Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., talks with a colleague during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing July 12, 2023, in Washington.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., talks with a colleague during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing July 12, 2023, in Washington. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

The world is more dangerous today than it was two weeks ago. Hamas has upended geopolitics by its wanton attack on Israel, including the slaughter and kidnapping of children.

A wider Middle Eastern war is now possible with Hezbollah and Iran hinting at intervention. China threatens Taiwan and creates mischief in the East China Sea. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended the international rule of law, killed thousands of civilians, and threatens European stability. U.S. leaders will now make difficult decisions on how to prioritize military assets. How can we best deter a wider war?

Tough calls on national defense require Senate-confirmed military leaders. Yet, those making recommendations and preparing our troops for war are a pickup team of generals and admirals out of position. As the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force wrote, a Senate “hold” “has prevented the Defense Department from placing almost 300 of our most experienced and battle-tested leaders into critical posts around the world.”

The Navy and Air Force have no confirmed uniformed leader. The nominees to command the Navy’s 5th Fleet, responsible for the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, as well as the 7th Fleet, responsible for the Indo-Pacific, remain in Senate limbo. Cyber Command and U.S. Northern Command are awaiting confirmation of their commanders. When the NORTHCOM commander retires, a Canadian will take over.

By law, many acting commanders can’t make long-term decisions. We are weaker militarily than we have been in years because of one man’s petulance.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has placed a hold, now in its eighth month, on general officer promotions. The Constitution requires the Senate confirm every military promotion recommended by the president. Officer commissions and promotions from second lieutenant/ensign through colonel/captain continue today with unanimous consent, but Tuberville has single-handedly stopped flag officer promotions and reassignments.

Tuberville disagrees with a policy of the Biden administration. The military pays the travel costs for service members to receive reproductive care (often abortions) if they are in a state that does not allow them to access such care. Service members have no say in where they live.

Tuberville disagrees with the policy. That’s fine. Disagree. Scream, shout and stomp. Sue. Talk to the press. Hold rallies. But don’t punish the military’s most important leaders. Don’t hurt our service members. Don’t hurt our allies. Don’t hurt our country.

Tuberville’s hold is both stupid and cruel. Officers neither make nor control the Biden administration’s policy. Tuberville is punishing nonpolitical officers for a political decision. The American military has earned worldwide respect not only for its competence, but for its apolitical culture. Those in uniform don’t do politics. Yet Tuberville’s hold makes every senior leader a political pawn.

Tuberville argues that the Senate could use its precious time to confirm all officers individually. Stupid. That would take months and prevent the Senate from passing funding bills, including the all-important National Defense Authorization Act and aid to Israel.

Tuberville has made us less prepared for war, less prepared to help our allies, less prepared to think through the worldwide problems created by Hamas’ attack. Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the unconfirmed, acting Chief of Naval Operations, testified that the hold is causing “an erosion of readiness.”

Tuberville is cruel because he hurts officers and their families. Generals and admirals move jobs and locations more often than other service members. The Pentagon tries to make those moves in the summer so families can start in new school districts before classes begin. Not this year.

As 1,000 active-duty military spouses wrote, “No matter your political beliefs, we must agree that service members and military families will not be used as political leverage.” Tuberville is making families pay the price for his cruel decision.

Speaking of price, the former football coach who earned millions of dollars a year is taking thousands of dollars a month from families who earned promotions. Dozens of other officers want to retire but must stay on active duty because of Tuberville.

Anyone who reads military history knows that war is the most complex, dangerous, chaotic, and unpredictable activity undertaken by humans. The attack by Hamas and Israel’s declaration of war has changed the geopolitical situation in ways we are only beginning to understand.

Now is the time to stop harming America’s military leaders. Stop making every service member’s job harder than it already is. Stop hurting our country and stop hurting our allies.

By the end of the year, 650 generals and flag officers (90% of the total) will need to pass through the Senate. 110 officers will perform two jobs or occupy a temporary position. It will take years to remedy this mess.

Tuberville is guilty of dereliction of duty. He must lift his stupid and cruel “hold” and start supporting those who lead America’s sons and daughters in the crucible of land, sea and air combat.

James Carville is a political strategist, author, and Marine veteran. Ty Seidule, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, is Professor Emeritus of History at West Point and Visiting Professor of History at Hamilton College.

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