As I was closing out the day at work last Friday I tweeted about the March 12, 2021 “Memorandum for Senior Pentagon Leadership” issued by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The subject line of the memo: “Promoting and Protecting the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World.”
Actually a retweet of a screenshot of the memo from a news organization, my accompanying text read: “The modern uniparty seems quite committed to getting us into, and then losing, a war. The sad fact is we’ll deserve it. Decadence and corruption on this level usually mean regime collapse is not too far around the corner.”
Left-wing (and “right-think” centrist) Twitter responded with horror, denunciation, and dismay. I was against LGBTQIA “rights,” you see. How could anyone be against human rights? Unpacking the philosophical, political, and practical policy premises behind this new course by our military is a useful exercise and reveals much about the current state of America’s ruling class (right and left)—as well as the rhetoric around our modern theology of identity politics and social justice.
First, the most obvious possible objection to this commitment by the U.S. defense establishment. Our premier international rival and competitor right now (and for the foreseeable future) is China. They are concentrating on making their military, naval, and intelligence services as lethal and effective as possible. America, on the other hand, is paying for sex changes for its military personnel under the mandate of “human rights” and social justice. I’ll leave for the discerning student of human nature and history further speculation about aligned or misaligned priorities and strategy when comparing China and the United States.
Second, the politically correct, jargony, and abstract language of human rights in Secretary Austin’s memo deserves, like all bureaucratese, some translating. And we should note that the Secretary is merely implementing in all Defense Department actions and policy the mandates of President Biden’s February 4, 2021 “Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World.” Here is the first bullet point from Secretary Austin’s memo (after “DoD Components shall”):
Strengthen existing efforts to combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBTQIA+ status or conduct and expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBTQIA+ status or conduct.
Those lamenting the rise of the U.S. as global policeman and the endless international meddling of recent decades should abhor such moral imperialism from the U.S., especially as it takes aim at the domestic laws and policies of foreign governments with which we are not at war. This preening is, of course, nothing new in U.S. foreign policy: it has been bipartisan convention since Progressivism took over the foreign policy thinking of the mainstream of both parties in the first two decades of the 20th Century.
It is worth noting, as well, the psychologization of what used to be genuine moral, teleological, and anthropological disputes about human happiness, sexuality, and flourishing. We can observe this in the rise of the “phobia” epithet as a political and moral cudgel against anyone not fully signed on to the latest woke evolution of social justice. You disagree with your local public school advising your 8-year-old to start hormone therapy and consider eventual irreversible and mutilating surgery without your consent? You are a “transphobe”—that is, you’re either suffering from some kind of mental illness or are just a bad person. We are now taking the logic of that proposition on a global road show, centuries-old Westphalian principles of sovereignty be damned.
The memo continues, “Expand ongoing efforts to ensure regular DoD engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector to promote respect for the human rights of LGBTQIA+ persons and combat discrimination.” In other words, a full spectrum brow-beating campaign according to the latest sexual orientation and gender identity politics priorities coming out of American academia, liberal foundations, NGOs, and activists.
The next point reads, “Consider the impact of programs funded by DoD on human rights, including the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons, when making funding decisions.” In other terms, direct money (and cut existing funding) to advance the moral imperialism project centered on the identity politics of sexual orientation and gender.
The memo closes:
Strengthen the work DoD has done and initiate additional efforts with other nations, bilaterally and within multilateral fora and international organizations, to: counter discrimination on the basis of LGBTQIA+ status or conduct; broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend the human rights of LGBTQIA+ persons; strengthen the role, including in multilateral fora, of civil society advocates on behalf of the human rights of LGBTQIA+ persons; and strengthen the policies and programming of multilateral institutions, including with respect to protecting vulnerable LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers.
In simpler words, use the influence and might of the U.S. military establishment to coerce, cajole, and bribe (sorry, “incentivize”) foreign governments into accepting the latest sexual orientation and gender identity politics priorities of woke America—as well as funding activists, NGOs, and community organizers, from Moscow to Mozambique to Mumbai, to do the same. (The political benefits and corruption of the Democrat-run DoD doling out cash to its citizen-constituents abroad running such organizations should be obvious.)
Leaving aside the arrogance of the U.S. lecturing the rest of the world on sexual morality and civic health given the state of the precipitous breakdown of the nuclear family over the last half-century, the fundamental problem with all this is the confused notion of “rights” at the center of the campaign. Individuals have natural (or human) rights, not groups based on identity, race, or anything else. An individual is entitled to the equal protection of the laws, regardless of that individual’s “identity,” but that entitlement rests on a moral anthropology that is grounded in the natural order of the world, including biological differences between men and women (and what men and women often produce when they form a household: children-citizens). When rights claims are based on sexual desire or preference, or the fantasy that there are dozens of “genders,” or the next fad to come out of the academy, they lose all meaning and connection to reality. If our principled foundation for rights becomes this attenuated, arbitrary, and capricious, foreign and domestic policy must then devolve into mere contests of power—might makes right.
This warped understanding of rights is a bipartisan establishment article of faith. The Democrats are signed up for every evolution of social justice issuing from their left flank. The Republicans are clueless, having long ago abandoned the intellectual discipline to push back against claims of “justice,” however spurious.
At home in America, the leading edge of the left preaches absurdities like “not all women have uteruses.” Now America’s military—armed with this dogma and empowered by the chief executive and the Secretary of defense—goes abroad in search of heteronormative and cisgendered monsters to destroy. Meanwhile our enemies are making the cool calculation that we are no longer a serious country. This will not end well.