How the Obama Administration Made the Military More Politically Correct
Katrina Trinko /
During the Obama administration, political appointees, not military members, drove the agenda. James Hasson, who served in the military during President Barack Obama’s presidency, talked to generals and other military leaders to get the inside scoop on what really happened in the military in the Obama era. Read the interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast:
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This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Katrina Trinko: Joining us today is James Hasson, a military veteran and author of the new book, “Stand Down: How Social Justice Warriors Are Sabotaging America’s Military.” James, thanks for joining us.
James Hasson: Hey, thanks so much for having me.
Trinko: OK, so first off, you’re a veteran yourself. When did you join? Why did you decide to join? What branch?
Hasson: OK, so I was an Army officer, and I did ROTC through the University of Notre Dame. I commissioned as second lieutenant in the Army in 2011, and then I’ve rode that out through almost the end of [President Barack] Obama’s second term.
And I come from a military family, a family with military background. My grandfather was a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, and I have five or six cousins right now on active duty across all four branches. All of my mom’s brothers all served.
So, it was kind of a tradition, at least in the last few generations. I just wanted to give back and serve and kind of be the type of person that I saw my grandfather be.
Trinko: And were you deployed during those years?
Hasson: Yeah, I went to Afghanistan, eastern Afghanistan, so it was Khost province and Nangarhar province. So, they’re kind of both in the … border area. … I learned a lot. But one of the things that also hit me was, while we were preparing to deploy and during my time, just across the military in general, is that we spent so much time doing things that had nothing to do with our actual job, whether it’s your equal-opportunity training or PowerPoint training on all kinds of different things.
And now, they add “implicit-bias” training, and the first thing that you think about, if you’re a military leader, whether in the Army or anywhere else, when you step off the plane, and your boots hit the ground for the first time, you think, all right, are we ready for this? Did we do enough to prepare?
And you, as a leader, especially feel that way. You think, “Did I do enough to make sure that my soldiers are ready for what we’re doing?” And time isn’t fungible.
So, when you’re spending all this time focusing on these social-justice demands, that’s time that you can’t even use doing what you really need to do.
So, I decided to write the book in part because the Army that I joined during Obama’s first term was nothing like the Army that I left it towards the end of the second.
And I think the Army, the military in general, is such an opaque institution from the outside sometimes, that I think the American people are kind of in the dark a little bit, about what all of these policy changes and cultural changes implemented by progressive activists in the Obama administration are really doing.
Trinko: I think that’s one thing that I found really interesting about your book. You have a number of background interviews where you talked to military members, and you say they’re not comfortable talking to the media. …But you know, I think for people like me who don’t have a connection to the military, it’s often like, well, what are they really thinking?
And I want to get to the meat of the book, but I’m curious when you were doing stuff like this implicit-bias training and all this other … were soldiers sort of kvetching about this behind the scenes with leadership?
Hasson: Oh yeah, absolutely. And it’s, yeah, it’s a morale killer in some ways, too, because you sign up to do a job, and you know you have a mission, and if you’re going to go overseas, then you have a deadly serious mission. But then basically, all of these other things.
You know, kvetching is probably a good term. It just shows that the political appointees that are in charge of you don’t take the mission as seriously as you do, or at the very least, have a different idea what that mission is.
Trinko: OK. So, let’s talk about the book. So, you get into the political correctness that’s infecting the military, and one of the examples that you put in “Stand Down” is, generals told you the Obama administration was focused on identity politics. What did you mean by that?
Hasson: Well, they were focused more on accomplishing stated social goals versus simply focusing on the military’s sole job, which is to fight and win wars.
So, I interviewed scores of sources for the book, and a number of them were people like two- or three-star generals who were in the room when these decisions were being made.
And what they would tell me is that, we never got … coming from the White House, the administration, we were never getting guidance about, you know, hey, we want to have this many brigades ready, or like, tell us the status of the troops.
It was all simply focused on, basically, things like the transgender policy or integrating, creating gender-neutral infantry. And it’s over the objections of the commandant of the Marine Corps and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
And so, basically, to pull one quote, someone said, “ … We got a lot of direction from the White House, but none of it had anything to do with war fighting.”
And I think that kind of sums it up.
Trinko: It seems slightly problematic.
Trinko: So, you also talk in the book about how military academies are changing. What’s going on there?
Hasson: Well, so it’s kind of a two-pronged problem, and they feed into each other. So, one is … you have a progressive administration and that can force changes. And second, the academies now are increasingly run by civilian professors, rather than military instructors.
And that started during the Clinton administration, but it really expanded during the Obama administration. And I’ll get to why that’s problematic and how that plays out in a minute. But just as an example, West Point was 2% to 3% civilian professor in the early ’90s, and now it’s 25% . And now, one out of every three instructors at the Air Force Academy are civilian instructors.
That plays out in really detrimental ways … to give an example from the Naval Academy, and I think this feeds maybe away from the civilian professor thing and more into those cultural changes. But, one of the things that I published in the book was a number of pictures of Safe Space signs outside instructor’s doors at the Naval Academy, both military and civilian. And it’s not all, but it’s a decent number.
And among other things, they say that the instructors have taken a course called Trans 101, which is a sensitivity course put on by contractors from Google, but that played out across all the academies. So West Point, for example, now has a diversity and inclusion studies minor, and it’s chaired by three civilian professors, who have stated that the goal of that minor is to be like the diversity and inclusion studies minors at their peer universities like Ivy Leagues.
It’s one of the co-chairs, as a West Point professor of that minor, [who] conducted focus groups of West Point cadets about the Obama administration’s transgender policy.
When a number of cadets, and in particular a number of, large number of female cadets, raised issues regarding privacy, because [of] open-bay showers or the implications of evaluating a biological male according to physical-readiness standards for biological females … the professor just concluded more education is needed for “cis-gender” cadets, to be more “gender cosmopolitan.” …
You don’t send people to West Point to become more “gender cosmopolitan,” you send them to West Point so they can prepare to lead soldiers.
Trinko: And you also mentioned in the book, and I thought this was really fascinating because we’re having such a huge fight over American history culturally right now, that even the history classes were affected. Is that right?
Hasson: So, I had spoken with a professor, Lt. Col. Robert Heffington and he had written a kind of a scathing open letter. He graduated West Point, and then he taught there for a while and then he left. And he talked about how even kind of the history classes have been revamped, so there was a greater focus on divisions between Americans, everything through the lens of gender and class and everything else.
And you mentioned history, and one of the history professors at West Point was a man named Rasheed Hosein, who served as a mentor to Spenser Rapone, who’s the infamous “commie cadet”.And I was able to get the back story on all of how a guy who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, goes to West Point and eventually leaves West Point an avowed Marxist. How did that happen? …
Basically, Hosein was his academic adviser. And he would say, Well, my job is to kind of help him along his intellectual journey.
So, at one point he bragged to Rapone‘s military adviser that, you know, Spenser is experimenting with Marxism, as if this was a great thing. And the military instructor reported it kind of up the chain, but we got crickets in return. …
Another West Point civilian professor compared West Point to Hogwarts in this long … the Harry Potter … and said, Well, students are students, they’re not carrying wands , they carry, you know, guns. But it’s pretty much the same thing.
And it talks about how learning about the cadets’ experience from them, which is really you’re there to teach cadets. So that’s probably a long, rambling answer of the, you know, cultural issues that have seeped in the academies, and it’s a big deal.
Trinko: Yeah, I would think it’s a big deal, because–again, not having any personal experience with this–but I mean, if you’re potentially putting your life at risk for your country, not that America’s always been perfect, but it seems like you might want to know about some of the good things America has done, and why it’s worth fighting for.
Hasson: Yeah, absolutely. And you’re not helping anybody by creating “safe space.” You know, there are no “safe spaces” in Afghanistan.
Trinko: All right, so to switch gears a little bit … OK, so, the Obama administration, and you alluded to this, they made a huge change in the military, by allowing transgendered troops to serve openly.
How did this come about, and did the military get an actual chance to weigh in before this change came about?
Hasson: OK, so, this was absolutely a push for the Obama administration and particularly for some of the political appointees in their Department of Defense.
So, Eric Fanning was the secretary of the Army, and Deborah James was the secretary of the Air Force. And both of them, long before the Pentagon supposedly completed a study showing, hey, this is really not going to have a big effect, they were already pushing for that change. So, it was other outside activist groups pushing for it, so it was definitely activist-driven.
The Obama administration then created this working group to study the issue, and they commissioned a study through [the Rand Corp.] But if you actually go and look at the Rand study that said, Oh, this is only going to have a minimal impact on readiness, which is problematic in its own, because we shouldn’t do anything that has any bad impact on readiness, but they concluded, Oh, it’s only a minimal impact.
The study was actually just conducted by, again, activists who already knew the conclusion that they wanted, including one of the members with somebody from the Obama National Security Council, who left the Obama administration to then go to Rand, conduct a study telling the Obama administration that they can do what they wanted to do. So that was …
Trinko: Great when it works out like that.
Hasson: Right? I know, right. … There are two main problems, and the first one is simply just a readiness issue.
Under the Obama administration’s policy, you could serve according to the physical-fitness and body-composition standards designed not for your biological sex, but of the gender that you identify with.
So, the military has very specific physical-fitness standards for males and females just based on biological differences. So, if you’re an 18-year-old male soldier with 21% body fat, you’re considered a liability, and your non-deployable.
If you’re an 18-year-old female soldier with 21% body fat, you’re fit for duty. But under the Obama administration’s policy, you could be an 18-year-old soldier who is biologically male and has 21% body fat, but identifies as female and is then considered fit for duty when that soldier wouldn’t be otherwise.
So, already you have this … for the same reason that we don’t have, you know, biological males competing in women’s weightlifting. …
The second issue is that you don’t … there are all of the privacy issues that are implicated. And to pick a good example of, to kind of summarize those, when the Obama administration was explaining this policy after they announced it, they held a meeting with a lot of chaplains at the Pentagon and the senior chaplains, and briefed them on the policy.
And afterwards, a Navy chaplain who was one of the most senior chaplains to the Marine Corps at the time, was serving in the Marine Corps commandant’s office, approached the deputy assistant secretary of defense, Anthony Kurta, at the time and …basically expressed concerns.
And Kurta replied, Look, there will be mixed genitalia in our bathrooms, in our birthing units, in our showers, and it’s good for America.
And this chaplain for the Marine Corps said, Well, sir, do you really think it’s going to make us better at fighting wars? And Kurta just said, Well, that’s the way it is.
You know, the Trump administration gets credit actually, found a good compromise in terms of, you can be open about how you identify, you can be open about who you are and live however you want when you’re not on duty. But when you’re on duty, when you’re in uniform, you have to comply and meet the standards designed for your biological sex.
Trinko: With these transgender issues, one of the things we see discussed the most is like how much privacy are we talking [being affected] … you were saying in the military, we’re talking extremely close quarters, right?
Hasson: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, yeah. And it really depends on the facility, but … so you have some modern ones that you’ll have maybe a little more privacy, but it depends on the facility. But I mean they, a lot of times an open bay shower will resemble like a prison cell with six shower heads. I mean, you’re crammed in together pretty close and …
Trinko: So, no doors.
Hasson: No, no, no, no, no. … So, when you talk about, you know, having “mixed genitalia” and the different showers like that, they’re talking about somebody using a stall, and then walking away and you know, somebody else coming in after them. You’re talking about, like, very up close and personal at times.
Trinko: OK. So, you also got into the Obama administration allowing women to fight in combat, which was in 2015. And one of the things that I found was interesting that you got into, was there was this Marine study that indicated putting women in combat was not quite the rosy reality that the Obama administration was saying it would be.
What did that Marine study show and how did … did the Obama administration ignore it, or what happened there?
Hasson: Sure. women have been fighting in war since Molly Pitcher. And so, I don’t think anyone is … it was framed as if you had half of … you know, most of the military thought that women were somehow constitutionally incapable of being in combat, which isn’t good.
Trinko: I will say that Molly Pitcher had to dress as a guy.
Hasson: Yeah, OK. No, no, but that’s my point, is that the idea is like, people don’t think you’re … that there are female Apache pilots who kill jihadis …
So, really the question is about 3% of the military, they’re infantry units, that have to put up to 100 pounds on their back and walk 12 miles at a time. And then, maybe get in a firefight when you get there.
So, when the Obama administration announced that it was going to change the policy, the Marines said, “Hey, just give us a year. Let us do a study. Let us figure out whether this makes us more effective. If it does, we’ll do it. If it doesn’t, we don’t want to do it because making us less effective, puts our Marines in greater danger.”
So … they went out to [the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in] Twentynine Palms in California, and they evaluated all-male infantry squads versus mixed-gender infantry squads, on a whole host of different metrics and types of drills, everything. And everyone had heart-rate monitors, and they had outside data geeks—they called them the geek squad—just sat there and crunched all the data.
And so what they found is that the all-male squads outperformed the integrated … the gender-neutral squads by a factor of at least 80% or 80% of the time.
And one of the examples that I pulled from my book, they found that it took the gender-neutral squads, at times, up to 178% longer to pull an incapacitated Marine from a vehicle.
And if that vehicle’s on fire, you know, then seconds mean the difference between life and death. So, minutes, extra minutes can be deadly. So, they finished that, and they presented it, and Obama’s secretary of the Navy at the time, Ray Mabus, just refused to even read it. And then he told the Marines that they had simply chosen substandard female Marines to cook the books in their experiment, which is a slap in the face of the female Marines who participated in this study.
Trinko: Yeah, bet they were thrilled about that analysis.
Hasson: Yeah, talk to a few of them. They were not … that thrilled. But another thing that they found also was that injury rates were astronomically higher, again, because there’s so much … you’re carrying so much weight.
So things like pelvic stress fractures were on the order of, like 700% greater risk. And so, the other thing that the Marines said is, “Hey, you’re basically, if you do this, you’re going to deprive us of our best female Marines, because there won’t be a substantial number, won’t serve a full 20 years because the injury rate is just that much higher.
But the Obama administration didn’t listen and overruled the Marine Corps. And it was telling that usually when you have a monumental policy change like that, you’ll have the secretary of defense announcing the policy, and he’ll appear with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or all the joint chiefs.
And none of them went out with [Defense Secretary] Ash Carter when he made the announcement, which is a pretty clear sign that they were not on board. And in fact they weren’t.
Trinko: OK. So, they won’t speak to the media, but if you don’t see them at these PR junkets, that’s a sign.
Hasson: Little subtle Pentagon messaging at times.
Trinko: So, climate change, there was no secret, the Obama administration was very into being green, and you write that that affected the military. How so?
Hasson: Yeah. So, there are two ways. So, one, again, time, resources not always fungible, and they were … and it’s not just the idea of, “Hey, climate change exists” or … anyways, it was the idea that the military should be kind of harnessed to fight climate change, rather than say, fighting ISIS. … Ben Rhodes, who was in Obama’s administration at one point in 2015, refused to say that ISIS was a greater threat to Americans than climate change. And that was December 28th, 2015. On December 29th, 2015, the San Bernardino ISIS shooting happened [in California. …
Yeah, so the Navy started at something called Task Force Climate Change. And that was … so, Ray Mabus, who was the secretary of the Navy for all eight years during the Obama administration, was an environmental activist before he became secretary of the Navy.
So, he kind of just imported that mindset in there. So, they were trying to run ships on biofuels made from … chicken grease and algae, and they call it the great green fleet. And they invested this whole host of money into basically trying to make green … or converting battleships to run on green fuel.
Well, the ships themselves are falling into disrepair. So, I spoke to a three-star admiral, who was actually forced out for disagreeing with Mabus towards the end of Obama’s second term.
And you know, he said, “He’s so worried about green fuel, but meanwhile the ships that are supposed to be running them are falling apart at the pier. This makes no sense.”
And yeah, the book’s kind of littered with small examples of the prioritization of that versus the things that the military should be doing, which is simply preparing to fight and win wars against any nation’s adversaries.
Trinko: Right. And also, I mean, I know the Heritage Index of [U.S.] Military Strength, it shows that it’s not like we’re in such a great position, that we need time and money to spend on like … .
Hasson: Yes, exactly.
Trinko: … Climate change. I mean, that would be a different argument.
Hasson: Right, exactly. And so, I cited the Heritage report in my book, because you know, we’re at the smallest level since World War I, and into, in some parts of the force, and yet we’re spending billions and billions of dollars on these, you know, green initiatives that in the grand scheme of things, even if your goal is to reduce carbon emissions, are not even a drop in the ocean.
Yeah, you think China and Russia and all these other countries are focusing their defense dollars on buying carbon credits?
Trinko: So, you’ve mentioned this several times, and it sort of ran throughout the book, “Stand Down.” The tension between the political appointees and the military. I know you only served during the Obama administration, but I’m wondering, do you have a historical perspective? Because I would assume that generally there’s some tension. …Was it at an unprecedented level?
Hasson: So that’s something that I try to go out of my way to find, because I think there always will be some disagreement about some things. Human beings always disagree, and sometimes political motives can be different than, you know, military motives.
So, when I spoke to a lot of those generals and admirals, that was a question I asked. I said, “How did things shift from 2000 to 2008, to the 2009 to 2017 era?” And they said the difference was that they just simply weren’t listened to. And basically, the Obama administration’s political ideologues knew what they wanted to achieve, and they weren’t really interested in hearing the military.
I mean, you could push back, but only to a point. That’s what they said. So, I asked an admiral whether or not Ray Mabus, who had been secretary to the Navy, had been receptive to his and his peers’ professional judgment. And he said, he just laughed and he said, “No.”
He had no use for us unless we said, “Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Three bags full.” And that kind of sums it up.
But yeah, so there’s definitely a good amount of tension. …
Trinko: OK, so, we’re not the only nation where political correctness and the military are intersecting. You talk about Australia, the U.K., I think some others, what’s going on in other countries, and is there stuff that we should sort of see as a warning sign?
Hasson: Yeah. So, I’m glad you raised that point, because I pointed to specific in the U.K. and Australia, kind of just say like, “Hey, this is where this leads.”
And in a lot of ways, the PC culture that you see in Europe and in the U.K., especially in Australia, is 10 years ahead of us, just culturally speaking in general.
But, so the U.K. has removed “-man” from all of their titles because … so, they no longer have an infantrymAn, they have “infanteers,” and they spent all this time updating all of their manuals, removing the term “-man” from all of them and revamping all of their …
Then, you know, they have instructions on, you can get in trouble for “improper” pronoun use, and you know, not being sensitive to people’s pronouns. And so …
And so, you look at kind of the major powers of the Western world, and what are we focusing on? We’re making sure that we’re sensitive about pronoun use. We’re making sure that we remove the word “man.” We’re making sure that we’re not too gendered, apparently.
… Meanwhile, China’s not doing that. There was a study out the other … last week, about how China now is the most dominant power in the Pacific. And if we got in a war with China, they would have decisive advantage at least in the Pacific, and in the near term.
And what were we doing while we lost that advantage over the last eight years? Well, take a look at the Obama years. That’s what they were focused on. They weren’t focused on doing what we needed to do to make sure that we keep the nation safe.
Trinko: So, a lot of these changes occurred during the Obama administration, as you’ve stated. Has the Trump administration been rolling some of them back?
Hasson: Some of them, yeah. …The last chapter of my book sets out a bunch of things that they can do to improve. And you know, ranging from small things like, well, they’re not small things, but things like bringing the VA Accountability Act to the Pentagon.
So the VA Accountability Act allowed the Veterans Administration to fire low-performing workers, essentially. Like, you know, people working in the VA who, just bureaucrats, were failing.
The Pentagon needs that in part, because there is a very, very strong, entrenched bureaucracy, and the Pentagon, a lot of them are on board with some of these social-justice changes, and they’re not shy about, you know, pushing back on things.
… A three-star told me an example of how a civilian bureaucrat literally told him that, “No, I’m not going to do what you said to do.” And he said, “Because I’m going to be here in two years, and you won’t.” And so, we need to be able to, to get rid of, of kind of those toxic types. So that’s one.
The other, the second thing, I would do is return instruction at the military academies to military instructors. And I think that prevents just the seep of what you see in the intellectual academic culture, from just all of the kind of the progressive craziness that you can see at major universities, from just seeping right in the military academies, the way they have. So that’d be the second.
And then third thing is, I would follow the Marine Corps study on infantry units. But just to give the Trump administration credit for one thing that they did do well, and they took a lot of flak for it, but was the transgender policy. And it was portrayed as if, you know, Trump one day just woke up and tweeted about it and now has … and everyone’s caught off-guard.
I mean, the timing–I think they were definitely caught off-guard and the method–but the actual policy that they enacted, began as part of our review ordered by General [James] Mattis when he first became secretary of defense.
And he said basically, Talk to the members of the Joint Chiefs. And they asked him for a two-year delay in the Obama administration’s policy. And he said, Well, why do you need a delay? Weren’t you consulted when this was first passed? And they said, No.
And so, then he created a working group to kind of … or a review group, to see what kind of changes needed to be made. So, Trump’s announcement was portrayed as if the military was just totally disagreeing with Trump on this, but in reality, he may have jumped the gun in terms of announcement, but it was actually a Pentagon-issued review.
And the policy that they settled on allows people to be open about who they are, but requires them to serve according to their biological sex.
Trinko: Interesting. Is there anything else you wished I’d asked you about?
Hasson: Well, where to find the book. It’s … You can find it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or anywhere else that you normally find books. And the book’s called, “Stand Down.”
Trinko: OK. All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us, James.
Hasson: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.