Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and other top Pentagon officials have warned of the risks to national security posed by the ongoing blanket hold on Senate confirmations for hundreds of military nominees.
The hold, placed by Republican Alabama US Sen. Tommy Tuberville, has delayed confirmation for as many as 265 general and flag officers throughout the Department of Defense.
Among those general officers pending the Senate’s confirmation is Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith, who earlier this week took over as acting Commandant of the Marine Corps.
In a brief phone call with Tuberville on Tuesday, Austin underscored the risks to national security posed by the hold.
“The blanket hold on military nominations is having a serious impact on our ability to meet our national security commitments,” Austin said. “It is disrupting the orderly and timely promotion of our most senior military leaders, and it is hampering our ability to respond to emerging threats.”
Other Pentagon officials have also expressed concern about the hold. In a recent memo to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that the hold “is having a significant impact on the readiness and effectiveness of the U.S. military.”
Tuberville has been a vocal critic of the administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and he has also raised concerns about the administration’s plans to lift the ban on transgender service members.
The hold is not about Tuberville’s complaints about the Pentagon or the Biden administration’s military policies. Instead, the Alabama Republican wants to curb the freedom of US military personnel who want to exercise their right to an abortion.
Tuberville is waging an unprecedented campaign to try to change Pentagon abortion policy by holding up hundreds of military nominations and promotions, forcing less experienced leaders into top jobs, and raising concerns at the Department of Defense about military readiness.
Legislation formally allowing women into the military was passed in 1948, even though tens of thousands had served in both world wars, and women like Harriet Tubman and Mary Walker had served in the Civil War as nurses, spies, and even soldiers disguised as men.
Women first entered the military service academies in the 1970s and were only allowed to fly combat missions or serve on Navy combat ships in the 1990s.
Notably, it was only in the Obama years that all combat positions, including in the ground forces, were open to women.
Today’s military is much more integrated along gender lines than at any time in the past. Women are no longer excluded from any type of combat mission: They are pilots and vehicle drivers and mechanics and infantry officers. But while the U.S. military today has never had a greater fraction of women, they remain just 16 percent of the total force.
Women in the military services continue to suffer high rates of sexual assaults from their male counterparts. That is unacceptable and one of the many issues that must be addressed if we are to eventually see equal shares of men and women in the armed forces.
Tuberville, a former college football coach who has closely aligned himself with former President Donald Trump since he was elected in 2020, has showed few signs of letting up.
Tuberville has said that he will not lift the hold until the Department of Defense agrees to his demands, which include a meeting with Austin and other top Pentagon officials to discuss his concerns.
The hold has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called on Tuberville to lift the hold, saying that it is “jeopardizing our national security.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has also urged Tuberville to lift the hold, saying that it is “causing unnecessary harm to our military.”
It is unclear how long the hold will last. Tuberville has said that he is willing to negotiate with the Pentagon, but he has not said when he will lift the hold.
In the meantime, the hold is continuing to disrupt the Pentagon’s ability to promote its most senior military leaders and respond to emerging threats.