Joe Biden on Wednesday formally nominated Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star army general and the former commander of the American military effort in Iraq, to be his defense secretary, casting him as uniquely qualified to lead a diverse military at a particularly challenging moment for the nation and the world.
If confirmed by the US Senate, Austin, 67, would make history as the first African American to lead the Pentagon, overseeing the 1.3 million active duty men and women who make up the nation’s military.
“In my judgment, there is no question that he is the right person for this job at the right moment, leading the department of defense at this moment in our nation’s history,” Biden said at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday afternoon. He called Austin the “definition of duty, honor and country” and a leader “feared by our adversaries, known and respected by our allies”.
Biden said Austin would help renew America’s relationship with allies, frayed by the Trump administration, and orient the defense department to confront threats ranging from pandemics to the climate emergency to refugee crises.
Yet Austin faces resistance on Capitol Hill, where members of Congress have long warned against nominating a former commander to lead the Pentagon in a nation that prides itself on civilian control of the military. Federal law requires a seven-year waiting period between active duty military service and serving as the secretary of defense.
Austin retired in 2016, after a decorated 41-year military career. As such, Congress would have to grant a waiver for him to serve as defense secretary. In his remarks, Bidensaid he respected the need to draw a clear line between the military and civilian leadership, but urged Congress to grant Austin a waiver, as it did for retired marine general Jim Mattis to become Donald Trump’s defense secretary in 2017.
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