FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Medea Benjamin | [email protected] | (415) 235-6517
Statement by CODEPINK on the nomination of General Lloyd Austin for Secretary of Defense
CODEPINK joined with other anti-war groups in actively opposing the nomination of Michele Flournoy for Secretary of Defense and we are relieved that she was not nominated. We opposed Flournoy because of her multiple connections to war-profiteering firms, her support for military interventions that even Joe Biden opposed, her hawkish attitude toward China, and her support for a budget-busting high-tech arms race that would set us on the path to an unprecedented, possibly nuclear, war with Russia and/or China. Fundamentally, we oppose Flournoy’s career-long efforts to politically legitimize the unilateral and illegal use of U.S. military force all over the world.
This does not mean we are happy with the nomination of General Lloyd Austin. While General Austin has some good qualities—his experience in overseeing major troop withdrawals from Iraq and his opposition to further U.S. involvement in Syria—appointing a recently retired military officer violates long-standing traditions and laws that stipulate that the Secretary of Defense must be a civilian. This rule is based on the critical distinction between civilians in a country that aspires to democracy and military officers who spend their careers giving and following orders. The military is not a democracy. We remember retired General Colin Powell, who betrayed his duty to exercise independent judgment as a civilian official, played the “good soldier” and lied us into war, on the orders of a president and vice president he privately called “fucking crazies.”
The Republican-controlled Senate set a dangerous precedent when it voted by 83-17 to approve a waiver of the National Security Act for General Mattis and confirmed him as Trump’s Defense Secretary in 2017. During Mattis' confirmation hearings, Democratic Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that he would oppose future waivers after Mattis because such a waiver should be a "once in a generation exception." Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, said at that time, "Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule." We agree.
We also find it distressing that within months of retiring from the Pentagon, Austin joined the board of weapons maker Raytheon, a company that makes bombs that the Saudis are using to inflict tremendous death and suffering on the people of Yemen. Another concern is his investments in the private equity fund Pine Island Capital Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in military contractors. Like other members of the Biden administration with similar conflicts of interest, Austin must sever all connections and loyalties to these firms, and we are skeptical that such corrosive conflicts of interest can ever be completely resolved.
We hope the Biden administration will live up to its promise to rely on peaceful diplomacy as the “primary tool of our global engagement”, and that it will defer to Congress’s constitutional war powers. We hope that, if confirmed, General Austin will be remembered by history as a Secretary of Defence who successfully managed a transition from a time of war to one of peace and disarmament. As a peace group, CODEPINK will continue to oppose war and militarism, work to reduce the Pentagon budget, and advocate for a foreign policy based on diplomacy and cooperation.