WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is set to nominate retired General Lloyd J. Austin III, former commander of the U.S. military effort in Iraq, to be the next defense secretary, according to two people with knowledge of the selection.
If confirmed by the Senate, General Austin would make history as the first African American to lead the nation’s 1.3 million active-duty troops and the massive bureaucracy that supports them.
General Austin, 67, was for years a formidable figure in the Pentagon, and is the only African American to have led the United States Central Command, the military’s flagship combat command responsible for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria – most places where the United States is at war.
General Austin is known as a powerful battlefield commander, but is less known for his political instincts. He has occasionally stumbled in Congressional hearings, including a session in 2015 where he admitted, under difficult questioning, that the Defense Ministry’s $ 500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters did had gone nowhere.
Yet General Austin, who retired as a Four-Star General in 2016 after 41 years in the military, is respected in the military, especially among African American officers and enlisted soldiers, like the one of the few black men to break the glass ceiling. who kept the upper ranks of the military largely the domain of white men.
Supporters of General Austin say he broke that barrier because of his intelligence, command experience, and the mentorship of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who plucked to lead the staff of the chiefs of staff office. .
Shortly after the election, General Austin participated in an online session Mr Biden had with former national security officials. His selection was reported earlier by Politico.
By choosing General Austin, Mr. Biden bypassed Michèle A. Flournoy, a former senior official in the Obama administration’s Defense Department, who was said to have been the first woman to hold the post.
Like Jim Mattis, who was President Trump’s first Secretary of Defense, General Austin should get a waiver from Congress to serve, as he has only been out of the military for four years and US law requires a seven-year waiting period between active service and becoming head of the Pentagon.
General Austin is a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He and his wife, Charlene, have been married for 40 years.