In my personal opinion, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should resign. I think I understand why he didn’t notify the Biden administration and the National Security Council that he was hospitalized and had transferred responsibilities to his deputy. But it doesn’t matter. His actions were reckless.
The basic timeline is that prostate cancer was detected during a routine screening Austin underwent in early December. This led to an elective prostatectomy on December 22, under general anesthesia. The surgery seemed to go well, but on January 1, he was admitted to Walter Reed hospital suffering from “nausea with severe abdominal, hip, and leg pain.” He had developed a urinary tract infection and was transferred to intensive care. On January 2nd,
Doctors then discovered that Austin had “abdominal fluid collections impairing the function of his small intestines.”
“This resulted in the back up of his intestinal contents which was treated by placing a tube through his nose to drain his stomach,” the officials added. “The abdominal fluid collections were drained by non-surgical drain placement.”
At some point on the 2nd, he notified Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks who was on vacation in Puerto Rico that she should take over his duties. But she was not told that he was in this hospital until the January 4th, which is the same day President Joe Biden and national security adviser Jake Sullivan were informed.
The Secretary of Defense should not go under general anesthesia without transferring his powers to his deputy and informing the White House and the National Security Council. The same could be said if they are admitted to an emergency room in medical distress, and certainly if they are put in an intensive care unit. Even if the nature of the illness was highly personal in nature, the Defense Secretary’s role in the chain of command is too critical to be put at this kind of risk.
This wasn’t a simple lapse that occurred only while Austin was in distress. His error began on December 22 when he was put under for his elective surgery and it extended to his failure to explain his situation to his deputy or superiors during 72 hours of hospitalization at the beginning of January. This would be irresponsible at any time, but it’s even more so with the current situation in Ukraine and the Middle East.
He screwed up in a very big way, and he should step down.
I wish him good health though, and a quick recovery.