Biden mum on defense secretary pick as progressives push against top contender Flournoy

Flournoy would be the first female defense secretary

As President-elect Joe Biden announced the core of his incoming national security team on Monday, he withheld one key name: his pick for defense secretary

And while sources told Fox News Biden is planning to nominate Michèle Flournoy, liberal outcry have rung out against the Pentagon veteran for her ties to the defense industry and her relatively hawkish views. And other sources told Politico Biden isn’t entirely sold on Flournoy, who was believed to be a shoo-in for defense secretary in 2016 if Hillary Clinton had won the election. 

Two Obama White House officials who remain close with Biden told the magazine that Biden never developed the close personal relationship with Flournoy that he sought in Cabinet officials, and had been exploring other options. 

Flournoy, who would be the first female defense secretary, served as the undersecretary for defense policy under President Obama after holding a number of other Pentagon positions. In 2018, she joined consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and co-founded defense consulting firm WestExec Advisor. 


In 2007, she co-founded think tank Center for a New American Security, which has been called out by progressives for being heavily financed by leading defense companies. 

Jeh Johson, Obama’s second secretary of homeland security, is also reportedly a contender for the top Pentagon job, but could also raise concerns with progressives over his seat on Lockheed Martin’s board. 

Flournoy was key to the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy, pushing for a “surge” in the country in 2009 that doubled the presence of U.S. troops to 68,000. She broke with Biden then, who opposed the surge.

As the Trump administration plans to withdraw some 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by January, Biden has supported continuing the drawdown while maintaining a residual counterterrorism force. 


“These ‘forever wars’ have to end. I support drawing down the troops. But here’s the problem, we still have to worry about terrorism and [the Islamic State],” he told Stars & Stripes in September. 

Flournoy warned against a hasty withdrawal at the Aspen National Security Forum in August. "I think it would be a mistake for the U.S. to precipitously draw down or withdraw, particularly to leave before that peace is solidified," she said. 

“Flournoy supported the war in Iraq & Libya, criticized Obama on Syria, and helped craft the surge in Afghanistan,” tweeted Rep. Ro Khanna, who co-chaired Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the White House. “I want to support the President’s picks. But will Flournoy now commit to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan & a ban on arms sales to the Saudis to end the Yemen war?”

After the election, Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., wrote a letter to the president-elect urging him not to select a secretary of defense with close ties to the defense industry. 

But over the weekend a group of 11 military and veterans’ organizations endorsed Flournoy, citing her “undisputed expertise.” 

Rosa Brooks, former advisor to Flournoy, called any accusations that she is a warmonger “bizarre.” 


“In my experience working for her, she was consistently the person in the room who would raise all the hard questions about using military force: asking whether there were non-military alternatives; pushing people to think about the risks and costs of using force, etc," she said, according to NBC News. "She believes in the importance of strong and credible military deterrence, but the emphasis is on that last word: deterrence. The goal is to avoid using force except as a last, last resort."