Check out the website: https://lenspoliticalnotes.com Look at the recent Political Notes and Len’s Letters on the website. Political Note #341 US and the World – Blinken, Thomas-Greenfield, and Kerry, Political Note #342 US and the World, Part 2 – Mayorkas, Haines, and Sullivan, Political Note #349, Joe Biden’s White House at the Highest Level
Political Note #354 America’s Defense
This is the third of three reviews of Biden’s nominations and appointments for dealing with the world. What a difference Joe Biden is making. A foreign policy intended to strengthen democracy rather than to weaken it; a foreign policy that includes a military with strong leadership rather than eroded leadership, a foreign policy which values information and does not denigrate those who provide the information on which policy is based.
Secretary of Defense
Lloyd J Austin
For Lloyd J. Austin’s nomination as Secretary of Defense to be confirmed by the Senate, he needed both branches of Congress to grant a waiver from the National Security Act of 1947 that requires a former military official to have been retired for seven years before an appointment as Secretary of Defense. The waiver was approved on Thursday, January 21. Fourteen Senate Democrats and 13 Senate Republicans opposed the waiver. Fifteen House Democrats and 63 House Republicans opposed the waiver. On Friday, January 22, Lloyd J. Austin was confirmed by the Senate with only Josh Hawley (R MO) and Mike Lee (R UT) voting no.
Lloyd J. Austin retired from the military in 2016. Since his retirement, he has joined the boards of Raytheon (a major military contractor which merged with another — United Technologies) and Nucor (the largest steel manufacturer in the country). He is also a partner in a consulting firm with which Secretary of State nominee Anthony Blinken has been affiliated.
Lloyd J. Austin was born was born in Mobile, Alabama and grew up in Thomasville, Georgia, the town where Henry Flipper, the first Black graduate from West Point was from, a graduation which took place in 1877. He has been married for forty years to Charlene Denise Banner Austin who worked for the military on issues related to military families and has served on various boards supporting similar causes. She and Lloyd Austin have Master’s Degrees in Counseling Education from Auburn University.
The degree, which Lloyd J. Austin received in 1986 may have been preparation for a non-military career if the military did not work out. After he earned the degree, the military worked out just fine for him. Lloyd J. Austin was assigned to West Point and then to a series of positions as an executive officer to various commands, to a degree at the Army War College, and then to the Pentagon. As an Assistant Division Commander, he was part of the leadership for the invasion of Iraq and later was a battlefield general in Afghanistan. In 2008, he became the second highest ranking general in Iraq. From that position, he began what might be considered his later career.
He went to the Pentagon as the Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a selection of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Admiral Michael Mullen and a role made him more widely known. In 2010, he became the Commanding General of the forces in Iraq overseeing the reduction of forces there. He argued for retaining a military presence in Iraq, an argument which, had it won the day, might have avoided the geographic expansion of ISIS. After the withdrawal of American forces in 2011, he became Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army, then the Commander of CENTCOM. In the latter role, he developed and implemented the plan to combat ISIS. He retired in the spring of 2016.
Some commentators point out that Lloyd J. Austin never developed the kind of flamboyant public persona characteristic of some of the most ambitious American military leaders. His approach to national leadership is probably a product of his personal inclination to be private rather than a choice about how to approach the job. His nomination was among the few of Joe Biden’s picks about whom questions about confirmation arose. In Lloyd Austin’s case, those questions are primarily about a reluctance by some Senators to grant the waiver to allow a recently retired general to become Secretary of Defense. Lloyd J. Austin’s lack of flamboyance may have made the waiver more palatable.
Now that he is confirmed, he is the first African American Secretary of Defnese. He is also a Secretary of Defense who, for good or for ill, in his relatively brief post-military, civilian life, has learned a little more about military contractors. He has been on the Board of Directors of the Raytheon Corporation (recently merged with another military contractor United Technologies) and on the Board of Directors of the Nucor Corporation, the country’s largest steel manufacturer.
Deputy Secretary of Defense
Joe Biden nominated Kathleen Hicks on December 30, 2020 – long before he formalized his nomination for the Secretary of Defense. During the Obama administration, she was the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. She’s smart and knows her field. She graduated from Mt. Holyoke in 1991 magna and cum laude. She got an MPA from the University of Maryland in national security studies and a PhD from MIT in political science – writing about change agents. The subtitle was Who Leads and Why in the Execution of US National Security Policy.
During the interregnum, Kathleen Hicks was a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and an appointee at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She served on commissions and was ready for what came next. She had achieved her role in the Obama administration by virtue of her work in the Defense Department, which began immediately after completing her Maryland degree and her work at CSIS which preceded the award of her doctorate.
In the spring of 2020, in the journal Foreign Affairs, she addressed the problem of the enormous cost of the American military. She commented on a number of wrong ways to save money on the military:
- Cut items that can be done easily and without a fight such as research and development. BUT research and development, she says, is the life-blood of future capabilities.
- Reduce staff at headquarters. Clinton and Obama tried that. BUT the savings are minimal.
- Assume missions will end. Bush didn’t anticipate the cost of continuing in Iraq. BUT the military presence in Iraq and its cost continues for years.
- Reduce personnel costs. No administration has taken this seriously. BUT continuation of the status quo means costs, particularly benefit costs, creates an explosion of costs.
- Reduce military installation. The last round of closures was 15 years ago. BUT the Defense Department analysis suggests there is 19% excess capacity.
- Bring troops home from foreign wars. Obama withdrew American forces from Iraq in 2011. Then he reintervened in 2014 to fight ISIS. Trump has been attempting to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. BUT it is less expensive to have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than it is to have them in the US.
- Shut down the slush fund for defense spending. Elizabeth Warren has proposed that. That seems easy. BUT Hicks explains these funds are needed for causes as varied as naval operations in the Persian Gulf and scrambling jets over American cities during an emergency.
- Try an “America First” strategy and withdraw from treaties and obligations. That could save $100 Billion as we limit ourselves to our nuclear deterrent. BUT that would limit our ability to conduct a conventional defense of Alaska, Guam, and Hawaii, let alone to participate in a conventional defense of our allies. Furthermore, it would destroy the trust American allies have in the United States.
Hicks says we should reimagine the US’s role as a leader and accept American primacy is different now. We should cultivate allies to sustain our imperiled advantages over China and Russia. We should work with our allies to allow private commerce and free people to flourish in the face of rising authoritarianism. BUT we should expect allies to take primary responsibility for their own defense. At home we should take those savings to education, research and development, and support for immigrants who bring their STEM skills to the US.
WAIT! What savings? In a velvet glove, this is Trump to NATO. Increase your own defense spending so the US doesn’t have to spend so much defending Europe. The same thing to Asian countries. This is the message that Hicks is bringing as the Deputy Defense Secretary.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
The second most interesting bit of information about Colin Kahl is that he participated in negotiations with Iran about the nuclear agreement while he was National Security Advisor to the Vice President during the Obama Administration. The most interesting bit of information is that aides to Donald Trump, seeking to discredit the agreement, contracted with the Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube in the hope of finding incriminating or embarrassing information about him. Apparently his professional and personal history stood up to that scrutiny. He served on Joe Biden’s transition team for issues related to the National Security Council and he has been nominated to be Undersecretary.
A University of Michigan graduate with a doctorate from Columbia, he has moved between government and academic. He turned his doctoral thesis into a book – States, Scarcity, and Civil Strive in the Developing World. Most recently, he was at Stanford. He has taught at Minnesota and been a Fellow at Harvard. For the first two years of the Obama administration, he was the deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East.
President of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. Joe Biden’s predecessor would never name a person with that credential to his administration. William Burns’ personal history contrasts with the high tone of this most recent job. He was born at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. His father was in the military, assigned to various posts around the country and overseas. Like many kids with parents in the military, the number of schools he attended is in the double digits.
William Burns is not an Ivy Leaguer. He went to LaSalle University in Philadelphia where he was a good enough student to earn a Marshall. At Oxford, he earned a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate. He entered the foreign service in 1982, rising rapidly enough so that in 1994 he made Time Magazine’s list of the 50 Most Promising American Leaders Under 40.
Effective personally, he served in Jordan and Russia and held several posts in Washington. He also writes. Sometimes his writing is specialized – Economic Aid and American Policy toward Egypt, 1955-1981. Sometimes less so. Even his internal documents are literate. Among the documents Wikileaks released, one is a cable by Burns describing a wedding among the powerful in the caucuses. One reader described the cable as worthy of Evelyn Waugh.
He and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Joe Biden’s nominee to be Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote a piece titled “The Transformation of Diplomacy: How to Save the State Department.” They were unsparing about what preceded Trump: “Well-intentioned reform efforts over the years were crippled by faddishness, budgetary pressures, the over-militarization of foreign policy, the State Department’s lumbering bureaucracy, a fixation on structure, and—most of all—inattention to people.”
The two eventual Biden nominees were harsher on the Trump administration: “The Trump administration also learned early on that people matter, and so it made them the primary target of what the White House aide Steve Bannon termed “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” That is what has made the administration’s demolition of the State Department and so many other government institutions so effective and ruinous. Tapping into popular distrust of expertise and public institutions, President Donald Trump has made career public servants—government meteorologists, public health specialists, law enforcement professionals, career diplomats—convenient targets in the culture wars. Taking aim at an imaginary “deep state,” he has instead created a weak state, an existential threat to the country’s democracy and the interests of its citizens.”
William Burns understands the relationship of the United States to the world and the need to repair that relationship after a disastrous administration.
Deputy Director, CIA
In his Memoir, Undaunted, John O. Brennan recalled the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration: “David Cohen and his wife, Suzy, graciously invited Kathy and me as well as Jim and Sue Clapper, Avril and her husband David, and Lisa Monaco to their house for brunch that day. “
Look at who was at the brunch.
David Cohen (host) who is Joe Biden’s nominee for Deputy Director of the CIA. The participants in the brunch knew him as a former Deputy Director of the CIA and as the Treasury Department’s former Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
Avril Haines who is Joe Biden’s nominee to be Director of National Intelligence. At the brunch, she was the Deputy Director of the CIA.
Lisa Monaco who is Joe Biden’s nominee to be Deputy Attorney General. At the brunch, she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.
John O. Brennan who was the Director of the CIA.
Jim Clapper who was the Director of National Intelligence.
If Donald Trump was right about the United States of America, this would have been a meeting of the “Deep State.” Joe Biden is right about the United States of American and how it should be governed. That brunch was a meeting of the past and future leadership of US intelligence. Of course, Joe Biden’s CIA Director nominee William Burns, who is from outside the intelligence community, was not there.
Joe Biden has done a lot in the way of mixing left and center in agencies between the highest level of leadership and the next level. He’s doing something slightly different with the CIA. Joe Biden has nominated a CIA Director who is an expert in diplomacy – in the international sense and in the interpersonal sense. His nominee for Deputy Director David Cohen, has a background that includes magna from Cornell and a JD from Yale. During the interregnum, he worked for the New York City police as Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence. Most important for working with a Director from outside the Agency, David Cohen knows the Agency as thoroughly as anyone. He is pretty good at personal diplomacy as well.
I’m begin to think this rollout of leadership in Joe Biden’s administration different from most administrations. You can see connections among people, relationships that will help them support each other and create more effective governance.
Next Steps for Lenspoliticalnotes.com
In February, I will return to the original purpose of these Notes – describing Democratic candidates for election and urging you to provide them with some financial support. As we move toward the election of 2022, we need to treat the challenges with the same intensity we brought to defeating Donald Trump.
Until February, here are a few organizations worth supporting. I begin with the official Democratic organizations. These are brief descriptions of them which include some concerns about the organizations.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC). https://democrats.org
The DNC is the official organization of the Democratic Party – charged with electing a Democratic President. Its new head is Jaime Harrison, who ran a powerful, but unsuccessful campaign for the US Senate in South Carolina. Harrison has a challenge in front of him. For instance, the website is still focused on electing a Democratic President in 2020.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) https://dccc.org
The DCCC is the official arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Its former chair was Cheri Bustos (IL 17). She had a difficult time in 2020. 1) During the campaign, she was faced with a revolt from colleagues who insisted she have a more diverse staff. Bustos replaced several staff members in response. 2) Initially elected to Downstate district in 2012 (She’s from Moline, IL) and having won convincingly with more than 60% of the vote in 2016 and 2018, her 2020 victory was 52-48. 3) After the 2018 election, Democrats had a 235-200 margin. After the 2020 elections, Democrats have a 221-211 margin with three vacant seats. Few people point to the DCCC as responsible for how poorly Democrats did in the Congressional races, but Bustos resigned. The new Chair is Sean Patrick Maloney (NY – 18). The DCCC website says nothing about its leadership.
Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) https://www.dscc.org
The DSCC describes itself as the only committee solely committed to electing a Democratic Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) replaced Chris Van Hollen (MD) after a tough 2018 Senate election. Democrats did not flip as many Republican seats as hoped in 2020, but the two run-off victories in Georgia allowed Democrats to gain a 50-50 tie (a majority since there is a Democratic Vice President presiding over the Senate). That majority replaces what was a 52-48 Republican majority. The DSCC website asks for donations so Democrats can preserve their majority, but says nothing about its leadership. We do know, at least, that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has begun fundraising as he works toward being in a better position in 2022.
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) https://www.dlcc.org
The DLCC describes its job as electing local Democrats, retaking state houses, and ending right-wing gerrymandering. The DLCC also has to update its website. It describes how it doubled spending in the 2018 election cycle. Jennifer Post, formerly of Emily’s List, is their President. New York’s State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is their Chair. Their website reports on two January special election victories in Virginia and an upcoming race in South Dakota.
Democratic Governors Association (DGA) https://democraticgovernors.org
The DGA describes itself as the only organization solely dedicated to electing and supporting Democratic governors. The DGA has a line of succession. Phil Murphy of NJ was Chair in 2020. Michelle Lujan Grisham was Vice Chair in 2020 and is the 2021 Chair. Roy Cooper of North Carolina is Vice Chair. He will be Chair in 2022. Democrats appear to be recovering somewhat from previous devastating losses. There are now 24 Democratic governors among the 50 states.
National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC)
The Committee’s Chair, Eric Holder, former Attorney General under Barack Obama, has made news in his efforts to fight redistricting. Their website, however, is still discussing how to win in 2020 so that redistricting in 2021 would reflect a fairer distribution of seats than in the past. Unfortunately, Democrats did not do well in 2020 state legislative elections and we face hard times in dealing with redistricting for the next decade.
Fair Fight https://fairfight.com
“We promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country.” This is an organization which achieved success when it counted. Stacey Abrams, the founder and leader of the organization, has made a national impact. In part through their efforts, Georgia elected two Democratic Senators in the election cycle that is just completed, creating the Democratic majority in the Senate. Fair Fight’s website says: “Fair Fight PAC has initiated programs to support voter protection programs at state parties around the country and is engaging in partnerships to support and elect pro voting rights, progressive leaders,
The Lincoln Project https://lincolnproject.us
For reasons I don’t understand, the Republicans know how to create campaigns. They have a clear statement about who they are and what they are doing: “The Lincoln Project is a group of former Republicans who worked to defeat Donald J.Trump’s reelection and will continue to battle Trumpism in America.” They are planning for the future. This statement is at the bottom of a news release about the January 6 insurrection. It includes the name and email address of the organization’s Senior Communication Advisor and the organization’s National Press Secretary. The news release refers to the organization’s co-founder, Rick Wilson’s comments about January 6. Note – they know the 2020 election is over. Still, I would like them to tell us who their leadership is on their website, not that you can’t Google and find out.