On December 9, President-elect Joe Biden nominated retired General LLoyd Austin to be his Secretary of Defense. General Austin retired from the United States Army in 2016 after a distinguished military career that saw him, after his graduation from the United States Military Academy, fill assignments at some of the Army’s most elite units including the 82nd Airborne Division, the 10th Mountain Division and a stint as instructor at his alma mater, West Point.
General Austin saw combat duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2010 he was put in charge of all US forces in Iraq where he oversaw the draw-down of US forces. In 2011 he was appointed Army Vice Chief of Staff and in 2013 he took command of US Central Command, or CENTCOM. General Austin retired in 2016 and moved to the private sector where he was on the board of Raytheon Technologies, a major American military contractor.
According to US law, to be appointed as Secretary of Defense a retired officer must have been out of uniform for a minimum of 7 years. General Austin has only been retired for 4 years, so it will be necessary for him to get a congressional waiver before he can take up the post. There is precedent for this, as recently as the current Trump administration where retired General James Mattis had the 7-year requirement waived.
The question is whether a hostile and divided congress reflecting the mood of a hostile and divided nation will give General Austin a “pass.” For Biden and the Democrats Austin checks off a lot of boxes in terms of experience. He would be the first black Secretary of Defense. General Austin has also teamed up with Joe Biden in the past, and they reportedly have a good working relationship.
Will General Austin face some grilling during his Senate confirmation? He probably will. Will he appear as a competent and knowledgeable interviewee? Surely he will. And finally will General Austin achieve another “first” in his long and distinguished career of government service? He probably will.
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