- President-elect Joe Biden has picked a retired US Army general to lead the Defence Department.
- If confirmed, Austin would be the first Black defence secretary to lead the US military.
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President-elect Joe Biden has picked a retired US Army general to lead the Defence Department.
Lloyd Austin, a four-star general with over four decades in the military, was one of several career defence officials who were rumoured to be in the running for the job. MichÃ¨le Flournoy, the former undersecretary of defence for policy, was widely believed to be the frontrunner for the position.
“General Austin got the job done,” Biden write in The Atlantic on Tuesday. “He played a crucial role in bringing 150,000 American troops home from the theatre of war. Pulling that off took more than just the skill and strategy of a seasoned soldier.”
“In his more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin met every challenge with extraordinary skill and profound personal decency,” Biden added. “He is a true and tested soldier and leader. I’ve spent countless hours with him, in the field and in the White House Situation Room.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the US’s first Black defence secretary.
Biden’s transition team had been considering other factors in addition to experience for their selection, including a candidate’s race, unnamed sources told Axios. The former vice president was criticised by some Democrats for not naming qualified candidates of colour for his Cabinet picks.
Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina told The Hill in late November that although he heard Black candidates were “given fair consideration,” only one Black person had been named to Biden’s cabinet. Former diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Black woman, was selected to be the next UN ambassador.
Since then, Biden has picked other Black staffers for Cabinet-level positions, including Cecilia Rouse for chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Austin graduated West Point and entered the Army in 1975. He took numerous leadership roles, including commanding all US troops in Iraq and leading US Central Command, which is responsible for all US military operations in the Middle East.
Austin retired in 2016 and founded the Austin Strategy Group, a consulting service in Washington, DC. Austin has also been on defence contractor Raytheon Technologies’ board of directors since 2016 and the board of steel producer Nucor Corporation.
“Back when I was a brand-new second lieutenant, I was ready to take on the world,” Austin said in a speech in 2016. “I wanted to get out and do great things.”
“I’m very proud to have had the opportunity to lead troops in combat,” he added. “I have seen our young leaders do amazing things in really tough and dangerous situations.”
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who is also Black, was being considered by Biden for the Pentagon post, Politico reported. Some Democrats, however, reportedly expressed concern over Johnson for his tenure in the Obama administration.
Austin still faces some challenges from Congress. Retired service members are required to have been separated from the military for at least seven years. Austin, who retired in 2016, would need a waiver from Congress, just like James Mattis, a retired four-star US Marine Corps general, who served as President Donald Trump’s first defence secretary before resigning in 2018.
Critics have long argued that defence secretaries must have some amount of separation from the military, given the political nature of their duties and to avoid any bias based on their prior service.
Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said after Mattis received a waiver in 2017 that he would not support grating one in the future.
“Congress has enacted an exception one time since the creation of the Department of Defence,” Reed said, according to Defence News. “And waiving the law should happen no more than once in a generation. Therefore I will not support a waiver for future nominees. Nor will I support any effort to water down or repeal the statute in the future.”