Biden picks Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense

WASHINGTON (AP) — United States (US) President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Lloyd J. Austin to be his Secretary of Defense. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin, who led the US Central Command and assisted in spearheading the US invasion of Iraq, would be the first Black to lead the Pentagon.

The retired four-star army general beat out the favourite for the job, former Under-secretary of Defence Michele Flournoy, amid pressure on Biden to nominate more minorities for positions in his Cabinet.

As a Military Officer, Austin, 62, is likely to face opposition from Congress and the Defense Establishment from those who believe in drawing a clear line between civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon.

Like Jim Mattis, Austin would need to obtain a congressional waiver to serve as Secretary of Defense. Congress intended civilian control of the military when it created the position of secretary of defense in 1947 and prohibited a recently retired military officer from holding the position.

Biden has known Austin at least since the general’s years leading US and coalition troops in Iraq while Biden was vice president. Austin was commander in Baghdad of the Multinational Corps-Iraq in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, and he returned to lead US troops from 2010 through 2011.

US Central Command Commander General Lloyd Austin III, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 16, 2015. PHOTO: AP

Austin also served in 2012 as the first Black vice chief of staff of the Army, the service’s number two ranking position. A year later he assumed command of US Central Command, where he fashioned and began implementing a US military strategy for rolling back the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Austin served as an assistant commander of the 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and oversaw the withdrawal in 2011. When Austin retired in 2016, Obama praised his “character and competence”, as well as his judgement and leadership.

One person familiar with the matter said Biden was drawn to Austin’s oversight of the Iraq pull-out, especially given the military’s upcoming role in supporting the distribution of the Coronavirus vaccines.