Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s quiet hospitalization that even the White House was not told about for days was unprecedented and left the U.S. in a weaker political and military position on the world stage, according to a national security briefing.
“I can’t think of a historic precedent for this. And we’ve been around for a while. And so I honestly don’t know that this has ever happened before,” Robert Greenway, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for National Security, told Fox News Digital in a phone interview Monday. He said the incident has further eroded trust in the Biden administration.
Austin is facing fierce pushback from conservative lawmakers, leaders and pundits over the quiet hospitalization this week, with former President Donald Trump making a forceful call that Austin be fired.
Austin “should be fired immediately for improper professional conduct and dereliction of duty,” Trump wrote on Truth Social Sunday.
“He has been missing for one week, and nobody, including his boss, Crooked Joe Biden, had a clue as to where he was or might be,” he continued.
“He has performed poorly and should have been dismissed along with ‘General’ Mark Milley, for many reasons, but in particular, the catastrophic surrender in Afghanistan, perhaps the most embarrassing moment in the history of our Country,” Trump added.
Austin, 70, received an elective medical procedure on Dec. 22 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and days later experienced “severe pain” while at home, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told Fox News on Sunday. He was again transported to the hospital on Jan. 1 to the intensive care unit.
No details have been released clarifying what elective procedure was carried out. Austin has resumed his duties and transferred out of the ICU, but remains at Walter Reed.
The media was made aware on Friday of Austin’s hospital treatment, and reports quickly followed that President Biden, the National Security Council and top Pentagon leaders – including Austin’s deputy, Kathleen Hicks – were kept in the dark regarding the hospitalization for days. Ryder told the media Monday that it took so long to flag the White House and National Security Council of the hospitalization because Austin’s chief of staff had the flu.
Greenway explained that he could not think of another time in U.S. history when a secretary of defense was hospitalized for days without the commander in chief’s knowledge, and that the incident has left the U.S. in a weaker international position.
“Putin, Xi, Khamenei in Tehran, Hezbollah, all of our adversaries right now are looking at this with incredulity, as we are. And they’re already judging, I think, that they have an opportunity because of perceived weakness on the U.S.’s part… to lash out. I think this increases the likelihood of mischief internationally, as they see the United States is physically not prepared to take actions and the administration is not ready to do it when it can’t decide who’s in charge,” Greenway said.
“Not only was this done during a time when we’re threatened across multiple theaters, but you could argue that… the reason that we’re in this is because we got bad policies, personnel and practices, this would reflect that. So I think this isn’t a result of what’s going on in the world. I think this is probably why the world is as it is because it’s not clear who’s in charge,” Greenway added.
The national security expert compared the situation to criticisms of Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., last year when in February he began blocking military nominations over what he said was the Pentagon’s “illegal” policy of providing travel reimbursements to military members seeking an abortion. Greenway said he expects those who railed against Tuberville should be the first to criticize Austin.
“Everybody gave Sen. Tuberville a bunch of grief about the holds he placed on military promotions and said, ‘This has been greatly disruptive to the military.’ I think all of those same voices ought to be coming out and castigating the administration, the Department of Defense. Because I don’t know what could hurt military readiness more by taking out the secretary of defense for a week,” he argued.
A White House official told Fox News Digital on Monday that there are no plans to replace Austin, and that Biden “continues to have full trust and confidence in the secretary.”
This isn’t the first time Austin has been urged to resign since he was confirmed as secretary of defense on Jan. 22, 2021. Later that year, Austin, as well as the Biden administration at large, faced fierce criticism about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, with lawmakers and retired military personnel calling for Austin’s resignation.
The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan led to the deaths of 13 U.S. service members defending the Kabul airport during the operation, while hundreds of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan allies were left in the country under Taliban rule. Critics such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the withdrawal paved the way for adversaries such as Russia to invade Ukraine, in a war that has continued for nearly two years.
Greenway, who previously served as senior director of the National Security Council’s Middle Eastern and North African Affairs Directorate, told Fox News Digital that the White House’s commitment to Austin likely boiled down to a “practical matter.”
“As a practical matter, they probably can’t get anybody else confirmed… They probably don’t have a good substitute. They’ve not been able to get, nor do I think it’s likely they’ll get, a policy chief through the Senate confirmation process,” he said.