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Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had a heated exchange during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, as Gaetz accused the U.S. military of embracing leftist ideas while committing strategic blunders.

Gaetz started off by referencing a lecture at the National Defense University from Thomas Piketty “Responding to China: The Case For Global Justice and Democratic Socialism.” The congressman asked Austin if he supported socialism as a strategy against China. The secretary said he was not familiar with the lecture but did not “agree with embracing socialism.”

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Gaetz said that if Austin did not agree with that position, why would someone be brought in to discuss socialism instead of having people learn about “strategy about how to combat our enemies[.]”

Austin asserted that strategy is discussed at the National Defense University, but Gaetz charged that lately the military has made significant errors.

“You guys have been blowing a lot of calls lately on matters of strategy, Mr. Secretary,” Gaetz said. “You guys told us that Russia couldn’t lose, you told us the Taliban couldn’t immediately win. And so I guess I’m wondering, what in the $773 billion that you’re requesting today is going to help you make assessments that are accurate in the face of so many blown calls?”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Washington.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Addressing Gaetz’s question, Austin noted that the congressman has seen how the Department of Defense’s  budget and how it “matches the strategy,” and that this can “speak for itself.”

Gaetz then accused the U.S. military of falling behind, citing a failure to deter Russia from invading Ukraine, and losing ground to China when it comes to hypersonic weapons.

“What do you mean, we’re behind in hypersonics?” Austin challenged. “How do you make that assessment?”

Gaetz said he based his assessment on China “fielding hypersonic weapons systems while we are still developing them,” as well as Russia’s claim that they used one in their invasion of Ukraine.

“By the way, your own people brief us that we are behind, and that China is winning. Are you aware of the briefings we get on hypersonics?”

Austin replied that he is “certainly aware” of the briefings, only for Gaetz to then add that China is increasingly active in flying sorties near Taiwan, and that North Korea being “on pace to shatter prior records” when it comes to the number of missile tests they conduct.

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“And so while everyone else in the world seems to be developing capabilities and being more strategic, we got time to embrace critical race theory at West Point, to embrace socialism at the National Defense University, to do mandatory pronoun training,” Gaetz said, before Austin cut him off.

“This is the most capable, the most combat critical force in the world,” the secretary said. “It has been, and it will be so going forward. And this budget helps us to do that. The fact that you’re embarrassed by your country, by your military, I’m sorry for that.”

Gaetz then accused Austin of conflating his own failures with those of servicemembers.

“You guys said that Russia would overrun Ukraine in 36 days, you said that the Taliban would be kept at bay for months,” Gaetz said. You totally blew those calls, and maybe we would be better at them if the National Defense University actually worked a little more on strategy and a little less on wokeism.”

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Austin responded by pointing to how the fact that Russia has not defeated Ukraine yet is a positive development.

“Has it occurred to you that Russia has not overrun Ukraine because of what we’ve done, and our allies have done? Have you ever even thought about that?”



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