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Biden Taps Former CENTCOM Head Lloyd Austin For SECDEF

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of United States Forces – Iraq and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey visit with service members on Thanksgiving to reemphasize the mission at hand and thank them for their continued service and sacrifice at this critical time in Iraq. Defense Department Photo.

This story has been updated to include a statement from former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy.

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday formally announced his decision to nominate retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as his defense secretary.

Biden, in an op-ed in The Atlantic, confirmed multiple reports that Austin, who served as the commander of U.S. Central Command from March 2013 to March 2016, is his pick for Pentagon Chief.

“In his more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin met every challenge with extraordinary skill and profound personal decency. He is a true and tested soldier and leader. I’ve spent countless hours with him, in the field and in the White House Situation Room. I’ve sought his advice, seen his command, and admired his calm and his character,” Biden wrote.
“He is the definition of a patriot. He rose through the Army’s ranks during his distinguished and trailblazing career. He was the 200th person ever to attain the rank of an Army four-star general, but only the sixth African American. He built a career grounded in service to this country and challenged the institution that he loves to grow more inclusive and more diverse at every step.”

Should the Senate confirm Austin’s nomination, he will be the first Black secretary of defense.

Austin’s nomination will need a waiver from Congress because he only retired from active duty in 2016. Nominees are legally required to have been out of uniform for seven years to serve as the defense secretary.

“I respect and believe in the importance of civilian control of our military and in the importance of a strong civil-military working relationship at DoD—as does Austin. We need empowered civilians working with military leaders to shape DoD’s policies and ensure that our defense policies are accountable to the American people,” Biden wrote in the op-ed. “Austin also knows that the secretary of defense has a different set of responsibilities than a general officer and that the civil-military dynamic has been under great stress these past four years. He will work tirelessly to get it back on track.”

Biden, citing the waiver former Defense Secretary James Mattis received, said he hopes Congress will issue one for Austin.

“Lloyd Austin retired from military service more than four years ago. The law states that an officer must have left the service at least seven years before becoming secretary of defense,” Biden wrote. “But I hope that Congress will grant a waiver to Secretary-designate Austin, just as Congress did for Secretary Jim Mattis. Given the immense and urgent threats and challenges our nation faces, he should be confirmed swiftly.”

Austin’s formal nomination comes after weeks of speculation over who Biden would choose for the role. Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy was reportedly a contender for the position, but her potential nomination received criticism from progressives.

On Monday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) voiced his support for Flournoy and said Biden’s team had consulted him about the decision.

Flournoy congratulated Austin in a statement on Tuesday.

“General Austin is a man of deep integrity who has spent a lifetime in service to our country. General Austin is a colleague and friend, and I know he will bring his impressive skills to bear to lead all those who volunteer to defend our country, military and civilian, at this critical moment in our nation’s history,” Flournoy said. “I look forward to helping him and the President-elect succeed in any way that I can.”