Although our Founders correctly recognized that the overriding responsibility of the president is to secure our liberties by “protect[ing] and defend[ing] the Constitution,” in this modern era most Americans likely would consider that the most important job of the president is to serve as “commander-in-chief” of the armed forces, and thereby protect the nation’s security. If so, the new Biden administration is establishing a rather odd vision for how the Department of Defense will meet its responsibilities in this regard.
The national defense priorities of this administration, as revealed in public documents issued already by the president and his chosen Secretary of Defense, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, reflect a sharp departure from his recent predecessors and from historic norms.
In one of his first executive orders, Biden chose to exercise his power as commander-in-chief not to affirm or reaffirm the need for a strong military defense against our nation’s adversaries or to announce an important national security initiative as a way to send a message to a particular adversary. No, the most important national security issue on the mind of the new president, insofar as official public pronouncements reveal, is protection of transgenderism in the military. This was affirmed in presidential Executive Order No.14004 signed just five days after he assumed office.
At the Pentagon, the first publicly revealed priorities regarding the operation of the world’s most powerful military under the Biden Administration were similarly unusual.
On Jan. 29, four days after Biden’s transgender executive order, Secretary Austin followed with a military-wide order that all restrictions on transgenderism would be lifted, at least pending a thorough review of this issue which he and his boss obviously consider crucial to America’s national security. The secretary’s memo reflected the view that such a move was an essential step to reverse limitations placed on transgender personnel by the previous administration. Public analysis of and reporting on the Secretary’s memo affirmed such partisan purposes.
The following week, Austin continued his focus on domestic policy matters, issuing another services-wide memorandum ordering a “stand-down” across all branches of the armed forces in order to address “extremism” in the ranks.
While links within military ranks to white supremacy groups is a valid concern and should be addressed, it remains unclear whether the stand-down order will extend more comprehensively to encompass ties by military personnel to non-traditional groups such as Black Lives Matter, with its clear socialist agenda and Marxist underpinnings and its involvement with last year’s riots in cities across the country.
The announcement of the highly unusual step of ordering such a broad “stand-down” reflected obvious and appropriate concerns over involvement in the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol by current military personnel and veterans, but raises fundamental questions about Defense Department priorities. Most notably, there is the obvious question of whether these domestic-oriented policy priorities by both the president and the defense secretary, come at the expense of focusing on the numerous and serious external threats facing our country.
Neither Biden nor Austin have issued major public policy statements relating to how they intend to deal with China, which in recent years has been identified consistently by national security and intelligence experts as the Number One security threat to the United States. China’s continuing, if not accelerating, bellicosity toward our ally Taiwan, would seem to merit at least some priority attention ahead of transgenderism and what Austin himself has indicated is a “small” number of examples of domestic extremism in the military.
The list of continuing external national security threats, whether from China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, terrorist organizations in the Middle East and elsewhere, is exceptionally long as adversaries probe U.S. strengths and weaknesses for advantage. The fact that the Biden administration appears fixated at least publicly on domestic military concerns, could very well embolden foreign troublemakers with potentially serious consequences.