Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin dismissed criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz and others who criticized the U.S. military as going “soft” over its new heavy focus on diversity and inclusion in the ranks.
CNN’s Barbara Starr asked Austin on Monday his reaction to “political critics and adversaries” calling the military “too soft,” he said, “It is not too soft. It will never be too soft,”
“I think our adversaries [China and Russia] would like to capitalize on talking points like that. … I welcome them to do that because what this department … is focused on is the defense of our nation,” he added.
When asked if he was concerned about China and Russia’s perspective of the U.S. military, Austin said, “I will not lose one minute of sleep about what the Chinese leadership is saying or what Vladimir Putin is saying. What I will focus on, and what I am focused on is the defense of this nation, and making sure that we have what’s needed to be successful,”
The U.S. Army faced backlash over its release of a new video advertisement series last month called “The Calling,” which featured service members with diverse backgrounds, including Cpl. Emma Malonelord, whose was depicted as raised by “two moms” and attending pride parades.
Cruz had retweeted a video comparing the Army’s ad with a Russian military ad depicting male soldiers engaged in rigorous physical activities, along with the caption, “Holy crap. Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea….”
“We have the greatest military on earth, but Dem politicians & woke media are trying to turn them into pansies. The new Dem videos are terrible,” Cruz added in a second tweet.
The video series received some praise for its untraditional highlighting of diversity, but the vast majority of comments criticized the videos. The criticism was so overwhelming, in fact, that the Army disabled comments on the videos days later.
Laura DeFrancisco, spokeswoman for the Army Enterprise Marketing Office told Task & Purpose that the Army disabled comments on all of the videos after seeing “a significant uptick in negative commentary which … were not aligned with Army values.”
The video featuring Malonelord amassed more than 6,100 “likes” and 154,000 “dislikes” on YouTube as of Tuesday, nearly a month after its posting on May 4.
Austin has made diversity and inclusion in the U.S. military one of his top priorities since his confirmation earlier this year.
Austin “strongly believes that diversity is a readiness issue because it allows different perspectives, additional context, different lived experiences to inform the way we make decisions and the policies that we craft, the operations that we lead,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said last month.
During his CNN interview on Monday, Austin reaffirmed that diversity in the U.S. military “must be part of who we are.”
“We represent the United States of America. We ought to look like America and not only in the ranks,” he said “But our leadership should look like America.”