Gen. Lloyd Austin, on the Raytheon Board, is yet another high-level Biden nominee enmeshed in D.C.'s corporatist "revolving door" of legalized influence-peddling.
Then-Commander of US Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III conducts a media briefing on Operation Inherent Resolve, the international military effort against (IS) Islamic State group, on October 17, 2014, at the Pentagon
Photo PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images
Joe Biden’s pick to be the next Secretary of Defense, according to reports on Monday night, is recently retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, III. The choice of Gen. Austin further erodes the once-sacred American norm that military officials will be barred from exercising control over the Pentagon until substantial time has passed after leaving active-duty military service.
Before Gen. Austin can be confirmed, Biden will need a special waiver from Congress under the National Security Act of 1947. That law, a cornerstone of the post-World War II national security state, provides that “a person who has within ten years been on active duty as a commissioned officer in a Regular component of the armed services shall not be eligible for appointment as Secretary of Defense.” Enactment of the law after the war, explained the Congressional Research Service, was imperative to “preserve the principle of civilian control of the military at a time when the United States was departing from its century-and-a-half long tradition of a small standing military.” A 2008 law reduced that waiting period to seven years, but Gen. Austin, who retired from the U.S. Army only four years ago, in 2016, still falls well within its prohibition.
Biden’s choice of Gen. Austin was somewhat surprising in light of the widespread expectation that he would instead tap long-time Pentagon operative Michèle Flournoy, who would have made history as the first woman to run
the Defense Department after serving as Obama’s Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the Pentagon’s highest-ranking woman in history.
But Flournoy’s nomination encountered problems after The New York Times last weeksaid her appointment would present a “test of transparency and ethics” in light of her heavy involvement during the Trump years in a consulting firm, WestExec Advisors, and an investment fund, Pine Island Capital Partners. Those are classic D.C. “revolving door” corporate entities which exploit the access and influence inside the Pentagon and other government agencies of their principals, former top-ranking national security officials, to use their influence within the agencies they once ran to secure lucrative weapons purchases and similar government contracts for their undisclosed corporate clients. These are not just ethical problems of the past; as the Times noted, officials who have done this “bring with them questions about whether they might favor or give special access to the companies they had worked with in the private sector.”
It is hard to believe, though, that Biden’s choice of Gen. Austin was motivated by these kinds of ethical concerns over Flournoy. After all, the sleazy, legalized influence-peddling of Flournoy’s firm has long been known, at least since the investigative journalist Lee Fang revealed many of the details back in 2018 (last week’s Times article added new disturbing facts). Moreover, many of Biden’s key national security appointees were WestExec founders right along with Flournoy, including his pick for Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, and his Director of National Intelligence, Avril Hines.
Why would Flournoy’s work with these firms be disqualifying when the identical work of other Biden picks — Blinken, Hines, White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki — was not? Moreover, Biden’s picks for top administration positions in general are people who have spent years deeply entrenched in the corporate and lobbyist world that controls the U.S. Government.
And Gen. Austin, apart from the serious civilian-military problem of the National Security Act, is himself a fully entrenched player in this swamp. Since retiring from the Army, the four-star General became, as New York Times reporter Ken Vogel noted, “a member of a private equity fund” — Pine Island Acquisition Corp. — that “invests in defense contractors, and boasts that its members’ ‘access, network and expertise’ are an advantage in government contracting.”
Biden’s choice to lead the Pentagon is also currently a member of the Board of Directors of Raytheon Technologies, the world’s third-largest defense contractor. That means that upon Austin’s confirmation, Raytheon will have a very good friend in charge of the bloated $750 billion annual U.S. defense budget.