The military is rightly understood as an apolitical institution, managed on the basis of merit, yet accountable at the highest level to democratically elected civilians.

The Biden administration has demonstrated, however, the extent to which military affairs are enmeshed with politics, to the detriment of national security. Conservative groups and elected officials have caught on to the decay in institutional credibility.


Ironically, though predictably, progressives and the media now decry conservative attempts to preserve the military’s institutional integrity as “politicized.”

Of late, media outlets like The Washington Post and Yahoo came to the defense of Air Force Col. Ben Jonsson, an officer whose promotion Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., is holding up. In Foreign Affairs, Marquette political science professor Risa Brooks used Schmitt’s hold on Jonsson’s promotion to warn Americans of the Right’s politicization of the military. Even the NAACP released a statement in support of Jonsson’s promotion.

Schmitt’s hold came after two pieces of reporting from The Daily Signal revealed that Jonsson’s leadership tenure has been defined by critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion, to the point where his personnel choices were based on race. As in other domains, the Right has become a target for opposing the Left’s 60-year effort to mold the military in its ideological image. But Schmitt’s action regarding Jonsson, far from the politicization of military promotion, is a modest effort to restore professionalism to a heavily politicized institution.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara explicitly determined that the military would embody the principle of racial proportionality. To McNamara, this meant the military would ensure the demographics of the military mirrored that of the nation, even if natural processes would not produce such results. Proportional inequality would necessarily indicate the presumption of injustice.

In the 1960s, this mandate began with a system of expectations for race-based unit and organizational composition. As University of Kansas professor Beth Bailey discusses in her book “An Army Afire,” this manifested itself throughout the Army officer corps and at critical institutions such as the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

This system of racial quotas has continued in the form of Air Force officer applicant goals, and still at West Point in the name of “class composition goals.” No matter the euphemism, these policies display how the military has been politicized to serve the prevailing political ideology of equity.

But things could have gone differently. Bailey highlights the Army’s implementation of President Harry Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981, which integrated the Army. In the years between 1948 and the civil rights era, the Army pursued radical equal opportunity by eliminating—not foregrounding—race as a category in Army personnel files. And in fact, some of the greatest increases in black representation in the officer ranks happened during this era.

But that was not enough for those who sought a rapid and radical implementation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act into the whole of American government and society.

Policymakers like McNamara embraced the belief that the military must reflect the society it existed to defend. But if McNamara had read Samuel P. Huntington’s 1957 book “Soldier and the State,” he would have realized how problematic this assumption would become to the integrity of civil-military relations.

Since the McNamara Pentagon, the military has become increasingly politicized, as leadership has adopted policies to mirror the ideologies found across civilian life. Quotas continue as Pentagon policy, women have unrestricted opportunities for combat service even as the Army struggles to build gender-neutral physical assessments, and the Department of Defense now hosts official “Pride” events.

As Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s holds on military officer promotions revealed, the senior ranks of the military have embraced politicization as a fact of service. According to research published by the Center for Renewing America, 42% of general and flag officers who received promotions in 2023 have publicly supported ideologies such as DEI and critical race theory.

To call military leaders to a higher standard of apolitical military professionalism is not a lurch toward politicization as establishment progressives believe. Steps toward accountability, like Schmitt’s hold on Jonsson’s promotion, are important markers in the responsibility elected officials have to oversee and preserve the integrity of the United States military.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation