U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has appointed retired U.S. Army General Lloyd Austin as defense secretary amid concerns from some Democrats over his choice.
Austin is a career soldier whom Biden called a “leader of extraordinary courage, character and experience.”
Biden cited his long professional and personal association with Austin, a four-star general, while Biden was vice president.
Austin, 67, commanded US forces from 2010-2012 in Iraq, where he also struck up a friendship with Biden’s late son Beau Biden, who served on Austin’s staff as captain.
Biden recalled Austin’s composure under pressure and diplomatic skills in service in Iraq at a time when former President Barack Obama was downsizing US forces.
“Austin was with me in the field, not just for troop meetings, or for military strategy sessions,” Biden said, recalling meeting with Iraqi political letters.
“I looked at his political talent. They respected him. In all areas, ”Biden said.
Austin would be the first African American to become Secretary of Defense if confirmed by the US Senate, but he faces an obstacle due to his recent military service.
Austin retired from military service four years ago. US law requires that the top Pentagon position be held by a civilian or someone who has not been in military service for at least seven years.
This means Congress must vote to grant a waiver to Austin, as lawmakers did in 2017 to approve former U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis as President Donald Trump’s defense secretary.
Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives and Senate have previously expressed concerns over Biden’s selection even as they praise Austin’s credentials.
Representative Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst who served in Iraq and later became Under Secretary of Defense under Obama, expressed doubts about the possibility of providing a waiver.
“I have deep respect for General Lloyd Austin,” she said. “We worked together when he was in command of the US forces in Iraq, when he was vice-chief of the army and when he was CENTCOM [United States Central Command] commander. But choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels bad.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, a wounded military veteran in Iraq, said in a U.S. television interview that she believes a waiver will pass Congress, and supports Austin, although she does not support a waiver .
“The system is in place [so] that there should be civilian control of the military, ”Duckworth said on MSNBC.
“I will tell you, however, that General Austin is an excellent officer, well tested, very capable of leading the Department of Defense and I think he will be an excellent Secretary of Defense,” said Duckworth, who has offered to help Austin navigate. the Senate confirmation process.
Austin is from a small town in the southern United States, Georgia, and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1975.
Beginning as a second lieutenant, Austin rose through the ranks of the military hierarchy – including touring Iraq and Afghanistan – to become the commander of US Central Command in 2013.
In 2014, Austin oversaw the development of the United States’ multilateral military campaign to expel ISIS (ISIS) from Iraq and Syria.
Austin retired in 2016 and served on the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies, a major US defense contractor.
In remarks after Biden’s introduction, Austin offered assurances that he would strive to uphold America’s tradition of civilian leadership in the military.
“When I finished my military service four years ago, I hung up my uniform for the last time and went from General Lloyd Austin to Lloyd Austin,” he said.
“It’s an important distinction and one that I make with the utmost seriousness and sincerity.”
In naming Austin, Biden recalled an incident in Baghdad in 2009 when insurgents fired mortar shells at the Green Zone.
Austin and Biden were meeting at the time at the US Ambassador’s residence. Austin did not react to the sounds of mortar shell slamming, continuing the meeting as if “it was just another day at the office,” Biden said.
“He’s cool under fire, inspiring the same in everyone around him,” Biden said.
“He was the person President Obama and I entrusted with the incredible task of bringing US forces home and redeploying our military equipment safely out of Iraq,” Biden said of Austin.
Another factor in Biden’s selection of Austin was his personal relationship with Biden’s late son Beau, while they were both deployed to Iraq, an official familiar with Biden’s decision told The Washington Post. .
The Catholics, Austin and Beau Biden, had attended church services together and sat next to each other almost every Sunday during the deployment.
“They developed a deep relationship and even saw each other after Beau returned from his deployment,” the official said of Austin’s interaction with Biden’s son.