Daniel Ellsberg Voices Opposition to Biden’s Frontrunner for Defense Secretary

Legendary Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and Nobel Prize-winning peace activist Jody Williams on Friday both joined a grassroots progressive campaign urging President-elect Joe Biden not to nominate Michèle Flournoy as his Pentagon chief, warning her ties to the weapons industry, hawkish record, and current positions disqualify her for the powerful role.

“Flournoy was wrong about Iraq, as Biden has acknowledged he was. But she was then also wrong about Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Libya,” Ellsberg said in a statement released by RootsAction.org, part of a coalition of progressive advocacy groups pressuring the former vice president to pick a defense secretary committed to peace and without ties to the military-industrial complex.

“She is wrong right now in opposing the congressional ban on all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and in planning to maintain Minuteman-type land-based ICBMs, the hair-trigger to the Doomsday Machine,” Ellsberg continued. “Her unquestioned intelligence and competence have long been in service to her serious interventionist misjudgments and to her own involvement in a revolving-door military-industrial complex.”

To the chagrin of progressives leading the charge against Flournoy, the former Pentagon official has gained the support of some prominent organizations, including the Ploughshares Fund and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Other anti-war groups have yet to speak out publicly about Flournoy, who is still considered the Biden team’s frontrunner for defense secretary.

“If President-elect Biden really has a progressive agenda in mind for his administration, he should appoint members of his cabinet and other high-level positions who demonstrate progressive thinking and do not move this fractured country backwards,” Williams said Friday. “Nominating Michèle Flournoy for defense secretary would not be forward thinking. We do not need a hawk with relationships with the weapons industry.”

During a call earlier this week attended by representatives of more than 100 anti-war and nuclear disarmament groups, some participants “resisted” criticizing Flournoy—who currently serves on the board of massive defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton—over her industry ties.

Mother Jones reported Thursday that Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said during the call that “criticism of Flournoy’s ties to the defense industry could just as easily apply to the other nominees Biden is considering”—a perhaps unintentionally damning assessment of Biden’s other potential Pentagon nominees.

According to the Wall Street Journal, other candidates in the running for the post include former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, a Lockheed Martin board member, and Gen. Lloyd Austin, a Raytheon board member.

Others who took part in the call, such as CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, were adamant that Flournoy’s militaristic record calls for nothing less than forceful opposition from progressives.

“It feels to me like this is a major, major concession of the liberal foreign policy community,” Benjamin told Mother Jones. “It doesn’t bode well for challenging the Biden administration on key foreign policy issues.”

As The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill wrote Friday, Flournoy is “a notorious hawk who backed the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen and pushed for Obama to intervene in Libya.”

“Flournoy began her government career in Bill Clinton’s administration, serving at the Pentagon,” Scahill noted. “In 2005, at the height of the Bush-Cheney global war, Flournoy joined a gaggle of mostly neocons at the notorious Project for the New American Century in criticizing the Bush administration for not being militaristic enough in its foreign policy and arguing for an increase in ground troops in the Middle East.”

Matthew Hoh, a former State Department official who resigned in protest against the U.S. war in Afghanistan in 2009, said in a statement Friday that he does not “understand how the Democratic Party continues to embrace, and promote, the people responsible for this nation’s unending wars.”

“Flournoy has been integral in the failed, counter-productive, and catastrophic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, and across Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Hoh. “Flournoy’s resume is conclusive evidence she will serve to justify massive Pentagon budgets, weapons sales to despots, and vainglorious wars, while bringing colossal waste to U.S. taxpayers, death without purpose to American service-members, and unending horror to tens of millions of people in the Muslim world.”