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Former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy prepares to testify during the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on "NATO at 70: An Indispensable Alliance" on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy prepares to testify during the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on "NATO at 70: An Indispensable Alliance" on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Hey Joe, Where You Going With That Pentagon in Your Hands?

The pernicious and lucrative aspects of military madness are personified in the favorite to be Biden’s Defense Secretary.

Norman Solomon

By all accounts, the frontrunner to be Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Defense is Michèle Flournoy. It’s a prospect that should do more than set off alarm bells—it should be understood as a scenario for the president-elect to stick his middle fingers in the eyes of Americans who are fed up with endless war and ongoing militarism.

Warning and petitioning Biden to dissuade him from a Flournoy nomination probably have scant chances of success. But if Biden puts her name forward, activists should quickly launch an all-out effort to block Senate confirmation.

The foreseeable dangers of picking Flournoy to run the Pentagon are compounded by Biden’s selection of Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State.

As the Biden administration takes office, progressives have an opportunity to affirm and amplify the position that Martin Luther King Jr. boldly articulated when he insisted that “I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism.” In the present day, the pernicious and lucrative aspects of that madness are personified in the favorite to be Biden’s Defense Secretary.

Days ago, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) published a detailed analysis under the headline “Should Michèle Flournoy Be Secretary of Defense?” The well-documented answer: No. 

Citing “extensive defense industry ties,” POGO provided an overview of Flournoy’s revolving-door career. When she wasn’t oiling the war machine in the Clinton and Obama administrations, Flournoy was profiteering from servicing that machine:

  • “In 2002 she went from positions in the Pentagon and the National Defense University to the mainstream but hawkish Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is largely funded by industry and Pentagon contributions.”
  • “Five years later, she co-founded the second-most heavily contractor-funded think tank in Washington, the highly influential Center for a New American Security. That became a stepping stone to her role as under secretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration.”
  • “From there 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. She also 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.” 

Running parallel to Flournoy’s financial conflicts of interest was her long record of advocacy for military conflicts.

“Flournoy was widely considered to have been one of Obama’s more hawkish advisers and helped mastermind the escalation of the disastrous war in Afghanistan,” Arwa Mahdawi pointed out in a Nov. 21 Guardian piece. “She has called for increased defense spending, arguing in a 2017 Washington Post op-ed that Trump was ‘right to raise the need for more defense dollars.’ She has complained that Obama didn’t use military force enough, particularly in Syria. She supported the wars in Iraq and Libya. . .”

The president-elect is hardly in a position to hold such a record against prospective appointees. He has never fully acknowledged, much less renounced, his own roles in advocating for disastrous U.S. wars -- most notably and tragically, the war in Iraq.

Biden hasn’t gotten his story straight or come clean about supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His specious claims that he didn’t really support the invasion have been gross misrepresentations of the historical record. Actually, Biden was the Democrat in the Senate who exerted the most leverage in support of the Iraq invasion, and he did so with public enthusiasm.

The foreseeable dangers of picking Flournoy to run the Pentagon are compounded by Biden’s selection of Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State. It was Blinken who, 18 years ago, served as staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while its chairman, Joe Biden, oversaw the pivotal and badly skewed two-day hearing in summer 2002 that greased the congressional skids for approving an invasion of Iraq.

Blinken, along with Flournoy, co-founded WestExec Advisors, which the Washington Post’s breaking-news coverage of the Blinken nomination gingerly described as “a political strategy firm.” It was a nice euphemism, in contrast to how POGO describes the WestExec Advisors mission -- “helping defense corporations market their products to the Pentagon and other agencies.” The term “war profiteering” would be even more apt.

If past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, there are ample reasons for apprehension about the top of the military and foreign-policy team that Biden has begun to install for his presidency. But realism should not lead to fatalism or passivity.

Extricating the United States from the grip of the military-industrial complex will require massive and sustained organizing. With that goal in mind, a grassroots campaign to prevent Michèle Flournoy from becoming Secretary of Defense would be wise.


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