Opinion | Lloyd Austin is defenseless as he hides hospitalization

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has been hospitalized for at least three days keeping his medical condition hidden from President Biden and White House officials, owes the public more answers about his health. That includes the nature of the elective procedure he underwent on Dec. 22 and the complications that led to him being taken by ambulance to the intensive care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on New Year’s Day. The Pentagon’s release schedule so far has been disturbingly vague. He said he was experiencing “severe pain”, but even VIPs are not usually rushed to the ICU for minor problems. .

We wish Mr. Austin a full and speedy recovery, regardless of his exact condition. We would appreciate any further information. So far, there is no convincing explanation for the lack of transparency as all of the above unfolds in real time. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff learned of Mr. Austin’s hospitalization on January 2nd, but the White House, the highest constitutional civilian authority, was kept in the dark for another 48 hours, until the afternoon of January 2nd. 4. (On the same day, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes against Islamic extremists in Baghdad.) National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned the president, but the Pentagon announced the hospitalization on January 5 at 5 p.m. I waited until after hours (Friday night). News dump — in a statement claiming the Secretary has resumed his duties. Biden did not meet with the defense secretary until the evening of January 6th.

Perhaps the most puzzling fact is that Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said her boss had been hospitalized, even though the Pentagon announced that Mr. Austin had cleared Mr. Hicks for temporary duty on January 2. I didn’t know that until January 4th. She has not received any reason or explanation. She stayed in her vacation destination, the Caribbean, until January 6th.

When a Pentagon spokesperson first disclosed Mr. Austin’s hospitalization, he said the delay in notification was due to patient privacy. Oh, no. Cabinet officials do not have the same expectation of privacy as civilians or military personnel, especially when it comes to what they say to the president. Recent precedent confirms that: The Pentagon has confirmed that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld underwent rotator cuff surgery in 2006, and that his successor, Robert M. It was immediately announced that he had suffered a broken bone.

The fact that no one in the White House seems to have noticed the Secretary’s absence for several days amid escalating conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine is also a mystery, and unfortunately, although Mr. Austin is a capable man, , implying that he is not a central figure in the government. He was in charge of national security decision-making by his counterparts, particularly Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mr. Sullivan. Also, unfortunately, Mr. Austin’s penchant for secrecy regarding his health is consistent with his attitude toward broader public engagement, particularly his reluctance to have more than minimal interaction with the Pentagon press corps.

A complete explanation of what happened and why is the first step in resolving this episode. Step two requires a thorough discussion of the wisdom of hiring a recently retired general to serve as Secretary of Defense. To ensure civilian control of the military and prevent military views from unduly influencing civilian policy decisions, federal law requires that the secretary of defense cannot serve as a general within the past 10 years. For the first time since 1950, Congress voted to waive this provision to allow Jim Mattis to become President Donald Trump’s secretary of defense in 2017. In 2021, the company took similar action regarding Biden’s nominee, Austin.

Mr. Trump’s dissatisfaction with Mr. Mattis was partly because Mr. Mattis resisted the president’s wishes regarding the use of the military, but many of the senators who supported Mr. Mattis’s appointment had high hopes for Mr. Mattis. It was the same as it was. Mr. Biden had very different reasons for choosing Mr. Austin. In part, I felt that Mr. Austin, with whom I had a long-standing relationship through his late son, Beau, could do a good job, and in part, I felt that under him I could: be. The Pentagon will no longer be the independent center of power it was at times during the Obama administration.

Asked by senators who were skeptical that Mr. Austin would be granted immunity to serve as secretary, Mr. Austin vowed to accept “meaningful oversight” from Congress, saying, “We will be transparent with you.” ” he swore. It is because of these promises that his statement on Saturday — in which he acknowledged that he “could have done better” about his illness and promised to “do better” — could be his final word on the issue. It cannot and will not happen.

Poster’s opinion | About the editorial board

Editorials represent the views of the Post as an institution, determined through discussion among editorial board members, and are independent of the newsroom and based in our opinion section.

Editorial board members: Opinion Editor-in-Chief David Shipley, Opinion Associate Editor Charles Lane, Opinion Associate Editor Steven Stromberg, and writers Mary Duenwald and Christine Emba. Shadi Hamid, David E. Hoffman, James Homan, Heather Long, Miri Mitra, Eduardo Porter, Keith B. Richburg, Molly Roberts.

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