Opinion: Holding up military promotions risks compromising military readiness

Photo/Mariam Zuhaib/The Associated Press / Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, speaks with reporters near the Senate Subway on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, in Washington.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, the highest-ranking and most senior commander in the nation's armed forces, is scheduled to retire at the end of the month. What happens then is anyone's guess.

That's because football-coach-turned-U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville shamefully continues to erode military leadership and compromise national security by blocking the promotions of hundreds of service members from action in the Senate.

The United States is today without confirmed chiefs to lead the Navy, Army and Marine Corps. Those three critical positions are among more than 300 officer promotions languishing as a result of Tuberville's truculence. That the service branches are operating with so many promotions on hold is a testament to the professionalism of our armed forces.

Tuberville's actions are also insulting to those same service members, tens of thousands of whom live and work in Hampton Roads, who are right to expect that military readiness never takes a back seat to partisan politics. Such a naked abuse of power is cause for widespread public outrage.

This has gone on for nearly a year. Tuberville announced in December 2022 that he would stand in the way of promotions in order to bend the Pentagon to his will on the issue of abortion.

You see, Tuberville thinks the military is best served by depriving its female service members from reproductive choices about their bodies. He firmly believes that a woman who joins the armed forces and is stationed in a state which severely restricts access to contraceptives and abortion services should simply accept it.

The policy he opposes, introduced in the wake of the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade, allows "troops and dependents, consistent with federal law, to take time off and use official travel to get to other states for reproductive care not available locally," according to the Associated Press. It complies with law that no federal funds can be used to pay for abortion services.

It used to be that members of our armed forces might be wary of an overseas deployment to a warzone. Now they might think twice before joining, knowing that being sent to the wrong state will severely limit their choices should they become pregnant.

That's if Tuberville gets his way. And the hissy fit he's throwing — the damage it has caused and the threat of further disruption — has some cowardly urging the Pentagon and the White House to compromise. Former Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema naively believes the two sides should find middle ground.

Ask the military or law enforcement why they don't negotiate with terrorists and they'll tell you that capitulation only invites further action. Give an inch and they'll take a mile.

The same goes for Tuberville. If he is rewarded for single-handedly blocking experienced and talented service members from ascending to leadership positions, then others will follow in his reckless, ill-considered path.

If Tuberville so opposes this policy, he should introduce legislation to prohibit it. He has not done so. Instead, he has taken the extraordinary step of calling on Democrats to propose such a bill, all but assuring that this stalemate continues.

How does any of this serve the military? Officers who devoted their career to the armed forces are being blocked from moving up the chain of command. The highest position in the Pentagon may soon sit vacant, a prospect that surely delights the nation's enemies. Stalling those promotions means junior officers, whose promotions may not require Senate approval, are also stuck in place. And what message does this send to female service members or those who are contemplating joining the military?

This never should have been allowed to fester, but there remains only one option: Tuberville should put the nation's security first by lowering his cynical, irresponsible roadblock to military promotions and allow them to proceed in the bipartisan manner they had before he set foot in the Senate.