Biden’s Wrong Pick To Head Pentagon – No More Ex-Generals Running DOD

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Presumptive President-elect Joe Biden appears ready to announce retired four-star Army General Lloyd Austin as his pick for Secretary of Defense (SECDEF). If Biden does this, he would need a congressional waiver and it would be the second exception to the rule barring recent ex-generals from running the civilian Department of Defense (DOD) in just four years.

President Trump’s nomination of retired four-star Marine General James Mattis created some controversy. But “Mad Dog” Mattis’s stellar 40-year military record and reputation as a defense intellectual and “warrior-monk” coupled with Trump’s inexperience in defense matters convinced the Congress to give him a waiver.

Congress should not do that again.

While Austin may be a decent man, and a good former general, neither he nor the current situation appear extraordinary enough to merit another waiver. And it is even harder to justify a former commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to lead the Pentagon as we shift away from the Middle East toward China.

And, considering the others on Biden’s short-list for SECDEF, including defense luminaries such as Michèle Flournoy (who, as I have noted, has her own issues as co-founder of the pro-China WestExec Advisors consulting group), it is hard not to see Austin as Biden’s diversity pick.

While it would be great to have a minority SECDEF, that should not be a prime factor in giving a waiver to yet another ex-general.

There is good reason the National Security Act of 1947 bars ex-military officers from becoming SECDEF within 10 years (later amended to seven years) of retirement. Maintaining civilian control over the military is one reason. Another is the simple fact that senior military officers are trained to be apolitical.

As The Bulwark notes, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote in his memoir that “I would often tell [General David Petraeus] that Iraq was his battlespace and Washington was mine.” Career military officers have a deeply ingrained framework that does not necessarily add value to what is a highly political civilian position.

On the contrary, they easily cause issues such as former General Marshall standing aside as SECDEF while a civil-military crisis slowly developed between Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. And there was Mattis leaning heavily on his former uniformed colleagues in the Marine Corps for advice and counsel under Trump.

Biden’s nomination of Austin will also test the Senate Democrats’ consistency as pointed out by The Washington Post. “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in January 2017 during the debate on the Mattis nomination.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on Armed Services, reluctantly voted for the Mattis waiver but said he would not do it again:

Waiving the law should happen no more than once in a generation. Therefore, I will not support a waiver for future nominees, nor will I support any effort to water down or repeal the statute in the future.

As the Post also notes, the Democrat Party platform, written this summer, included an entire plank on this very topic:

Democrats believe that healthy civil-military relations are essential to our democracy and to the strength and effectiveness of our military. We will end the Trump Administration’s politicization of the armed forces and distortion of civilian and military roles in decision-making. We will reinstate national security policymaking processes that advance competent civilian control.

Yet here Biden may be doing just what the platform argued against. Let’s hope Biden does not go forward with this inappropriate pick for SECDEF, and if he does that Congress will refuse to provide him a waiver.

America needs a highly qualified civilian for this critical post, not another ex-general.


Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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P W
P W
10 months ago

You could write the same headline, “Biden Poised to Make Catastrophic Mistake”, every day of his public career. Didn’t he just break his foot chasing the pet dog trying to pull it’s tail? Anything more complicated than figuring out his breakfast order could potentially lead to a catastrophic mistake for this dementia-addled senior citizen. All that Trump hatred caused the Dems to choose the worst candidate to be President since Jimmy Carter, but I bet there aren’t too many of those rocket scientists still around, but if so so probably won’t admit to it.

Peter A Smith
Peter A Smith
10 months ago

Not to worry, President Trump will handle this situation right after his inauguration in January 2021. Biden will be hiding in his basement as usual …….

Roswell E Evans Jr
Roswell E Evans Jr
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter A Smith

Sir, you are correct.

Trish
Trish
10 months ago

If it wasn’t for the anti-American media, he wouldn’t get away with anything he is doing. He is NOT president-elect and everything he is doing is unconstitutional and encourages the coup against our President. Another name, treason.

Willy Willy
Willy Willy
10 months ago

Biden will be lucky if He gets to pick his nose! He isn’t going into that ovel office now or ever!

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Floyd Hardee
10 months ago

Hit or miss. Anything Biden says, or does, may be a mistake. Its the luck of the draw. Juts duck if he points a gun at you, it could be loaded!

tracker1
tracker1
10 months ago

If Biden’s ‘civilian pick’ for SECDEF is someone who thinks cozying up to China so they can steal our ideas, our jobs and our future then maybe a former general isn’t such a bad idea.

Floyd Hardee
10 months ago

CRAZY, the way he acts and talks everyday. CRAZY are those who threw they support his way.

Floyd Hardee
10 months ago
Reply to  Floyd Hardee

their instead of they.

TheMadMan
TheMadMan
10 months ago

Joe Biden is wrong for everything including The United States.

sick of Politics
10 months ago

biden want be leading this country kamala harris will. Let that sink in. Talk about scary. You reap what you sow America!

Roswell E Evans Jr
Roswell E Evans Jr
10 months ago

President Trump has done something no other president has even tried to do .Don’t let it disappear.

JonLF
JonLF
10 months ago

What overseas victories did Trump have? Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) — “Waiving the law should happen no more than once in a generation.” Congress continuously waived the law for Trump or ignored Trump as he constantly waived the law.

Joey Baloney
Joey Baloney
10 months ago

Biden is not picking anyone. He is being told who to pick for these important positions. and these people are being chosen because of their various “demographic” attributes so he can boast that he has “diversity” in his administration, instead of good and qualified people.

Grampa Mullan
Grampa Mullan
9 months ago

Many of these men who have stood by this nation having so much knowledge seems to be the logical choice to defend us. while unquestionably their heart , minds, and loyalty are singly for America it could become a threat and danger in itself. these heroes will see them s a threat and not people. only something to be removed without hesitation. This practice must be used within a war because hesitation costs lives. war is not worried with the lives of the citizens of an enemy nation. now however these heroes must follow other rules to protect as the possibility is now within our borders. The complication becomes how to protect lives and property. these are problems that complicate their thoughts while these heroes should be used for their valued wisdom shouldn’t be the one that steers the ship because their actions done with the intent to protect can also destroy so much. just as the commander in chief is a civilian, we must not put someone in place who knows only one method to enforce peace. I am now having my usual problem getting out words t explain my thoughts s i will now stop before I make more a fool of myself then I already have. thanks for reading my post and your patience and understanding. It is always a pleasure to be among so many good people seeing that while America is in danger all of you are ready to defend. thank youall———-Grampa

D MacKAY
D MacKAY
6 months ago

The DEM majority passe3s by party line every single proposal of Biden’s – it is like Obama’s civilian BLM/ANTIFA Army has a gun at the back of the head of every Democrat representative


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