President-elect Joe Biden is about to elect retired US Central Command General Lloyd Austin as his secretary of defense. This would be the first time a black person is tapped for running the Pentagon is told of the matter Foreign policy.
Austin appeared to be gaining a late head start in a three-way contest for the job with former Pentagon chief executive Michèle Flournoy – who was seen as the first front runner for the job – and former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, another black contender, supported by Members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Biden’s propensity to choose Austin was first reported by Politico On Monday. He told reporters earlier today that he intends to announce the election on Friday.
Biden informed Austin of his election on Sunday, according to someone familiar with the matter. One factor that made a difference to Austin was his relationship with the president-elect, which went back about a decade, the person said. As Vice President, Biden met Austin for countless hours in the Situation Room, particularly when General was running Centcom.
Austin, who has not been with the military for less than five years, would require a waiver by Congress to take on this role due to regulations protecting civilian control of the military. This move has usually been considered exceptional in US history. Only two former generals before Austin were given such leeway: former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, George Marshall, who was to head the agency during the Truman administration, and James Mattis, whom President Donald Trump selected as Secretary of Defense four years after his resignation as head of Centcom.
Flournoy, a favorite among many in the Democratic foreign policy establishment, would have been the first Secretary of Defense if Biden had chosen her for the post. While she was widely viewed as the preferred candidate for the job during the campaign, the Biden transition team has been pushed back from the party’s left wing in recent weeks. Progressive groups have signaled opposition to Flournoy for her role in US military interventions in Libya and the Middle East in previous government positions, as well as for her ties to the defense industry after she left the government.
Flournoy was a member of Booz Allen Hamilton’s board of directors and co-founder of the consulting firm WestExec Advisors. But Austin can’t help the look of the Biden team in this regard either. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Raytheon – a major defense company and a leading manufacturer of smart bombs used in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Austin’s election would also challenge Biden’s promise of gender diversity in his cabinet. “This is a slap in the face for local women who have heard the president-elect to appoint a balanced national security team,” said a former defense official for the George W. Bush and Obama administrations Foreign policy. “The democratic field should be proud of the huge bank of diverse civilian leadership that it can use at all levels. What made it necessary to turn to a retired general? ”
“When I see a retired general who is not legally qualified for the role nominated for the most important job in national security, I find it hard to believe that the Natsec glass ceiling is anything but impossible for women,” added the former defense official.
Legislators and other political allies in Biden have also put pressure on the elected president to attract more black people to top administrative positions. Some members of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), including its chairman, Democratic MP Karen Bass, and other Democratic lawmakers pushed Austin. But other members of the CBC endorsed Flournoy for the role.
Having Austin on the job would also worry some security experts who were already concerned about the direction of civil-military relations in the Pentagon under Trump. When Mattis served as Trump’s defense minister, some civilians felt excluded from important military and political decisions. On the 2020 Democratic Platform, the party pledged to help improve the state of civil-military relations, which it viewed as badly damaged under Trump. Several foreign policy experts advising Biden’s presidential campaign expressed disappointment that he had selected a former general for the job on the matter. “I just don’t see how acceptable it is to tap into another retired general,” said one expert on condition of anonymity Foreign policy.
But Biden shares a history with his defense choices that may have helped sway the decision. When Biden pushed for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq while Vice President Flournoy, then head of Pentagon policy and then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Mike Mullen, opposed the idea. Austin didn’t.
Austin, a West Point graduate who served in elite Army units including the 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division, worked his way to the top of the U.S. military during his four decades of service as a four-star general .
Austin was the commander of US Central Command from 2013 to 2016 and oversaw all US military operations in the Middle East, including when the Islamic State first came to power and took over large parts of Iraq and Syria. His management of this campaign met with some criticism when he admitted in Congress in 2015 that a $ 500 million budget for training Syrian rebels produced only four or five fighters. During this time, however, he also received awards for helping to form and coordinate a global alliance made up of dozen of countries against the Islamic State.
Austin, whose top positions were in the Middle East, was to lead a Pentagon that is now largely focused on strategic competition with China.
It is not clear how Austin would fare under the control of Congress. Numerous progressive foreign policy experts said Congress should not give Austin or any other retired general or admiral a waiver. Senior Senate Armed Forces Committee member Jack Reed, a Democrat, previously said he would oppose another waiver of a recently retired military officer, and three Democrats who are still in the Senate previously voted against Mattis’ waiver and affirmation. Unlike some of Biden’s other cabinet members, however, Austin was not immediately criticized by the Senate Republicans, whose support during the confirmation process could be vital if the GOP retains control of the Senate.
A progressive lawyer who spoke to him Foreign policy said this would not necessarily be seen as a victory for the party’s left wing. “This is more about personal views Biden had about Flournoy, who were uncomfortable with her, and could not turn to Jeh [Johnson]”Said the person.” So he stayed with Austin, for whom CBC also lobbied.
But other progressives celebrated the decision. “Civilian control of the military is important. Austin’s records show that he is more likely to achieve the intent of this principle, as he is respected for his restraint and following the instructions of the elected officials, ”said Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy and former congressional official.
“Progressives should prefer this to a longtime Pentagon official who has fostered interventionism at every major time over the past two decades and has opaque relationships with defense companies and foreign regimes,” he said, referring to Flournoy.
In a press conference Monday, House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat, said he had urged the Biden team to view Flournoy as the choice.