One of the consequences of the way that US politicians pander to the military is that it weakens their ability to go counter to the military on the rare occasions when the military is ahead of them on some issue. We see this with the recent moves to remove all things that honor the leaders of the confederacy, be they statues and other monuments or the naming of buildings and institutions. Trump clearly has white nationalist sympathies and has said that he opposes the renaming of military bases named after confederate generals and would veto any legislation that seeks to do so. But the Pentagon has already set in motion studies on this issue and one has to think that it will eventually happen.
But the military has already gone against Trump’s desires with respect to the confederate flag. Trump had already indicated where his sympathies lay by criticizing NASCAR for banning the flag at its events. The Marines had already banned it and the Navy said that it would too and the other branches of the military were considering it. The defense secretary Mark Esper, no doubt trying to thread the needle of removing the flag while not openly going against Trump, rather than forbidding the flying of the confederate flag on all military property, instead issued a list of approved flags that did not have the confederate flag as one element, thus effectively banning it.
A draft version of the policy reportedly explicitly banned the Confederate flag on Defense Department property. Yet the official language simply lists the types of flags that are allowed to be displayed, including the American flag; the flags of the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia; military flags and those of allies.
The decision not to name a specific, prohibited flag was “to ensure the department-wide policy would be apolitical and withstand potential free speech political challenges,” a defense official familiar with the decision told reporters ahead of the policy rollout.
In recent weeks, Esper has faced mounting pressure from the military service leaders to ban the Confederate flag outright, POLITICO first reported, since protests swept the nation in the wake George Floyd’s death.
The Marine Corps this spring took the lead and banned the flag on all Corps property, followed by U.S. Forces Korea. The Navy later announced it was preparing its own ban. Esper supports the Marine Corps’ decision in particular to ban the flag, the official said. But the defense secretary had told the services to pause these efforts until he could issue a department-wide policy.
The new policy does not change those initiatives, or limit the services from enacting their own stricter regulations. The services “are still free to act on other flags,” the official said.
The White House is aware of the policy change, the official said.
So Trump has caved on this issue while not acknowledging doing so, yet another example of his cravenness.