Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of defense on Tuesday, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III, was met with strong criticism, largely from Democrats, with some expressing unwillingness to confirm him.
Much of the concern revolved around having a recently retired general — requiring a special congressional waiver — lead the department of defense, which is traditionally led by a civilian.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said that she will oppose granting a waiver to Austin.
“I have great respect for Gen. Austin. His career has been exemplary, and I look forward to meeting him and talking to him more, but I opposed a waiver for Gen. [James] Mattis, and I will oppose a waiver for Gen. Austin,” Warren told reporters.
In addition, other Senate Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), also signaled that they will oppose giving Austin a waiver to serve as Biden’s Pentagon chief.
“Given Gen. Austin would need a waiver from Congress, it’s important Gen. Austin & the Biden Admin. explain why he should be granted an exception,” wrote Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).
Despite expressing “deep respect” for Austin, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) — who spent multiple tours in the Middle East as a CIA analyst, stated that “choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off.
“I’ll need to understand what he and the Biden Administration plan to do to address these concerns before I can vote for his waiver,” she added.
I have deep respect for Gen. Lloyd Austin. We worked together when he commanded U.S. forces in Iraq, when he was vice chief of the Army, and when he was the CENTCOM commander. But choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off.
— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) December 8, 2020
“[Sixteen] Senate Dems and 1 Independent voted against a waiver of seven-year bar for Mattis to serve as SecDef in 2017,” wrote Professor Ryan Goodman. “Seems even stronger reason to vote against waiver in 2021.”
Others reiterated the challenges involved in such a pick.
“I’ve been delighted by Biden’s cabinet picks… until now,” wrote Rosa Brooks, co-founder of the Transition Integrity Project (TIP), which published a 22-page report in August concluding that anything less than a Biden-Harris landslide will spark catastrophe, including “violence in the streets” and a “constitutional impasse.”
“I think Biden has been very badly advised. I am just gobsmacked that his inner circle does not see what a terrible message it sends to nominate the second recently retired general in four years,” she added.
“Nothing but respect for Lloyd Austin, but picking another 4 star so recently retired that he needs a congressional waiver sends a terrible message,” Brooks wrote in another tweet.
Several expressed agreement with Brooks.
“I completely agree with this,” wrote columnist Michael Cohen. “I’m genuinely stunned that no one around Biden saw what a huge problem this pick would create.”
“I agree with @brooks_rosa – this is the wrong message for civil-military relations,” wrote Professor Tom Nichols, adding he was unsure of how the appointment was a win for the left.
“With Gen. Austin apparently emerging as a top contender for Sec Def, it’s worth echoing this concern from @brooks_rosa about civil-military relations,” wrote political analyst Bill Kristol, a vocal opponent of the Trump administration and fellow TIP participant.
“We don’t face the special circumstances that justified the selection of Gen. Mattis,” he added. “President-elect Biden should pick a civilian.”
“A word of warning,” warned psychoanalyst Stephen Soldz. “Biden’s SecDef appointment, however qualified, is a frontal assault on the principle of civilian control of the military. It must be rejected or withdrawn.”
“We can’t let the generals self-govern,” he added.
A word of warning. Biden's SecDef appointment, however qualified, is a frontal assault on the principle of civilian control of the military. It must be rejected or withdrawn. We can't let the generals self-govern. https://t.co/WB2f0pe701
— Stephen Soldz (@ethicalpsycholo) December 8, 2020
“While the barrier-breaking nature of the first Black nominee is worth celebrating, by picking General Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense, we believe that President-elect Biden has made a grave, democracy-threatening mistake,” wrote Common Defense, a progressive veterans group.
“While the barrier-breaking nature of the first Black nominee is worth celebrating, by picking General Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense, we believe that President-elect Biden has made a grave, democracy-threatening mistake.”
Read our full statement👇https://t.co/D3LKWEGsjM
— Common Defense (@commondefense) December 8, 2020
Elaborating in an expanded statement, the group stated, “If generals are appointed to political roles, too many actively-serving generals will see themselves as politicians-in-waiting, rather than professionals with a duty to provide their best advice to the Commander-in-Chief elected by the people.”
Biden’s pick was also criticized for his links to military contractors, as Austin both serves on the board of Raytheon Technologies, one of the world’s largest weapons makers and Pentagon contractors, and is a partner in an investment firm that buys military suppliers.
Austin also serves on the board of Nucor, the largest American steel producer, as well as health care company Tenet.
In an essay, titled “Biden’s Choice For Pentagon Chief Further Erodes a Key U.S. Norm: Civilian Control,” journalist Glenn Greenwald states that Austin “is yet another high-level Biden nominee enmeshed in DC’s corporatist ‘revolving door’ of legalized influence-peddling.”
“If confirmed, Raytheon will have a very good friend in charge of the bloated $750 billion annual U.S. defense budget,” Greenwald tweeted.
Gen. Lloyd Austin, on the Raytheon Board, is yet another high-level Biden nominee enmeshed in DC's corporatist "revolving door" of legalized influence-peddling.
If confirmed, Raytheon will have a very good friend in charge of the bloated $750 billion annual U.S. defense budget. pic.twitter.com/BXLzZJu3O7
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 8, 2020
“Not only does [Austin] sit on the board of Raytheon but he comes from Pine Island Capital which is a partner of WestExec which is a corporate waystation for the Blob,” wrote author Meagan Day.
“A sitting board member of military industrial contractor Raytheon should NOT be heading the Pentagon,” wrote former Democrat presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson.
“Terrible choice,” she added. “I hope progessives [sic] in Congress will speak up loudly.”
A sitting board member of military industrial contractor Raytheon should NOT be heading the Pentagon. Terrible choice. I hope progessives in Congress will speak up loudly. https://t.co/9P3l7iMDc7
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) December 8, 2020
“A multiracial military industrial complex is still a military industrial complex,” wrote radical political organizer and writer Max Berger.
“It would be cool if weapons manufacturers didn’t run the Pentagon,” he added.
A multiracial military industrial complex is still a military industrial complex, imho.
— Max Berger (@maxberger) December 8, 2020
“OH COME ON. A General and Raytheon board?” wrote Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
“Possibly the worst of all options,” she added. “Bad news for civilian control and any real distance from the military-industrial-complex.”
“The military industrial complex strikes again,” wrote leftwing political activist Gregory Cendana, who is also the youngest General Board member of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States.
“The ‘military-industrial complex’ looks to be alive and well in the Biden era,” wrote New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton.
In condemning Biden’s pick, journalist Ken Vogel describes Austin as “a member of a private equity fund that invests in defense contractors, & boasts its members’ ‘access, network & expertise’ are an advantage in government contracting.”
BIDEN's reported pick for Defense Secretary, retired Army General LLOYD J. AUSTIN III, is a member of a private equity fund that invests in defense contractors, & boasts its members’ “access, network & expertise” are an advantage in government contracting. https://t.co/cAUEsQUI0U
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) December 8, 2020
“I’m all in favor of including more black and brown faces,” stated political analyst Mehdi Hasan. “I just don’t understand why we have to include the arms industry.”
Some went even further.
“More intersectional imperialism,” wrote journalist Ben Norton. “Biden’s secretary of defense nominee, Lloyd Austin, led US troops in the imperial wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a member of the board of directors of weapons corporation Raytheon.”
“The Democratic Party ideology = war crimes + diversity,” he added.
In addition, Austin was also criticized for mishandling a military program to fight the Islamic State terror group.
Newsweek published an essay stating that Austin may even face Senate opposition over alleged manipulation of ISIS intelligence.
Breitbart News previously reported on a damning investigation by House Republicans released in August of 2016, which found that the intelligence arm of the U.S. Military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) routinely produced intelligence that “distorted, suppressed, or substantially altered” the results of the campaign against the Islamic State.
California State University Professor Asad Abukhalil highlighted Austin’s own admission — while chief of US Central Command — that the $500 million program he led under Obama aimed at training and equipping Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State group was a complete failure.
At the time, Austin also confirmed the Pentagon inspector general was investigating his intelligence director amid whistleblower claims that intelligence assessments were altered to display a more positive picture of U.S. progress.
“Gen. Lloyd Austin once admitted in congressional testimony that after all the money the Pentagon spent on arming and training ‘moderate rebels,’ only about 4 or 5 went on to fight ISIS,” wrote journalist Max Blumenthal. “The implication being that many joined ISIS or Nusra.”
Gen. Lloyd Austin once admitted in congressional testimony that after all the money the Pentagon spent on arming and training “moderate rebels,” only about 4 or 5 went on to fight ISIS. The implication being that many joined ISIS or Nusra. https://t.co/gMHm6NYcMY https://t.co/z5g5l07ZKj
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) December 8, 2020
Fox News’s Lucas Tomlinson quoted The Atlantic, which depicted Austin falsely downplaying ISIS’s strength.
“According to administration officials, General Lloyd Austin…told the White House that the Islamic State was ‘a flash in the pan.’ This analysis led Obama…to describe the constellation of jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria as terrorism’s ‘jayvee team.’”
“According to administration officials, General Lloyd Austin…told the White House that the Islamic State was ‘a flash in the pan.’ This analysis led Obama…to describe the constellation of jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria as terrorism’s ‘jayvee team.’” https://t.co/8k0w7wtCUA
— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) December 8, 2020
Amid the wide-scale criticism for his pick, Biden presented a rather weak defense.
Despite expressing respect for and belief in “the importance of civilian control of our military and in the importance of a strong civil-military working relationship at DoD,” Biden claimed that “We need empowered civilians working with military leaders to shape DoD’s policies and ensure that our defense policies are accountable to the American people.”
Biden also sought to calm critics by stating that Austin knows that the secretary of defense “has a different set of responsibilities than a general officer and that the civil-military dynamic has been under great stress these past four years.”
“He will work tirelessly to get it back on track,” Biden assured.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.