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Rejecting Michèle Flournoy, Progressives Demand Biden Pick Pentagon Chief 'Untethered' From Military-Industrial Complex

"We urge President-elect Joe Biden and U.S. senators to choose a secretary of defense who is unencumbered by a history of advocating for bellicose military policies and is free of financial ties to the weapons industry."

Former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy prepares to testify during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.

Former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy prepares to testify during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A coalition of progressive anti-war groups on Monday warned President-elect Joe Biden against selecting Michèle Flournoy as his defense secretary, characterizing the former Pentagon official's ties to the military-industrial complex and record—specifically her support for Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan and NATO assault on Libya—as unacceptable and disqualifying.

"We urge President-elect Joe Biden and U.S. senators to choose a secretary of defense who is unencumbered by a history of advocating for bellicose military policies and is free of financial ties to the weapons industry," reads a new statement signed by CodePink, Our Revolution, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), RootsAction.org, and World Beyond War.

"The power progressives hold must be wielded now before it's too late, before Flournoy is crowned and the U.S. slips further into decline, mired in a high-stakes high-tech arms race—or worse, another endless war, this one with a nuclear-armed nation of over 1.3 billion people."
—Marcy Winograd, Progressive Democrats of America

"Flournoy's record includes emphatic support for the failed and tragic military surge in Afghanistan, troops on the ground in Syria, and military intervention in Libya—policies resulting in geopolitical disasters and tremendous human suffering," the statement continues. "Flournoy has opposed a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while that country has continued to inflict massive suffering and death in Yemen."

The coalition, which said it is "prepared to launch a major nationwide grassroots campaign" to prevent Flournoy's confirmation, also expressed alarm at the potential nominee's militaristic rhetoric toward China. In the June 2020 issue of Foreign Affairs, Flournoy wrote that the U.S. should be able to credibly "threaten to sink all of China's military vessels, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours."

Formerly the under secretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration, Flournoy is widely considered the Biden team's leading candidate for Pentagon chief. Other top contenders, according to the Wall Street Journal, include former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, a Lockheed Martin board member, and Gen. Lloyd Austin, a Raytheon board member.

After serving in the Obama White House, Flournoy in 2017 co-founded the consultancy firm WestExec Advisors with Antony Blinken, Biden's secretary of state nominee. As The American Prospect reported in July, when asked about its client list, "WestExec would only divulge that it began working with 'Fortune 100 types,' including large U.S. tech; financial services, including global-asset managers; aerospace and defense; emerging U.S. tech; and nonprofits."

Flournoy is also currently on the board of the massive weapons contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, a fact the progressive coalition spotlighted as an example of the "revolving door that enables military contractors with close ties to government officials to propel us further into a costly, unnecessary, and dangerous high-tech arms race."

"The people of the United States need a Secretary of Defense who is untethered to the weapons industry and committed to ending the arms race," the progressive organizations argue. "Michèle Flournoy should not be put in charge of the Pentagon, and neither should anyone else failing to meet those qualifications."

Lamenting that Flournoy "has received unequivocal support from numerous individuals who are respected in progressive circles"—including leaders of the Ploughshares Fund and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists—RootsAction.org co-founder Norman Solomon wrote in an op-ed for Common Dreams Monday morning that progressives should instead "emphatically challenge every odious aspect of the Biden administration, every step of the way."

As Marcy Winograd, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of PDA, put it, "Progressives may be tempted to trade truth for access to the powerful and privileged, thinking they can influence the course of events if they bite their tongue when Flournoy talks of fighting and prevailing in a war with China."

"But this sort of thinking is misguided," said Winograd. "The power progressives hold must be wielded now before it's too late, before Flournoy is crowned and the U.S. slips further into decline, mired in a high-stakes high-tech arms race—or worse, another endless war, this one with a nuclear-armed nation of over 1.3 billion people."

Read the coalition's full statement:

We urge President-Elect Joe Biden and U.S. Senators to choose a Secretary of Defense who is unencumbered by a history of advocating for bellicose military policies and is free of financial ties to the weapons industry.

Michèle Flournoy does not meet those qualifications and is ill-suited to serve as Secretary of Defense.

Flournoy's record includes emphatic support for the failed and tragic military surge in Afghanistan, troops on the ground in Syria, and military intervention in Libya—policies resulting in geopolitical disasters and tremendous human suffering. Flournoy has opposed a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while that country has continued to inflict massive suffering and death in Yemen.

While urging a U.S. pivot to Asia that would include ramping up a Cold War with China, Flournoy has called for a boost in spending on cyberwarfare and drones, as well as more troop deployments to the South China Sea to conduct roving war games near two nuclear powersChina and North Korea.

Flournoy's approach to China is potentially catastrophic. On January 15, 2020, she told Congress the U.S. must prepare to fight and prevail in a future conflict with China by credibly threatening to sink the entire Chinese navy in 72 hours and investing heavily in unmanned systems. At a time when we must work with China to fight the coronavirus and save the planet from an existential climate crisis, Flournoy's approach would undermine such efforts by preparing for war with China.

Security consultants who have endorsed Flournoy and who may be encouraged by her intention to restart arms control talks with Russia or her skepticism on nuclear "modernization" need to look more closely at Flournoy's congressional testimony and essays on investing in space-based weapons systems that could increase the chances of nuclear war on earth.

The revolving-door aspects of Flournoy's career have raised additional concerns. For instance, as The American Prospect recently reported: "Since Flournoy joined the board of weapons contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Saudi Arabia's embassy in Washington paid the company $3 million for consulting fees, while Flournoy's Center for a New American Security accepted millions from foreign governments, including the United Arab Emirates which donated $250,000 in return for a report on missile defense."

As the Project On Government Oversight noted in a November 2020 report, Ms. Flournoy "co-founded the second-most heavily contractor-funded think tank in Washington, the highly influential Center for a New American Security." Following a stint as an undersecretary of defense, "she rotated to the Boston Consulting Group, after which the firm's military contracts expanded from $1.6 million to $32 million in three years." In addition, Ms. Flournoy "joined the board of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm laden with defense contracts. In 2017 she co-founded WestExec Advisors, helping defense corporations market their products to the Pentagon and other agencies."

In the interests of national and world security, we must close the revolving door that enables military contractors with close ties to government officials to propel us further into a costly, unnecessary, and dangerous high-tech arms race.

The people of the United States need a Secretary of Defense who is untethered to the weapons industry and committed to ending the arms race. Michèle Flournoy should not be put in charge of the Pentagon, and neither should anyone else failing to meet those qualifications. We are opposed to her being nominated, and we are prepared to launch a major nationwide grassroots campaign so that every senator will hear from large numbers of constituents demanding that she not be confirmed.

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