U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has picked Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star army general, to be secretary of defense, according to U.S. media including New York Times. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black leader of the Pentagon.
Austin, who was born in Alabama in 1953, was the first African-American vice-chief of staff of the Army and commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). As the commander of CENTCOM, he worked closely with then-Vice President Biden who was in charge of policies towards Iraq in the Barack Obama administration. Biden has been facing calls from Black voters who pushed him to the victory in the presidential race to nominate African-American people, which has made Austin a strong contender.
If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be in charge of forming strategies and strengthening military power in the Indo-Pacific to keep China in check, while leading 1.2 million U.S. soldiers and various organizations. With a strong background in field operations, however, he has avoided the public eye and given few interviews, raising concerns about his lack of “celebrity temperament.” There are also concerns that he does not have an in-depth understanding of pressing issues in Asia.
There will be a political burden for Biden as Austin would need to obtain a congressional waiver to serve as defense secretary. In the United States for which a civilian control of the Pentagon is important, a former member of the military is required to be out of uniform at least seven years before serving as secretary of defense. There was controversy when the waiver was granted to James Mattis who served as President Donald Trump's first defence secretary. Mattis retired in 2013, four years before his nomination in January 2017.