No, Defense Secretary James Mattis is not trying to stop Donald Trump’s transgender troop ban

Defense Secretary James Mattis seemed to surprise many when he announced a review of President Trump’s trans troop ban.

The move was widely interpreted as a ‘freeze’ on the proposed ban, meaning trans troops would be able to continue serving.

The reality, though, is that the defense secretary is doing exactly what Trump asked him to do – this does not represent a potential axing of the policy.

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General James Mattis (Getty)

According to a USA Today report, General Mattis had convened a panel of experts to assess the effects of the proposed ban.

His “move,” the article argued, “buys time for the Pentagon” to determine the fate of trans troops who are currently serving.

In the meantime Mattis has permitted trans people to continue serving their country.

The news would have seemed a huge relief to more than 10,000 trans service people whose livelihoods were threatened by Trump’s sudden announcement of his intention for a ban last month.

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Mattis said in a statement: “Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction.

“In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.”

He added, perhaps in a swipe at the president, that “our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield.”

In reality Mattis is doing exactly what the president’s memo requested him to do.

When Trump tweeted that the decision was taken, “After consultation with my generals and military experts,” many of those experts were left bemused – pointing out they knew nothing of the policy.

The Pentagon said there could be no change to US Military policy until an assessment had been undertaken, which is exactly what Trump’s Pentagon memo requested.

The memo ordered the secretary of defense, along with the secretary of homeland security, to “determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military.”

The memo instructs that they must have a plan in place for implementing the ban by February 21 2018, to be enacted the following month on March 23.

While it was reported that the move was Mattis seeming to disobey Trump over the ban – trying to push it into the long grass – it was in fact the opposite.

Such coverage plays into Trump’s hands, after polling found most Americans oppose the move, including serious opposition by military veterans.

Mattis does not have the power, in truth, to block the ban, even if he wanted to (which we also do not know).

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General James Mattis (Getty)

The study being undertaken now is not a valiant effort to block the ban in favour of a more progressive military policy, but instead a post-hoc attempt to justify a ban based singularly on the 45th president’s politics.

In the unlikely turn of events that Trump quits or is ousted, Mike Pence would become the 46th president of the United States – a man who has even argued in favour of ‘gay cure’ therapy.

As Chase Strangio, ACLU attorney who co-authored that group’s lawsuit against the ban, agrees. “Though Defense Secretary Mattis appears rightly troubled by the president’s action, his statements do not change the directive nor has he been given the power to retain transgender service members indefinitely.”