Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama for placing a months-long hold on hundreds of senior military promotions, saying he’s making the military “a pawn” in the political fight over abortion.
Tuberville’s hold “further politicizes the military,” Gates told “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan in an interview Friday. “It makes the military a pawn in what is otherwise civilian political debates.” And, he added, it’s affecting “the chain of command on … having an orderly process of succession and command positions that really matter.”
Senior military promotions are usually approved by speedy, noncontroversial unanimous consent votes in the Senate. Since February, Tuberville has placed a hold on about 200 promotions, with hundreds more to come, because the Defense Department issued a policy in December to pay for expenses incurred by service members for travel out of state to obtain an abortion.
“It will be 650 by the end of the year, but it’s — it’s significant command positions, you’re going to have a significant turnover in the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Gates said.
Tuberville has vowed to keep holding the senior military promotions until the Defense Department drops its abortion policy.
A letter Gates and six other former defense secretaries wrote to Senate leaders earlier this month noted that the command positions lacking permanent leaders include “the 5th Fleet in Bahrain and the 7th Fleet in the Pacific, which are critical to checking Iranian and Chinese aggression, respectively.”
The promotion for the post for the next military representative to NATO, a key figure in coordinating support efforts for Ukraine, has been delayed, as has the director of intelligence at U.S. Cyber Command. The former secretaries argued that leaving the positions without permanent leaders “sends the wrong message to our adversaries and could weaken our deterrence.”