FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 9, 2020
Contact: Erik Sperling, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-448-2898
Just Foreign Policy: Biden Right to Choose Restraint-Minded Defense Secretary Over Longtime War Proponent
WASHINGTON — Just Foreign Policy Executive Director Erik Sperling released the following statement as Members of Congress from across the political spectrum welcome President-elect Biden’s selection of Lloyd Austin for Secretary of Defense:
President-elect Biden’s historic announcement of Lloyd Austin as his choice for Secretary of Defense — the first African-American to be nominated for the role — gives a small boost to those around the country and world seeking a less harmful U.S. foreign policy. Despite facing blistering pressure from elites across Washington, D.C. to choose unapologetic militarist Michele Flournoy as his Secretary of Defense, Biden’s pick demonstrated his surprising independence from the groupthink of the national security establishment and sent an encouraging signal to those advocating reform of U.S. foreign policy.
Biden’s decision to choose Austin over Flournoy is already receiving support from key progressive foreign policy leaders in Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Ro Khanna, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, and Latin America policy leader Rep. Hank Johnson, while hawkish former CIA official Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who voted against a recent effort to end the U.S.-Saudi military campaign in Yemen, is seeking to undermine the choice. Analysts have noted broad opposition to Gen. Austin from the “War Blob,” while national security reporter David Ignatius observed that Biden’s skepticism of “deepening involvement in the Middle East during the Obama years” may “explain the Austin nomination.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi recognized Austin as a pick that can help us ”bring our troops home safely from Afghanistan”.
Former General and CENTCOM Commander Lloyd Austin has been called the “invisible general” as he avoids the spotlight and has been praised for adhering to the directives of elected officials. Biden likely shares Obama’s reported preference for Austin’s style due to his exhaustion with “wartime military chiefs [who] meddled in policy and boxed the White House into uncomfortable corners,” as the New York Times reported.
Flournoy, by contrast, has worked for decades both inside and outside of government to exert pressure on elected officials to use aggressive military approaches, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, all of which led to devastating loss of life while failing to achieve their objectives. A recent letter led by Yemeni organizations highlighted the many instances in which then-Vice President Biden advocated restraint while Flournoy sought militarism, reportedly causing tension with less hawkish Obama officials who now advise Biden. Flournoy’s obsession with militarily confronting China to contest reefs located 7,000 miles from the mainland United States was harshly criticized by independent experts for its financial cost and potential to expand into a catastrophic conflict. Given that at least tens of thousands of innocent people have already lost their lives due to policies she advocated, keeping Flournoy out of a senior role in the White House is by itself a huge win for humankind.
As with the other candidates who were under consideration, Austin has problematic ties to the defense industry, including serving on the board of Raytheon. He took actions over his long military career that have led to tragic loss of life abroad, though they largely resulted from his implementation of orders from civilian superiors. Due to these facts, neither JFP nor any pro-restraint organization has issued a full endorsement of Gen. Austin.
But aspects of Austin’s experiences do give reasons for optimism to advocates of a more restrained foreign policy. For example, he implemented restrictions on airstrikes that were seen as adhering to President Obama’s policy of limiting civilian casualties, with the Washington Post reporting that “Austin’s desire to avoid civilian casualties was a major factor in his decision-making”. He also pushed back against calls for regime change in Syria, and according to Ignatius, “worked well with Biden’s inner circle when they served together under President Barack Obama” and “wasn’t a vocal enthusiast for keeping troops in Iraq in 2011 or for intervening early against the Islamic State in 2014.”
He is also seen as the leading expert in the U.S. on the logistics of rapid, large-scale troop withdrawals. His execution of the Iraq drawdown on President Obama’s short timeline was the most challenging withdrawal operation since World War II, and Austin proudly says he “got it done with time to spare.”
President-elect Biden won this election with a historic 80 million votes and a mandate to fulfill his campaign promise of ending endless wars. He deserves a Secretary of Defense committed to executing this task on behalf of the American people.
Just Foreign Policy calls on President-elect Biden to fully utilize Austin’s unique skills and experience withdrawing U.S. forces from harm’s way to bring as many troops as possible home from abroad to be safe with their families, while restoring the rightful role of the military solely for the function of genuine defense. He should simultaneously marshal his diplomatic corps to re-engage with the world in a spirit of mutual respect with a focus on peace and cooperation on climate change, the pandemic, and poverty eradication.
Just Foreign Policy is a D.C.-based advocacy organization seeking to promote global diplomacy and cooperation and mitigate harm caused by U.S. foreign policy.