Although women in the United States hold senior government leadership positions – whether on the National Security Team, the State Department, National Security Advisors, or the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – no woman has ever headed the Department of Defense (The Pentagon).
Speculation is increasing in the corridors of the American capital about the imminent arrival of Michelle Flournoy to the position of Secretary of Defense, a position that allows her to head an army of 1.3 million people, in addition to supervising nearly 800,000 National Guard forces, and about 800,000 civilian contractors working for the Ministry of Defense, And a budget of more than 700 billion dollars annually.
After President Trump has changed five defense ministers over the past four years, the new secretary or secretary of defense under President Joe Biden will have to restore stability to the largest US department.
3 main challenges
Three challenges will be sufficient to occupy the mind of the new defense minister, the first of which is the challenge of distributing the Covid-19 vaccine, and the second is related to the growing military challenge from China, and the last of which is the challenge of the Pentagon’s inflation, which must be reduced.
According to the federal plan drawn up by the Trump administration regarding the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, once it is reached, the enormous capabilities available to the Pentagon, whether from individuals, devices, or aircraft, will be relied upon to store and distribute the vaccine to hundreds of millions of Americans.
The new defense secretary will also face the dilemma of reducing the Pentagon’s budget, which has ballooned greatly during the years of Trump’s rule, to reach $ 738 billion for the 2020 budget, an increase of 41% compared to the last budget under former President Barack Obama in 2016, which amounted to only $ 522 billion.
The new defense minister will also have to lay down frameworks to counter the accelerating Chinese military rise in the post-Corona pandemic world.
A hard-line stance on China
Flournoy adopts a hard-line position from China, and believes that with the decline of Washington’s ability and determination to confront Beijing’s military escalation in the South China Sea, the United States needs a strong deterrent to reduce the risk of miscalculation on the part of the Chinese leadership.
Flournoy indicated in the Foreign Affairs journal last June that the United States should be prepared to sink all ships of the Chinese fleet in the South China Sea within 72 hours in the event of a military confrontation.
“If the US military has the ability to seriously threaten to sink all Chinese military ships, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours, then Chinese leaders might think twice before launching a blockade or invading Taiwan, and they will have to wonder if this is the case,” Flournoy wrote. It is worth putting their entire fleet at risk. “
Flournoy also stressed the need for innovation, especially in the field of remote-operated weapons fed by artificial intelligence technology, as well as electronic and missile defense, communication networks and flexible leadership to meet the escalating military challenges from China.
A different position on the Middle East
With President Trump’s administration expected to withdraw thousands of American soldiers from the Middle East conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Flournoy will have to face a new reality that differs from what the traditional American foreign policy school has been used to during the last two decades.
Flournoy warned against abandoning the Middle East, calling instead for “lower levels of continued military presence,” as an example. Flournoy supported a limited role for the US military in Afghanistan that focuses more on combating the terrorist threat, and less on rebuilding the country.
On Afghanistan, Flournoy said last March, “We want to reduce our commitment there, but we want to do it in a smart way that protects our interests.”
As for Iran, Flournoy advocated reconsidering the approach taken to deter the Islamic Republic by breaking the usual pattern of sending more American forces to the Gulf in response to Iranian provocations.
And in several conversations during recent weeks, she called for the necessity of working to build the capabilities of the Iraqi army, and the need to reach a new agreement with Iran that deals with missile programs and its regional interventions.
Regarding the relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, Flournoy believes that the relationship is difficult between the two countries, and there is a need for a frank dialogue between Riyadh and Washington regarding the need for a balance between their common strategic interests, while speaking frankly about the American concern about human rights issues, imprisonment of journalists and the arrest of activists.
Who is Michelle Flournoy?
Born in California in 1961, Flournoy is 59 years old. She holds a BA in Social Studies from Harvard University and a Masters degree in International Relations from Oxford University in Britain, and she co-founded the CNAS Research Center for New American Security. (CNAS) in 2007, which represented one of the wings of the intellectual Democratic Party, and her salary was 475 thousand dollars annually.
She worked for several years as a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and before that she was a professor at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.
In the mid-1990s, she held the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategic Affairs. She has edited numerous books and authored dozens of reports and articles on a wide range of defense and national security issues.
She also worked with a number of major consulting firms known for their contracts with the Pentagon, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Ameda Technology Solutions, and others.
Flournoy was then the coordinator of the Obama Biden administration’s transition team in 2008 at the Department of Defense, before serving as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from February 2009 to February 2012.
Since 2012, she has turned to the private sector in several major consulting firms, before establishing her own consulting firm WestExec Advisors in 2016 with Tony Blinken, who is close to Biden, and one of the candidates for the position of Secretary of State or the position of National Security Adviser.
Flournoy is considered a moderate politician with experience working in the Pentagon, and she has years of experience that qualifies her to become a good choice for this position.
Flournoy stresses that she is keen to rebuild the international reputation of her country after the years of President Trump’s rule, and said at a conference held last March that “it will take a lot of work over a number of years to restore that confidence with the allies.”