Nobody wears the words “useful idiot” quite like Tommy Tuberville, freshman senator from the benighted state of Alabama.
He’s been especially useful to Trump. Among all the MAGA loons Trump endorsed for high office in the 2020 election, Tuberville was one of the few successes. While that’s probably down more to Alabama’s brainwashed electorate than to any political skill on Trump’s part, Trump has owned him ever since.
He is known to have been on the other end of several suspicious Trump phone calls during the Jan 6 riot, and while there’s no indication that he’s on Jack Smith’s radar, there’s no sign that he isn’t, either.
Now Tuberville — a mediocre football coach turned white supremacy hero — has seized the world stage with his audacious hold on Senate approval of military appointments.
It isn’t often you hear bipartisan outrage these days, but there’s plenty for even Republicans to hate in this foolhardy stunt, this parliamentary sleight-of-hand that carries such ominous implications for national security.
The normal Senate process for military promotions has traditionally allowed for approval of three hundred nominees at a time, give or take. Tuberville is, in effect, blackmailing the Senate into approving each officer individually, which would require more floor time than the Senate has available for the next several years.
There is no chance of that happening, but Tuberville’s antics are nonetheless gumming up Senate procedure, and that’s not even close to the biggest trouble he’s causing.
Because the appointments he’s holding up include positions crucial to national defense operations, up to and including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When the current chair, Mark Milley, steps down in October, his position will stay vacant until the Senate approves his replacement. If that key position, and hundreds of those below that, can’t be approved as planned, their responsibilities would be carried out by “acting” appointments.
Under the law, acting officers can only fulfill the immediate duties of their office. They are forbidden from hiring staffers, from moving into assigned quarters, or from planning any future course for their units. It’s not clear how that works if there’s a war.
This is already causing big frustration in the officer corps. The people whose promotions are being held up are, generally, those with the most promising careers. They’re the ones who know they can earn much more in the private sector, and they’re no doubt thinking about that as they wait — months? years? — for their next promotion to come through. The process is slow enough in normal times.
And for every officer whose promotion is delayed, there are dozens, or even hundreds of people below them in the chain of command whose futures are now up in the air. They can’t know their next assignment. They can’t be sure where they’ll be living. Their families are in limbo, with no idea when they’ll have to move, or where their kids will go to school — and yes, it’s now September. Does this faze Tuberville even slightly?
It follows that this one-man bottleneck is creating serious anxiety among our allies — especially Ukraine, but also Japan, South Korea and all the NATO countries. All have come through the Trump years traumatized by the recklessness that seems built into our system, and they are deeply distrustful of our actions and motives going forward.
Now they’re seeing that, even in a Biden administration, they’ll be forced to deal with American “acting” commanders who aren’t empowered to make real decisions. Dictators the world over are cackling with glee.
Surely even Tuberville understands that. So you have to wonder why he’s doing what he’s doing.
Why indeed. Ostensibly, it’s about abortion, specifically about the military’s commitment to ensuring abortion access for women in the service, wherever they’re serving.
Tuberville wants that commitment rescinded. He is taking a principled stand for both male and white supremacy. He is personally committed to making forced birth just as mandatory for the military as it is for Alabama.
It’s bad enough that women in the armed forces can’t get abortions in many of the slave states they now serve in. But to then deny them abortion access in free states is more than just cruel. It’s a major disincentive to joining the service, and a compelling reason to leave it.
Military recruitment has fallen off in recent years, and the ability to attract — and even more important, retain — the qualified personnel they need is now focused, more and more, on women. But if female recruits can’t be guaranteed the kind of reproductive healthcare they get elsewhere, why would they enlist? Tuberville’s hold is actively turning them away.
But when I say this is “ostensibly” about abortion, it’s because I think abortion is just the cover story. Current wreckage notwithstanding, Tuberville’s real motives may be far darker.
I’m not the first to speculate that he aims to extend this hold through to the next election, at which time there’s a better-than-zero chance of Trump retaking the presidency.
In that event, Tuberville would have, by then, saved five or six hundred high-level military positions for Trump to fill. Just imagine the quality of applicant at that point.
It's the Mitch McConnell school of parliamentary sabotage. Whereas McConnell used a similar tactic to deprive Obama of a Supreme Court pick, Tuberville — or whatever brains are behind him — want to use it to make the military safe for fascism.
It’s hard to believe either Tuberville or Trump could come up with such a sophisticated scheme on their own. The idea of using the chaos around abortion as the smokescreen for a takeover of the military high command is, admittedly, brilliant — very Manchurian Candidate — but these guys aren’t that bright. Strings are surely being pulled.
So whose useful idiots are they? Who benefits from our military being undermined from within? Who benefits from a high command in disarray? Who benefits from the erosion of trust among our NATO allies? Who benefits from the inability of our military to meet its recruitment needs? Who benefits from seeding our officer corps with lackeys loyal only to the fuhrer?
The first name that comes to mind is Putin. And given Trump’s history in Putin’s service, it’s not a big leap to see Russian intelligence behind such a scheme, whether Tuberville knows it or not.
It’s in the nature of useful idiots to not fully understand either their usefulness or their idiocy. Tuberville’s hold on the military smells of kompromat, and I would like to think someone in the FBI has caught a whiff of it.
It is inexcusable that any one senator can, all by himself, hold up military nominations indefinitely. Whatever obscure Senate rule is being invoked by this traitor, it’s causing real damage in real time.
I don’t know how one changes such a rule, but I'm quite sure it was never intended for such crass and dangerous use. It’s hard to believe there aren’t bipartisan remedies for this, or the will to use them.
In the meantime, Tuberville will be the catalyst for disruption in the Pentagon, and for high-fives in the Kremlin.