Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin got into a fiery exchange with Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz during a House Armed Services Committee budget hearing Tuesday, as Gaetz accused the Pentagon of strategic failures due to misplaced focus on alleged "wokeism."
Gaetz began by asking Austin why taxpayers should fund lectures supporting socialism at the DOD-funded National Defense University, a reference to a recent virtual event hosted by the school titled "Responding to China: The Case For Global Justice and Democratic Socialism," presented by French economist Thomas Piketty.
Austin said he was unaware of the lecture.
"So now that you know that they did this, would you agree that embracing socialism is not an effective strategy to combat China?" Gatez asked.
"I certainly don't agree with embracing socialism," Austin replied.
Gaetz continued, asking, "So why would we invite people we don't agree with to evangelize views and values that we don't share at the National Defense University, when we should be learning strategy about how to combat our enemies and make assessments that are accurate?"
Austin responded that learning strategy and other relevant subjects is the focus of military universities.
Decorum began to crumble as the two men started talking over one another, Gaetz reiterating the controversial content of the lecture, Austin reiterating that the Pentagon does not embrace socialism.
"I control the time!" Gaetz protested.
The Florida congressman proceeded to accuse the Defense Department of making poor predictions about the invasion of Ukraine and the fall of Afghanistan.
"You guys told us that Russia couldn't lose. You told us that 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.
Austin paused for nearly six seconds before responding.
"You've seen what's in our budget, you've seen how the budget matches the strategy, and so I'll let that speak for itself," he said.
The secretary then grew visibly annoyed when Gaetz said the U.S. has fallen behind other countries in terms of hypersonic weapons.
"What do you mean we're behind in hypersonics? How do you make that assessment?" Austin said.
"Your own people brief us that we are behind and that China is winning. Are you aware of the briefings we get on hypersonics?" Gaetz asked.
Austin responded, "I am certainly aware of briefings that we provide to Congress."
Gaetz again attacked the Pentagon's priorities.
"While everyone else in the world seems to be developing capabilities and being more strategic, we've got time to embrace critical race theory at West Point, to embrace socialism at the National Defense University, to do mandatory pronoun training," he said.
Austin fired back: "This is the most capable, the most combat-credible force in the world. It has been and it will be so going forward. And this budget helps us to do that."
"Not if we embrace socialism," Gaetz said.
Austin then implied Gaetz was being unpatriotic.
"The fact that you are embarrassed by your country, by your military, I am sorry for that," Austin said.
Gaetz retorted as Austin was still speaking: "Oh no, no, I'm embarrassed by your leadership, I am not embarrassed for my country."
"It's what you're saying, it's what you're saying," Austin said.
"I wish we were not losing to China ... That is so disgraceful that you would sit here and conflate your failures with the failures of the uniformed service members. You guys said that Russia would overrun Ukraine in 36 days. You said that the Taliban would be kept at bay for months. 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," Gaetz said.
"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?" Austin said.
Gaetz used his remaining seconds to reply: "But that was baked into your flawed assessment. And so I saw that the Obama administration tried to destroy our military by starving it of resources, and it seems the Biden administration is trying to destroy our military by force feeding it wokeism. I yield back."