Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum


[email protected]

January 7, 2024

The US has the strongest military in the world, but it appears that recently the US domestic politics have created a few unconventional cases. It makes us wonder who is in charge of the US military! By law the President is the commander in Chief of the US military, and military is strictly under civilians’ management.

However, at the end of former President Trump’s administration, it was widely reported that the then “U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army on Oct. 30, 2020 – four days before the election – and again on Jan. 8, two days after Trump supporters led a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.” General Milley apparently did not get anyone’s pre-approval for these calls, and we did not know who had any official readout of his calls. More uneasy was that there was no official action against or praised General Milley’s actions. Will it happen again?

It is public information that US defense secretary Lloyd Austin had been bothered because he was not able to call his counterpart in China for a long while. Now it was reported that he has been seriously sick under intensive care at the Walter Reed Hospital for a few days and did not inform his boss: President Biden or the National Security Council. It remains a deep mystery how many people or who did know the Defense Secretary was MIA for a few days!

It is ridiculous to put up a façade with HIPAA laws and personal privacy etc. for justifying Secretary Austin’s action of not informing President Biden, while he was on vacation, and US national security team that he will have to stay in the hospital for a few days. The US public has no intention to pursue any official’s personal health data, but we do have the right to be informed about any high-level official such as the Secretary of Defense is active or not. Today’s world is a very dangerous place, especially for the US. We are directly engaged with an almost three-year old proxy war in Ukraine, as the US administration justifying our huge investment as a defense of democracy with the risk of a nuclear war. Then we are also entangled with the bloody Israel-Hamas war with the risk of inflaming the entire Middle East because Israel would very much to nuclear Iran!

We count on President Biden to tighten up his administration with accountability before he devotes his energy running for reelection.

Deputy defense secretary was not told Austin had been hospitalized when she assumed his duties

By Natasha BertrandOren LiebermannHaley Britzky and Kevin Liptak, CNN

Updated 6:38 PM EST, Sun January 7, 2024


CNN — 

When the deputy secretary of defense began assuming some of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s responsibilities on January 2, not even she knew that it was because Austin was hospitalized, two defense officials told CNN.

The revelation that not even Hicks knew that Austin was hospitalized is sure to add to questions swirling within the administration about why his status was kept secret, not only from the public but from senior national security officials and the White House.

Austin was hospitalized following an elective medical procedure he had on December 22, while he was on leave, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said. He returned home the following day, but on the evening of January 1 he “began experiencing severe pain” and was transported to Walter Reed via ambulance.

He was placed in the hospital’s intensive care unit to ensure immediate access to due to his medical needs, but then remained in that location in part due to hospital space considerations and privacy,” Ryder said.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. C.Q. Brown, was notified January 2 that Austin had been hospitalized the day before, Ryder told CNN. But he is not in the chain of command. The military service secretaries, who are in the chain of command, were not notified until January 5, four days after Austin checked into the hospital.

Ryder said that Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, was “unable to make notifications before then” due to illness.

“She made those notifications on Thursday to the deputy secretary and national secretary and national security adviser,” Ryder said.

Ryder told CNN on Sunday that Austin transferred “certain operational responsibilities that require constant secure communications capabilities” to Hicks on January 2, the day after he was admitted to Walter Reed. Throughout last week, Hicks made “some routine operational and management decisions” for the Pentagon and was authorized to support the president.

But Hicks, who was on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time, was not informed of Austin’s hospitalization until the afternoon of January 4, the defense officials said

“There are all of these people around the secretary at all times, who manage him and help him on a day-to-day basis, and no one had the wherewithal to even tell the White House?” said one Pentagon official. “I’m surprised no one is using the word ‘cover-up’ yet.”

Reps. Mike Rogers and Adam Smith, the chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, respectively, released a statement Sunday saying they are “concerned” about “how the disclosure” of Austin’s hospitalization was handled.

“Several questions remain unanswered including what the medical procedure and resulting complications were, what the Secretary’s current health status is, how and when the delegation of the Secretary’s responsibilities were made, and the reason for the delay in notification to the President and Congress,” they said in a statement released Sunday.

Rogers and Smith added the defense secretary “must provide additional details … as soon as possible.”

‘Public relations 101’

Senior White House officials said Sunday that the nature of Austin’s medical condition was still a mystery to many senior aides at the White House, but added it was unlikely the situation would impact Biden’s favorable view of his defense secretary.

Questions also remain as to why Austin and his team tried so hard to keep his condition a secret. Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, emailed top military officials on Friday informing them of Austin’s condition, officials said, four days into Austin’s hospital stay and just hours before the Pentagon revealed the hospitalization to the wider public.

Dan Grazier, a senior defense policy fellow at the Project for Government Oversight, called it “baffling” that the Defense Department chose to keep the matter private for days.

“That’s basic public relations 101,” Grazier told CNN. “Particularly with this position, they should have been very clear right from the very beginning that this happened and this is who is in charge.”

Some Pentagon officials were told Tuesday, a day after Austin entered the hospital, that the secretary would be on leave for the week. But that was far from the whole story, defense officials told CNN. Many assumed he was either working from home or simply taking an extended vacation.

In reality, Austin was in the intensive care unit at Walter Reed suffering from complications following his surgery, defense officials said.

It is not clear whether Austin was ever unconscious or incapacitated. But he was alert and tracking a military strike on January 4 in Baghdad, which killed the commander of a pro-Iran militia, a defense official said.

As of Sunday afternoon, Austin remained in the hospital “but is recovering well and in good spirits,” Ryer said in a statement.

Austin released a statement praising the “amazing” staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for the care he has received and said he is “on the mend” and looking forward to returning to the Pentagon.

He acknowledged “media concerns about transparency” and said “I commit to doing better” in the statement.

The Pentagon’s second-in-command didn’t know Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized when she took over his duties

POLITICO, January 7, 2024

One big question is on the minds of Washington insiders headed into this week: How the hell does the secretary of Defense end up in the hospital for multiple days and nobody tells the White House?

We’ve asked — and been asked — that question over and over again as we worked the phones last night and this morning. People at the White House, the broader Biden administration and the amorphous foreign policy “blob” are befuddled.

But piecing together what we’ve learned, we think we have a few answers.

The folks that we talked to leaned into Occam’s Razor as an explanation for how this happened. Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN is an intensely private man, a 70-year-old four-star general who is set in his ways and dislikes to “bother” people (including, apparently, some of his staff) with his problems — a tough, “stiff upper lip” bearing that will be immediately familiar to those of us who grew up in military families.

With the information currently known, the people we spoke with see this as a serious lapse in judgment on Austin’s part and not a nefarious conspiracy to hide the information.

Of course, there’s still a lot that isn’t yet known. We still don’t know what the surgery was, where the breakdown in communication was or who made the decision not to tell the news to White House — notably National Security Adviser JAKE SULLIVAN .

It seems, based on his public statement, that Austin believes in a level of privacy that, in actuality, isn’t really afforded to people high up in the presidential line of succession — to say nothing of the person charged with maintaining the nation’s nuclear readiness.

But, according to JEREMY BASH, a former chief of staff at the Defense Department, there’s a system in place to know where folks like Austin are at any given time — making the apparent lack of communication and knowledge even more baffling.

“The White House situation room keeps track, in real time, of the whereabouts of all senior officials, including key cabinet secretaries,” Bash told us last night. “DoD’s security teams and the communications teams always have personnel with a secretary and a deputy secretary. So there’s never a time when a secretary truly goes off the grid.”

1. The practical/governance implications …

“From a national security perspective, the most alarming aspect of this is it undermines confidence both in the public, the press, but more importantly, perhaps within the national security system itself, that vital information is getting shared,” said BRETT BRUEN , the president of the Global Situation Room and a former NSC official.

“From our allies’ and our adversaries’ perspectives, when they talk to their counterparts in Washington [they assume] that certainly the president certainly and senior officials at the NSC, [know] where the secretary of defense is for days at a time. The fact that they don’t creates the impression that this is a dysfunctional system — correct or not,” he told Playbook.

It also raises questions about the closeness of Austin to both his NSC colleagues and the president that, for days, his absence could go unnoticed

2. The political implications …

As a political matter, this will give ammo to Republicans and, in particular, DONALD TRUMP, to underscore an argument they’re already making: That Biden is out of touch, aloof. Trump and other Republicans already call into question “who is really running the country,” and a moment like this is kindling for those claims.

One of the biggest questions in the administration is whether or not there will be any accountability to come from this.

Biden is famously loyal, surrounding himself with a cadre of advisers who’ve been at his side since he was a senator. Even his closest allies have admitted he can be loyal to a fault, and multiple officials both inside and outside the White House have told POLITICO and Playbook that Austin’s job seems secure at this moment — given what’s known about the situation right now, and given the difficulty of changing horses midstream amid two wars and an election year.

Could this time be different?

Maybe, says the former official, with one big caveat. “If there really was a big ball that was dropped here, if someone made a decision above their pay grade that the president thinks is unwarranted, then yes, he may push Austin to hold someone accountable.”

Defense Secretary Austin secrecy on hospitalization stirs outrage, calls for Biden to provide facts

At least one supporter says the Defense Secretary is still in charge, and raises HIPAA laws a reason for the secrecy.

Marina Pitofsky Michael CollinsTom Vanden Brook

USA TODAY, January 7, 2024

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is facing rising outrage for failing to disclose for days that he was in the hospital with a serious medical condition.

Neither Austin, 70, nor the Pentagon provided any details about why he was in the hospital, or explained what his medical procedure was.

In a separate statement, Austin, who is sixth in the line of presidential succession, said he “could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better.” 

Unanswered questions and partial disclosures

The unanswered questions and partial disclosures prompted immediate backlash. Sen Tom Cotton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, demanded on X, that Austin explain why he delayed notifying the White House about his medical condition. 

“The Secretary of Defense is the key link in the chain of command between the president and the uniformed military, including the nuclear chain of command, when the weightiest of decisions must be made in minutes,” Cotton wrote Saturday. 

The failure to disclose that Austin had been hospitalized for days was a breach of the norm in which health issues of senior government officials are released with alacrity.

‘Deliberately withheld’?

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., in a statement on Saturday alleged that the Department of Defense “deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days. That is unacceptable.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence said Austin’s delay in disclosing his hospitalization amounts to “a dereliction of duty.”

“To think that, at a time when we have allies at war in Eastern Europe, and here in Israel, that the leader of America’s military at the Pentagon would be out of commission for a number of days and the president of the United States didn’t know about it, I think it was a dereliction of duty,” Pence, who has been meeting with Israeli officials, said. “The secretary and the administration frankly need to step forward and give the American people the facts.”

HIPAA laws and questions of who’s in charge

At least one Austin ally urged caution before critiquing his approach to his health issues.

“I don’t think that there’s a dereliction of duty,” Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said in an interview with CNN. “I do wish that it had been disclosed, and maybe it was—maybe just not made public.”

Clyburn also raised questions about whether there were legal issues around his health disclosures.

“The HIPAA laws keep us out of people’s medical business,” he said. “And I do believe this man has as much right to be protected by those laws and be subjected to those laws as everybody else.”

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