President-elect Joe will reportedly nominate four-star General Lloyd Austin as his Secretary of Defense. It’s a historic nomination and continues a trend Biden has set during the assemblage of his cabinet.
Biden’s Promise: a Cabinet ‘That Looks Like America’
President-elect Joe Biden had repeatedly promised a diverse cabinet “that looks like America” during his election campaign.
Lloyd Austin is emblematic of Biden’s approach to diversity while also bringing all the qualities needed for the office to the table. The retired four-star Black general is set to become the new Secretary of Defense, succeeding Donald Trump’s fourth and currently acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.
Austin’s Military Background
Austin, who was born in Alabama in 1953, became best known as the US commander in Iraq, and as the first African-American to head the so-called Central Command. Austin was responsible for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria. He will be in charge of 1.2 million American soldiers and an annual budget of approximately $730 billion if he obtains Senate approval.
Biden knows Austin from his time as Vice-President in the Obama administration. At the time of Obama’s 2008 election, Austin was in command of the multinational troop coalition in Baghdad, and between 2010 and 2011, he returned to command US troops in Iraq and then oversaw the troop withdrawal. One year later, among other things, he designed strategies for combating the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
When Austin retired, Obama praised his “character and competence,” as well as his judgment and leadership skills.
Austin, a graduate of the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point, served in the military for 41 years until his retirement in 2016.
Austin Will be First Black Secretary of Defense
Austin’s appointment as Pentagon chief would also have meaning in terms of representation. While many Black Americans serve in the US military, the military’s top echelons are still almost entirely White. To date, there has never been a Black Secretary of Defense.
In the past few days, Black Democrats had reminded President-elect Biden of his promise to provide adequate representation. Since Biden has nominated two White Americans, Anthony Blinken, as Secretary of State and Janet Yellen, as Secretary of the Treasury, it was expected that either the defense or justice department would be filled by a person of color.
Austin Will Need to Get a Congressional Waiver in Order to Serve as Sec Def
With the Secretary of Defense office’s creation in 1947, Congress intended to place the military under civilian control. Therefore, American law requires a seven-year period between active duty and being appointed head of the Pentagon. Since Austin did not retire until 2016, he will therefore require a congressional waiver before being confirmed by the Senate.
The congressional waiver was needed only twice in the office’s history for Trump’s former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, and General George C. Marshall, Secretary of Defense under President Harry S. Truman.
What is Austin’s Foreign Policy Outlook?
While Austin has spent an important part of his career abroad, his nomination is by no means a return towards American interventionism. The urge to withdraw from crisis and warzones is equally strong among Democrats and Republicans, even if Biden will seek to interact more harmoniously with the international community, unlike Trump.
Meanwhile, Biden’s cabinet continues to take shape a good 40 days before the inauguration on January 20, 2021. California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra, 62, is said to become Secretary of Health. The former congressman would be the first Latino to head the department. Biden devotes his main political focus to combating the coronavirus pandemic. Over 282,000 Americans have already died from coronavirus-related illness and coronavirus.
What remains unclear is whether or not Biden will nominate a member of the party’s progressive wing. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have repeatedly stated their desire to become part of the administration. However, both are not only unlikely to get a Senate approval – though the balance of power could potentially change with the Georgia runoff elections in January – but Biden’s nominations to date have shown his reluctance to cater towards the socialist wing of his party and a proclivity for a more moderate course.
General Llyod Austin marks not only the continuation of this approach but is the latest example of a return to normalcy and sound leadership in Washington.