The Real Problem With Biden’s Defense Department Pick, Lloyd Austin

Beneath a cynical veneer of an “historic choice” lies the depressing reality of entrenched war-profiteering.

Ryan Jones
5 min readDec 16, 2020

When President-elect Joe Biden announced his nominee for the Secretary of Defense, CNN ran a story that ostensibly explored the immediate critiques of the retired four-star general, Lloyd Austin.

Astonishingly, the first discussed is the idea that there are critics who feel Austin lacks “the political chops to fight military budget cuts”. The article does not reference any of these critics, however, leaving uncertainty as to who they are exactly and the specifics of their concerns.

These amorphous, hawkish critics, are however out of touch with the American public at a time when the majority of the citizenry is fed up with unmitigated defense spending. The omission of this obvious angle of detraction against the Austin pick raises red flags on the impartiality of CNN coverage.

A second, massive exclusion in this article, is the lack of any reference at all to the fact that Lloyd Austin currently sits on the board of Raytheon, the third-largest weapons manufacturer in the world. He is also a board member of Nucor, a steel-producing conglomerate that supports a wide range of arms producers, and Tenet Healthcare, a Dallas-based healthcare services company. And, as David Sirota writes, he is a partner at Pine Island Capital which characterizes itself as a “newly organized blank check company incorporated in Delaware” that will leverage its team to “ensure exposure to a significant number of proprietary opportunities.”

More from its SEC filing:

We believe there will be increased demand in the U.S. defense market for advanced electronics, communications, sensor and detection processing and other technologies that enhance the modernization efforts of the Department of Defense’s military readiness. We believe this demand represents strong growth that our management team is uniquely positioned to capitalize on given our combined investment experience and deeply connected partner group of former U.S. defense and government officials.

In the summer of 2019, after more than four years of supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which the United Nations characterized as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, Congress attempted to block the Trump Administration’s sale of weapons to the oppressive Gulf State power. Trump, however, ultimately vetoed their efforts and protected the war machine’s bottom-line. Raytheon stood to benefit to the tune of $1.6 billion for an order of Paveway bombs, touted for their unparalleled accuracy. Yet, those tools of death are only as precise, when it comes to the avoidance of civilian casualties, as the skill of the operator and the quality of intelligence on the ground. In fact, despite their clever and expensive engineering, these weapons were involved in the killings of hundreds of civilians, including at least 122 children and 56 women, by the time that sale was made.

This raises the question: with such obvious catering to the interests of a company like Raytheon, how different will Biden’s administration be from Trump’s on issues like defense spending and the spurious ethics involved with entrenched war-profiteering? As things shape up, it’s becoming clear that there will likely be little difference, if any at all. In fact, it may worsen as Democrats in Congress are less willing to spend their political capital in opposition to Biden’s inevitable murderous arms deals.

Unmitigated defense spending seems to be of no concern for Lloyd Austin, III as he rides his golden parachute, laden with American funds funneled through the biggest open scam in modern history. Just last week, in the middle of a global pandemic that has been ravaging the American economy and its people, Congress worked quickly to approve an unprecedented $740 billion defense spending bill. This happened, despite nine months of stalling on a comprehensive stimulus package, that continues today.

These are fitting times for a potential Secretary of Defense who, in a heated 2015 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, showed little concern over the failure of a $500 million project to train and equip 3,000 fighters in Syria. In the end, it only produced 52 rebels.

The U.S. military has spent $43 million of the $500 million allotted by Congress, or roughly $9 million per fighter.

Despite the reality of this abject failure and colossal waste of public treasure, the General opened the hearing with his eyes wide shut: “Ladies and gentlemen, with respect to the ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria, despite some slow movement at the tactical level, we continue to make progress across the battlespace.”

Another Immutable Arbiter of the ‘Forever Wars’

When President Obama made the popular 2011 decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, Austin sought to keep 24,000 of them on the ground. In defending Austin, CNN argues that this was a wise suggestion, as it was only a few years later that ISIS rose on the scene. But what they fail to consider is if the war itself was more directly responsible for the opportunity ISIS took, rather than the inevitable pulling out of American troops. The troops have to come home sometime, don’t they? If not now, when?

In 2014, he was arguing that a force of 5,000 to 8,000 soldiers in Afghanistan “for the long-term”. Yet, over time the American effort there has proven its self to be an epic waste. When The Washington Post published The Afghanistan Papers in 2019, it hardly made a ripple in the public discourse, despite having revealed a bleak picture of incompetence, wastefulness, and a complete lack of direction among military leaders there. For those paying attention, the inevitable questions arose: how are we going to fix this situation? What are the goals we’ve set for ourselves so that we know when we can leave? Will we ever?

After nearly two decades of a ceaseless and aimless failure in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has spent more than $2 trillion, which is money that could surely be used more effectively and equitably at home. As Joe Biden has been newly elected to a country facing deep issues like substandard infrastructure, healthcare inequities, low-quality education, and a massive student loan bubble, what good does it do to prioritize an entrenched culture of perpetual waste on misguided and ineffective foreign wars?

“Military Industrial Complex by Fabian” by wiredforlego is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0