by Sherri Kolade
President-elect Joe Biden plans to have retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III to be secretary of defense, according to three officials in the know with the decision. If confirmed, Austin would be the first Black Pentagon chief, according to a Washington Post story.
Austin, 67, grew to become a four-star general in the Army and retired in 2016 as the chief of U.S. Central Command, a role where he looked after U.S. military operations across the Middle East for three years, according to the article. During his time, he presided over the U.S.-led military intervention to stop the rise of the Islamic State, which began seizing cities in Iraq in 2014, the article added.
Earlier Monday, Biden held meetings with transition advisers, he told reporters that he would unveil his pick for secretary of defense on Friday, the report also stated.
Austin’s background was interesting to Biden, according to a person in the know of the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose deliberations, the article stated.
Biden has had a personal relationship with Austin and even attended the general’s 2010 change-of-command ceremony when Austin took over in Iraq, according to the article. Biden worked with him closely during the Obama administration.
Austin oversaw not only the operations against the Islamic State but also the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in Iraq — a huge logistical undertaking that could be significant as the United States endeavors to distribute a coronavirus vaccine, according to the person who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, the report also added.
Biden also was blown away by Austin’s barrier-breaking career in the military, which spans about 40 years and included being the first Black officer to command a division in combat and the first Black officer to oversee a theater of war, the report added.
Austin also has been tasked with comforting Gold Star families and understands the human cost of war, which Biden feels is important, the person said. Biden offered the position to Austin on Sunday, and Austin accepted it that day, the article added.
The potential history-making nomination of Austin also comes during the time when the Biden administration is facing significant pressure from multiple entities to create a Cabinet with racial diversity.
Biden is well on his way to making that happen. He recently announced two Black women — veteran U.S. diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Princeton labor economist Cecilia Rouse — as his choices for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, respectively.
In an article from The Atlantic, Biden describes why he feels Austin will get the job done.
“Today, I ask Lloyd Austin to once more take on a mission for the United States of America—this time as the secretary-designate of the Department of Defense. I know he will do an outstanding job,” Biden said.
“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. He is the definition of a patriot. He rose through the Army’s ranks during his distinguished and trailblazing career,” Biden said in the article. “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.”