Michele Flournoy may be the first woman to lead the Pentagon and bring many more with her


WASHINGTON – Michele Flournoy, Joe Biden’s likely choice to lead the Pentagon, will be the first women’s defense secretary if confirmed and can appoint an unprecedented number of women to senior positions in the Department of Defense. But he may also face resistance from progressive Democrats for seeing his willingness and his connections to the defense industry.

Biden is ready to announce Flournoy as his candidate as early as Tuesday, the decision is known to three people. Throughout her long career in national security, she has built an infrastructure of female colleagues and friends, many of whom see her as a mentor in an area that is still dominated by men. The Biden-Harris Pentagon Agency’s review team, which is a temporary working group of more than 50 percent women, includes women who could now fill the best jobs.

“For a few or more 20 years, she has been mentoring women in national security space,” said Deborah Lee James, a former aviation minister, about her friend and colleague. “So there are women who are highly, highly educated, and would certainly be very suitable for a number of positions in the Pentagon.”

Rosa Brooks, who worked as Flournoy’s advisor at the Pentagon from 2009 to 2011, sees herself as one of Flournoy’s mentors and believes she “prioritizes the involvement of women at all levels”.

Brooks said, “I also think he’s a man who is firmly committed to being a diverse team in every way: not just not, but by race, religion, age, type of background experience.”

The women who think people who know the decisions are on the Flournoy Pentagon rankings are Kathleen Hicks, the current vice president of the think tank at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He also served as Deputy Secretary General for Political Defense in 2012 and currently leads the review team at the Bent-Harris Agency in the Pentagon.

Vice Admiral Michelle Howard accepts the President’s Award at the 44th Annual NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles on February 1, 2013.Matt Sayles / Invision / AP file

Alice Hunt Friend, who is also shortlisted, is an expert on Africa and civil-military relations who has spent time developing policy at the Pentagon and now works at CSIS.

Retired four-star Admiral Michelle Howard, who became the first woman to be deputy chief of staff in any branch of the U.S. military, is considered the first female secretary of the Navy, familiar people said. He is also on Biden’s Pentagon landing team.

Sharon Burke, currently working for the New America Brain Trust, was a former secretary of defense for operational energy who served in both the Republican and Democratic administrations. Burke’s expertise in energy security and climate change fits into one of Flournoy’s priorities: recognizing the role of the U.S. military in climate change.

Other women who could be appointed to the Flournoy Pentagon include defense budget expert Susanna Blume, Russian political expert Celeste Wallander, international security expert Mara Karlin and Janine Davidson, former deputy secretary of state in the Navy, according to decision-makers. .

Asked if Biden could nominate, Michele Flournoy wrote in a statement: “I am very pleased that Joe Biden will be our next president and it is a great honor for me to help him in every way possible to make the American people a success.”

Vice President Biden at the time telegraphed his intention four years ago. After Flournoy introduced her to the New American Security Center (CNAS) event in June 2016, Biden began his speech by saying, “Well, Ms. Secretary – I mean – I don’t know.” The crowd cheered, and Biden played to the audience, saying, “I know, I’m writing a recommendation for him.”

At the time, Flournoy was expected to be Hillary Clinton’s election as Secretary of Defense. When Donald Trump anxiously won the 2016 election, he chose retired General James Mattis instead, who then tried to hire Flournoy as his deputy. He rejected it, citing disagreements over the policy.

Celeste Wallander, U.S. Deputy Left Secretary of Defense, will sign a declaration of accession at the U.S.-Adriatic Charter Secretary of Defense meeting in Skopje, Macedonia, on March 29, 2012.Boris Grdanoski / AP file

Between 2009 and 2012, Flournoy was the political leader and the third highest civilian in the Pentagon, responsible for advising defense ministers Robert Gates and later Leon Panetta on national security and defense policy. In 2017, he founded a national security consulting firm, WestExec Advisors, with Antony Blinken, Secretary of State for Biden.

Flournoy may be criticized for strengthening its ties to the defense industrial base. He joined Booz Allen Hamilton’s advisory board in 2018 and in January 2007 co-founded the CNAS bipartisan, nonprofit nonprofit DC think tank, which relies in part on donations from defense contractors.

After Biden won the election, two progressive members of Congress, Barbara Lee of California and Mark Pocan of D-Wisc. A letter was sent to him urging him not to elect a defense secretary who has close ties to the defense industry. Mark Esper was a lobbyist for Raytheon, Patrick Shanahan was a 30-year-old CEO of Boeing, and even James Mattis, a Marine, served on the board of General Dynamics before taking the oath in 2017 as Secretary of Defense.

Congressional advancers are questioning its position on withdrawing U.S. troops from war zones. Ro Khanna, MP from D.C., tweeted: “Flournoy has supported the Iraq and Libyan wars, criticized Obama over Syria and helped shape the Afghan ups and downs. I want to support the presidential election. But Flournoy is now committing himself to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan and to end the war in Yemen?

At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Flournoy called for a more intense military counter-insurgency approach to the conflicts – this was not shared by Biden.

The U.S. footprint is expected to be only 2,500 soldiers in each country when Biden enters the White House in January and the military moves to a zero-slip path by May 2021 in accordance with the peace agreement.

Flournoy warned the team’s hasty withdrawal at the Aspen Security Forum in August, saying, “I think it would be a mistake for the United States to pull down or retreat hastily, especially before peace is consolidated,” he said. “Because we would basically pull the carpet out of our Afghan government partners, as well as Afghan women and Afghan civil society, we have fought so hard to secure our place at the table.”

Brooks called it “bizarre” claims that Flournoy is a warmer or a falcon.

“In my experience, there has consistently been the person in the room who has raised all the difficult questions about using military force: asking if there are non-military alternatives; it makes people think about the risks and costs of using force, etc. He believes in the importance of strong and credible military deterrence, but the focus is on this last word: deterrence. The goal is to avoid the use of force, only as a last resort. “

Brooks points out that Flournoy has a son who serves in the Navy and “as a mother is all too aware that when we talk about the use of military force, real human life, on the side of both the United States and opponents and civilians, they are in danger. “

Volt Secy. James, who broke gender barriers as the second woman to fill the Air Force secretariat, says Flournoy already has relationships with world leaders and being a woman will not affect those relationships.

“They do business. They have to do business, otherwise they will fall behind,” he said. “It would be a familiar face. And I think they’re very well trained.”

In addition to focusing on the role of the military in the fight against climate change, Flournoy is expected to prioritize military modernization to combat China and Russia, with a focus on artificial intelligence and drones, among others. At the Aspen Security Forum in August, he warned that the United States would risk technological advantages over China’s military without a new strategy and investment in new weapons within 10 years.

Brooks points out that Flournoy, as the Pentagon’s political leader, has pioneered more flexible, family-friendly labor policies, including four-day workdays and division of labor. Despite opposition to politics, “even initial skeptics have been won,” Brooks said.

Brooks co-founded the Women’s National Security Management Council (LCWINS), formed by a group of women, many of whom were alumni of Flournoy’s team at the Pentagon.

“The informal conversations we had about obstacles to women’s advancement in national security in the workplace eventually led to the founding of LCWINS. Michele was incredibly supportive from the beginning and a member of our honorary advisory board,” Brooks explained.

In addition to his knowledge of the Pentagon, he knows how Capitol Hill works and his relationship with the uniformed military is “excellent,” James said.

“Her appointment would be historic because she would be the first woman,” she said, adding, “Even before its historical nature, she was extremely well trained for the position.”