Biden’s pick for US Secretary of Defence is a defence industry and establishment insider that will likely please lawmakers - on the other side of the aisle.

Michele Flournoy holds extensive ties to the US defence establishment. While her career is noteworthy for the number of top-track offices she’s held, her critics are concerned she would bring a neoconservative warhawk attitude to Biden's White House. 

All-Star track

She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Strategy under former President Bill Clinton, as well as Under Secretary of Defence for Policy under former President Barack Obama. 

From February 2009 to 2012, she also served as an advisor to US Secretaries of Defence Robert Gates and Leon Panetta. 

But her ties to the Department of Defence go back much further. In 2002, she went from working for the Pentagon and National Defence University to the neoconservative Center for Strategic and International Studies which is heavily funded by big business and Pentagon contributions.

Five years later, Flournoy co-founded the second-most state funded think tank in Washington, the Center for a New American Security. It was this landmark move that would secure a job for her in the Obama administration as undersecretary of defence for policy.

Not limited to the public sector, her next move was to the Boston Consulting Group from 2013 to 2016, which saw a growth in its military contracts with her arrival. In three years, military contracts grew from $1.6 million to $32 million. She also became a board member of Booz Allen Hamilton, another top consulting firm renowned for its ties to the defence industry. 

In 2017, she co-founded West Exec Advisors along with Antony Blinken, Biden’s top choice for Secretary of State. The company helped defence companies market products to the Department of Defence and other government agencies.

Political stands

While serving under former US President Bill Clinton, Flournoy was the main author of the May 1997 issue of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which stated that as part of it’s “Defense Strategy”, the United States would no longer be bound by the UN Charter’s prohibitions against the threat of or use of military power.  

“When the interests at stake are vital, …we should do whatever it takes to defend them, including, when necessary, the unilateral use of military power,” read the issue. QDR defined US vital interests as “preventing the emergence of a hostile regional coalition,” and “ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources.”

In June 2002, after President George W Bush threatened an attack against Iraq, Flournoy stated that the United States would “need to strike preemptively before a crisis erupts to destroy an adversary’s weapons stockpile” before it “could erect defenses to protect those weapons, or simply disperse them.”

Flournoy has consistently maintained her advocacy for higher defence spending, and was described as one of Obama’s more hawkish advisors by Arwa Madhwai writing for the Guardian. Her role is widely considered to have aided in escalating the war in Afghanistan.

In 2016, when she was tapped as Hillary Clinton’s likely choice for Secretary of Defence, Flournoy co-authored a CNAS report entitled “Expanding American Power” with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s aide Eric Edelman, and Bush’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. 

The report tried to show how Clinton’s foreign policy would be different from Obama. As such, it pressed for arms shipments to Ukraine, fresh military threats against Iran, more military action in Syria and Iraq, support of domestic oil and gas industries, and further defence spending.

Flournoy and her team’s suggestions would not be fully enacted until US President Donald Trump’s tenure, who pursued and implemented the very same policies they proposed.