically) with polity narrative, Cotton and Crenshaw might best serve the public interest by helping Congress address the issue of sexual assault in the military, an unacceptable malady that further undermines the readiness and professionalism of the force.

Ethan Brown is an 11-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force as a Special Operations Joint Terminal Attack controller; He is currently the senior fellow for Defense Studies at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress, a contributor to the Diplomatic Courier and has written for the Modern War Institute (West Point) and RealClearDefense. Follow him on Twitter: @LibertyStoic.

Tags Civil rights and liberties Dan Crenshaw Dan Crenshaw Freedom of expression Freedom of speech Political terminology Politics Tom Cotton Tom Cotton Whistleblower

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