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Opinion | The Battle Over Biden’s Defense Secretary Has Begun

“Healthy democracies need a division of labor between military leaders, who are trained to follow orders and win battles, and civilian ones, who are tasked with asking hard questions about why those battles are being fought in the first place,” The Times editorial board writes. “That’s why mature democracies around the world have civilians serving in that role.”

Politicians from both parties appear to agree: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats who opposed granting a waiver for General Mattis, have said they will likewise oppose granting one for General Austin, and Senators Susan Collins and Tom Cotton, both Republicans, have also expressed deep reservations.

General Austin also has ties to the defense industry that have raised concern. He is a partner at an investment firm that buys military suppliers, and serves on the board of Raytheon, one of the world’s largest weapons makers. Raytheon’s bombs are used to kill civilians in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which the United Nations has called “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” and which Democrats have promised to end.

“If General Austin were to recuse himself from decisions on programs and policies involving Raytheon, he could not carry out large parts of his job as defense secretary,” William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, told The Intercept.

General Austin is hardly alone in possessing such baggage. As a report from the Project on Government Oversight found in 2018, hundreds of people have passed through the revolving door between the Department of Defense and the corporations it does business with in recent years, which “often confuses what is in the best financial interests of defense contractors — excessively large Pentagon budgets, endless wars and overpriced weapon systems — with what is in the best interest of military effectiveness and protecting citizens.”

Like General Austin, the recently ousted defense secretary Mark Esper also worked at Raytheon, serving as the company’s top lobbyist. (Mr. Esper’s predecessor, Mr. Mattis, served on the board of General Dynamics, another major military contractor.) In a tense exchange with Mr. Esper during his confirmation hearing last year, Senator Warren said that his refusal to recuse himself from all matters involving Raytheon’s financial interests “smacks of corruption, plain and simple.”

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