Opinion | Lloyd Austin made a mistake. He did not commit a shooting crime.

One of the most deplorable, and to outsiders, inexplicable features of Washington life, is the clash between politics and the media when a public figure makes a mistake, no matter how trivial. . In time, Beltway cognoscenti began to act as if the soon-to-be-forgotten event was Teapot Dome, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and January 6, 2021, all rolled into one. Become.

Now it’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s turn to be designated as the piñata that will resolve many of the pent-up grievances of the political class. He clearly made the mistake of not promptly informing the White House and the public about his ongoing treatment for prostate cancer. Anyone who knows Austin knows that he is a very private person, and it’s understandable that he wanted to keep the details of his health private.

In this case, it was a mistake, as he now admits. Because he is a minister, he has sacrificed the right to privacy that ordinary patients enjoy. But his very human failings do not justify the level of derision now being heard from Republicans as well as some independent analysts.

There are growing calls for Austin to resign. Republicans now add Austin’s name to a long list of officials they want to impeach, from the president down. The escalation in rhetoric is occurring at an alarming rate. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) argued that Austin “has been a disaster from day one and should be replaced by someone who is focused on getting our military ready to fight and win wars.” ing. Instead of him promoting a woke political cause. ” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) called this a “shocking violation of the law” and said it “further undermines confidence in the Biden administration.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) gasped: “If these reports are true, there must be consequences for this shocking collapse.”

I’d like to say I’m shocked by this false shock, but the truth is, I’m not at all surprised. This is the Washington way. Republicans are intent on overthrowing the Biden administration and have a particular animosity toward the Pentagon, which they accuse without evidence of being “woke.” Austin’s blunder gives them an opening to attack, and they charge at the breakthrough like Napoleon’s cavalry.

In the midst of this “Sturm und Drang”, it is easy to lose sight of important issues. The question is whether there was a collapse of national command authority. The Secretary of Defense is part of the chain of command for the use of military force. It goes from the President to the Secretary to the commander in the field (except in the case of nuclear weapons, where the chain of command is directly from the President to the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon). So, while Austin was in the hospital, was there a period when no one was available to take command in the event of an emergency requiring the use of force?

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder assured me on Wednesday that this was not the case, saying, “There has never been a gap in the Pentagon chain of command.” “There was no risk to national security.” Ryder said Austin was first admitted to the hospital on Dec. 22 for prostate cancer surgery and then to deal with complications from that surgery. When Austin was hospitalized again on January 1, “operational authority” was officially transferred to the deputy defense attorney. Kathleen Hicks, secretary; If the United States or its forces were under attack at that time, she could have ordered a response even while on vacation in Puerto Rico. (Austin is still hospitalized, but resumed his operational command on January 5th.)

Hicks said she didn’t know Austin was in the hospital until a few days later. It’s puzzling that Austin didn’t give her enough information, but Ryder told me that it’s not unusual for him to transfer her management authority without giving a reason. In some cases, it’s for a simple purpose, such as transporting the secretary of defense in a fleet of aircraft lacking communications capabilities to provide command and control of U.S. forces around the world. Ryder added that the comptroller’s office has changed its policy to ensure everyone is notified not only when powers are being temporarily transferred, but also why.

“We’ve all learned through this process,” Ryder told me. “Secretary Austin takes full responsibility for the need to keep the public informed, and we aim to do better. But this situation does not change the person Lloyd Austin is. He continues to be a dedicated public servant and equally passionate about protecting our country.”

In fact, we should all be grateful that Austin became Secretary of Defense after the chaos and turmoil of the Trump era. President Donald Trump has five secretaries of defense (three of them “actings”) who sent unqualified political hacks to seize de facto control of the Pentagon. Gen. Mark A. Milley, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, feared that President Trump would try to stage a military coup.

Austin restored calm to the army with his unassuming commanding presence. He has made it clear that the military will abide by the constitution and seeks to root out extremism from the military ranks, thereby incurring the ire of the “January War.” 6 parties. ” He didn’t get everything right, but his biggest failure, the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, was not his fault. He warned President Biden not to retreat. But when Biden issued the order anyway, Austin carried it out without divulging his disagreements to the press.

The world crisis in front of Austin plays to his strengths. As a former army general, he was well placed to lead a large coalition to help Ukraine survive the largest invasion Europe had seen since 1945. Also, as a former commander of U.S. Central Command, he was well-positioned to deal with fallout from Ukraine. Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 increased tensions between the United States and Iran and its proxies.

Like many people, Austin’s greatest weakness is the flip side of his greatest strength. It’s good that he doesn’t show off or self-promote, but he can also be too private and too uncommunicative. That’s what’s getting him into trouble now. But just because he hasn’t spoken more openly about his health crisis shouldn’t negate all the good he’s done, or that Biden has joined the wolf pack ready to tear Washington officials apart at any moment. I don’t think it would be necessary to throw in any.

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