January 9, 2024

Lloyd Austin

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized since [last] Monday for an unspecified medical matter, the Pentagon said late on Friday, without detailing why he was being treated or why it kept his hospital stay secret all week… The Pentagon did not say whether Austin ever lost consciousness before or after he was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Jan. 1, or the extent to which his duties were assumed by his deputy, Kathleen Hicks. Those duties include being ready and available to respond to an incoming nuclear attack.” Reuters

Austin's hospitalization was kept far more secret than previously known, officials disclosed on Sunday, adding his deputy to a long list of people right up to President Joe Biden who were kept in the dark for days… Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks assumed some of his operational duties on Jan. 2, while she was on vacation in Puerto Rico, a U.S. official said. But, Hicks was only told why Austin was unavailable on Jan. 4… That's the same day that Biden and other senior White House officials were told that Austin had been hospitalized since Jan. 1.” Reuters

“U.S. President Joe Biden does not plan to fire Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after his failure to disclose his hospitalization last week, officials said on Monday, as the Pentagon revealed a second hospital stay that was kept from the White House… Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder, the chief Pentagon spokesperson, disclosed that Austin had also been admitted to Walter Reed on Dec. 22 for an overnight stay for a still-undisclosed elective medical procedure that required him to transfer certain authority to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks. Ryder said the White House also was not informed of that hospitalization.” Reuters

Both sides condemn the lack of communication and urge Austin to resign:

“We’re in the middle of a proxy war in Ukraine, we’re providing supplies and logistical support for a war in Gaza, our military is being attacked daily by Houthi rebels out of Yemen, and China is constantly threatening to invade Taiwan, whom we have to supply with military hardware. It seems like this is an inopportune time to have nobody minding the shop at the Defense Department, to say the least…

The SecDef never travels alone. He had to have had at least one aide with him. If Austin’s ‘minor medical procedure’ suddenly turned so serious that he had to be taken to the ICU, you would assume that an aide would have immediately contacted Hicks and she would have flown back from Puerto Rico at once. The fact that nothing of the sort happened suggests that the Biden administration is engaging in a rushed PR campaign to cover up what was probably a very serious screw-up at the DoD.”

Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“The Defense Department is the world’s largest employer, and its machinery takes up roughly one-sixth of the entire federal budget. And, for at least a few days recently, had no one atop the pyramid as deadly conflicts continued to unfold in Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza. If no Americans or American interests were put at risk, it was through fools’ luck and not anything the Office of the Secretary of Defense laid in preparation…

“Austin is no dummy here. A retired four-star Army General, Austin previously led U.S. Central Command, served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and ran U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, he knew better. Members of both parties have many, many questions about what, exactly, Austin thought he was doing in keeping this from them.”

Philip Elliott, Time

“While Austin was in the hospital, the United States launched an airstrike in Iraq, killing one of the leaders of an Iranian-backed militia. Austin apparently signed off on the strike before his hospitalization, but what if something had gone wrong and a crisis erupted? What if the White House couldn’t find its own secretary of defense quickly in a deteriorating military situation? Or, in an even more hair-raising possibility, what if something else had gone wrong— something far more catastrophic?…

“If Biden and Sullivan had needed to find Austin in a hurry, precious minutes would have been lost in the ensuing confusion. Merely apologizing for keeping the public in the dark isn’t enough. President Biden, Congress, and the American people need to know exactly what just happened over the past five days.”

Tom Nichols, The Atlantic

“If Austin were a vital member of Biden’s national-security team, if he were deeply enmeshed in decision-making on the wars in Ukraine or the Middle East, excuses might be made and tolerated. But the fact that Biden learned of Austin’s absence only after four days—i.e., the fact that Biden hadn’t been in touch with his secretary of defense for four days during a period of round-the-clock military operations and crisis—suggests that Austin is far from essential…

“Biden has said he still has confidence in Austin, which is what a president is expected to say. It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Austin himself announced, say, by the end of the week, that he was stepping down due to health issues… Austin has a distinguished military record, but he has broken national-security protocol, violated the public trust, and fallen far short of any president’s expectations of a Cabinet secretary’s behavior. He should go.”

Fred Kaplan, Slate

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“Austin is on the mend and back on the job… but he remains hospitalized and there’s no word on when he might be released. There’s also been no information on what procedure he had. This continued lack of transparency is unacceptable and unsustainable

“Congress is already heavily scrutinizing the Biden administration in sometimes purely political plays that go beyond necessary oversight. They are, for instance, set to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and have opened an impeachment inquiry into Biden. This is political overreach. But Congress should absolutely look into what happened with Austin’s failure to disclose. It’s unfortunate that Austin gave Biden’s political opponents an opening.”

Nia-Malika Henderson, Bloomberg

From the Right

“Nothing about this is remotely normal. The secretary of defense does not typically disappear ‘off the grid’ and remain unaccounted for to his superiors for several days, like Mark Sanford hiking the Appalachian Trail. In any sane world, the details of this story… would require Lloyd Austin’s immediate resignation…

“And yet Joe Biden’s administration has been at great pains to signal that Secretary Austin is welcome back to the fold. Politico reported [yesterday] that President Biden ‘would not accept a resignation if Austin were to offer one,’ which is as clear a signal as the administration is capable of sending to the media to back away from covering this. If the White House didn’t fire anyone over the Afghanistan pullout, why start insisting on competence now?”

The Editors, National Review

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