Kenneth Israel has had enough of the apologists at the White House and elsewhere trying to defend the indefensible. In an essay today at The Messenger, the retired major general blasts those spin efforts to hide what everyone can plainly see happened at the Department of Defense.
Lloyd Austin went AWOL, regardless of his personal desire for privacy or the illness for which Austin was being treated. Everything else is just “crazy excuses” for abandoning a post, Israel declares:
Let’s just say the “E” word: Enough. We Americans need to stop making things up. In one of the latest egregious examples, who is behind the crazy excuses regarding Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s unavailability and his not telling the White House his whereabouts for several days during his recent hospitalization?
It is not “just fine” that Austin took responsibility for the lapse in notification, or that he wanted to protect his privacy. Simply put, the well-being and whereabouts of our Secretary of Defense matter greatly to a nuclear-powered and nuclear-vulnerable nation. In such an instance, personal preferences must come second to duty. What if an emergency had occurred while Austin was undergoing surgery? Neither President Biden nor Austin’s deputy, Kathleen Hicks, reportedly knew about his medical procedure; she was on vacation at the time.
Furthermore, Israel concludes, Austin’s selfish actions in pursuit of “privacy” contradicts everything drilled into the men and women who serve under him in uniform. Any one of those would be punished for quitting a post without proper relief. What kind of signal does it send when their penultimate civilian commander decides to simply disappear out of a concern for his pride?
What kind of example does this incident send to the troops? The United States has the third largest military in the world and possesses more than 5,200 nuclear warheads. Should our most respected military government organization and its leader send a signal that it is all right to disappear and put one’s privacy first, when an absence because of a health issue might have an impact on the defense of our nation?
And let’s not forget that Austin’s position is also in the presidential succession. The WSJ pointed that out in their YGBFKM coverage of Austin’s AWOL, “How Lloyd Austin’s Deputy Ended Up Running the Pentagon From the Beach.” Literally no one knew who was running the DoD for four full days, emphasis mine:
For four days in January, most of Washington, including President Biden, didn’t know who was running the Pentagon. …
Austin—sixth in the line of presidential succession and second in the line of military command after the president—was hospitalized and his deputy required to step in from a beach in Puerto Rico where she was on vacation, days before President Biden was informed.
Only a small cadre of aides was aware that Austin was hospitalized. Most others in the Pentagon, including Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who was carrying out his duties, were kept in the dark, according to the Pentagon’s current version of events. Sasha Baker, the Defense Department’s top policy official and the most senior official present at the Pentagon during that time, attended a meeting at the White House on Jan. 3, unaware that Austin was hospitalized.
Sixth in succession may make a SecDef’s impact in case of a presidential vacancy fairly low, but it’s not non-zero either.
Furthermore, Israel notes, this is a time of emergencies in our national-security and military postures. Israel doesn’t get into specifics in this essay, but just last week wrote about the escalating provocations in the Red Sea from the Houthis and Iranians. At that time, Israel wondered why the US was failing to respond with appropriate force to acts of war against both shipping and US Navy personnel:
The current nine recognized principles are: unity of command; objective; mass; maneuver; surprise; simplicity; economy of force; security; and offensive. But today we seem to be seeing a new principle emerging, one that most seasoned military veterans cannot fathom. It is being enthusiastically advanced by default: “no hurt feelings.” It is astonishing that we appear to be so concerned about the feelings of our adversaries when we plainly recognize this is a one-way philosophy with no beginning, end, or substance.
Should we really care about our adversaries’ state of mind when they are dead set on killing us and our way of life?
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Benoit Faucon and Gordon Lubold was entitled in the print edition, “Red Sea Attacks Intensify Pressure on Biden,” with a summary that read: “U.S. tries to deter Iran proxies’ assaults on ships without inflaming tensions.” Do we really need to ensure that our response to aggression must not inflame the perpetrators’ passions? Over the past month, more than a dozen attacks on commercial shipping by the Iran-sponsored Houthi rebels have occurred in the Red Sea. Moreover, these insurgents have launched dozens of lethal drones toward Israel from Yemen. Clearly, using its proxy armies, Iran is increasing the number and scope of attacks.
That’s not just Gen. Israel’s argument either. Antony Blinken told reporters yesterday that Iran was behind the Houthi attacks on American assets, which is tantamount to war, although Blinken spun it in the “no hurt feelings” context Israel derides:
“We had the biggest attack just yesterday, aided and abetted by Iran,” Blinken told reporters at Bahrain International Airport in Manama on Wednesday, reports PBS NewsHour foreign affairs and defense correspondent Nick Schifrin on X.
“We’ve been clear with more than 20 countries that if these continue, as they did yesterday, there will be consequences,” Blinken added. “The support [Iran is] providing to the Houthis needs to stop. It’s not in their interest for the conflict to expand.”
One has to wonder now how much of this flabby and weak response comes from deliberate policy and how much might be attributable to absent leadership. If Austin has spent the last few weeks shirking his duties, that would complicate any strategic and tactical development to deal with these escalating attacks. To argue otherwise is to argue that Austin’s position is worthless and should be eliminated.
In either case, Austin should resign. Today. Now. To pretend that abandoning his post and keeping the president in the dark about it is just a matter for procedural review is absurd. This is about basic executive competence and honor. It’s time for Austin to start demonstrating both by “accepting responsibility” with his resignation. And as Israel writes, it’s time for the excuse-makers to stop their spin and demonstrate some respect to the mission rather than covering up for Austin’s failures.