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Austin Decries Isolationists Who Want US to ‘Retreat From Responsibility’

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday denounced those who advocate “an American retreat from responsibility” and said sustained U.S. leadership is needed to help keep the world as safe, free and prosperous as possible. He also urged Congress to end the partisan gridlock that has stalled the federal budget and war spending. 

The United States must reject calls to turn away from global interests and become more isolationist, he told an audience of lawmakers, corporate and defense leaders and government officials attending a security conference. Those who “try to pull up the drawbridge,” he said, undermine the security that has led to decades of prosperity. 

In his remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California’s Simi Valley, Austin delivered a lengthy defense of U.S. support to Israel in its war against Hamas and to Ukraine in its struggle to battle Russia’s invasion.

“The world will only become more dangerous if tyrants and terrorists believe that they can get away with wholesale aggression and mass slaughter,” he said.

‘It is not bold’

Austin met privately with top lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. 

His message of rejecting isolationism appeared directed at conservative lawmakers who are increasingly opposed to spending on overseas wars and back former President Donald Trump’s “America First” ideology. 

“You’ll hear some people try to brand an American retreat from responsibility as bold new leadership,” Austin said. “Make no mistake: It is not bold. It is not new. And it is not leadership.” 

Congress has failed to approve any new money for the wars in Ukraine and Israel and has managed to pass only a short-term budget bill, known as a continuing resolution, that runs out early next year. The Senate has been deadlocked for months over one lawmaker’s move to block hundreds of military nominations, including critical senior commanders for key regions around the world. 

“Our competitors don’t have to operate under continuing resolutions. And doing so erodes both our security and our ability to compete,” Austin said. He opened his speech with a plea to the lawmakers in the crowd to pass both the budget and the supplemental funding for the wars. 

War spending would create jobs

Administration officials have warned that money for Ukraine is running out and may only last through the end of this year. The Pentagon has about $5 billion worth of equipment it can send from its own stockpiles and has been eating away at almost weekly. Money to replace military weapons and equipment taken from Pentagon stocks to send to Ukraine is rapidly dwindling, and totals about $1 billion. 

Austin, who was in Ukraine’s capital less than two weeks ago, has repeatedly pressed the importance of helping Ukraine battle Russia’s invasion, as part of a broader campaign to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from threatening other countries in Europe. 

Austin also noted that as much as $50 billion of that supplemental budget request for the wars would flow through American defense companies, helping to create or support tens of thousands of jobs in more than 30 states. 

While he did not mention it in his address, Austin has often criticized Congress for its failure to confirm more than 400 military officers nominated for promotions or other jobs. 

Senator Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from the state of Alabama, has blocked the nominations and objected when other senators have tried to get some through. On just two occasions, the Senate has managed to vote to confirm a total of six high-ranking leaders. 

Almost 400 military nominations are in limbo, and the number is growing. Frustrated Republicans have tried unsuccessfully for almost nine months to persuade Tuberville to drop the holds, and negotiations are continuing. Senior military officials have warned repeatedly that the situation threatens readiness and national security.  

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