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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/7/20

Why Jeh Johnson Would Be a Better Defense Secretary Than Michele Flournoy

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by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J S Davies

President-elect Biden's choice for Secretary of Defense has turned out to be one of the most controversial and difficult of his Cabinet appointments. The early front-runner, Michà le Flournoy, was originally seen as a shoo-in and was touted as a great breakthrough for women, but her hawkish views have provoked serious concerns. Biden now appears to be also considering two Black Americans promoted by the Congressional Black Caucus: Jeh Johnson and retired General Lloyd Austin.

All three are flawed candidates to anyone who wants to see an end to the endless wars and to stop the revolving door between the Pentagon and military contractors. They all sit on boards of companies that profit from militarismJohnson at Lockheed Martin, Austin at Raytheon and Flournoy at Booz, Allen, Hamilton. All have supported most or all post-9/11 U.S. military interventions. None would be our preference.

But Biden is not going to appoint someone truly committed to peace and disarmament, like Congresswoman Barbara Lee or retired Colonel Ann Wright, a senior diplomat who resigned from the State Department to protest the Iraq War.

So who is the "least worst" choice? While General Austin has some good qualitieshis experience in overseeing major troop withdrawals from Iraq and his opposition to further U.S. involvement in Syriaappointing a recently retired military officer would violate long-standing traditions and laws that stipulate that the Secretary of Defense must be a civilian.

The Republican-controlled Senate set a dangerous precedent when it approved a waiver of the National Security Act and confirmed General Mattis as Trump's Defense Secretary in 2017. As 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.

That leaves Flournoy and Johnson. We are afraid that Flournoy would be an especially dangerous choice for America and the world. Given the additional time that President-elect Biden is taking over this decision, he, too, seems to have reservations about her.

As Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during Obama's first term, Flournoy clearly did not see eye-to-eye with Vice President Biden on many of the Obama administration's most fateful decisions. Biden opposed military escalation in Afghanistan, while Flournoy supported it. Flournoy also backed military intervention and regime change in Libya, while Biden insists that he argued strongly against it.

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Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. 

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