President-elect Joe Biden‘s first Secretary of Defense will most likely be an extremely private veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who has ties to the private sector, including as a military contractor for Raytheon Technologies as well as a director for the multinational health services provider, Tenet Healthcare.
But retired General Lloyd James Austin III will also be the first African-American to be installed in that position. If he passes legislature vetting, Austin will be responsible for the world’s most expensive and expansive defense capacities and network.
Such is the history that beckons that Austin’s nomination has been met with primarily, graciousness. Many have welcomed the incoming administration’s openness to retaining racial diversity in top federal jobs.
For Austin, Biden himself scripted a testimonial that was published in The Atlantic. A paragraph read:
“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.”
Careful reading reveals what Biden would want us to realize. The president-elect calls the general Austin – not General Austin – giving away a sense of amity the pair would have established over the “countless hours” they have spent in each other’s company. The general is also praised for his character and called “a patriot”, a necessary byline in marketing your pick to the American public.
But the four-star general who has been described as “intensely private and razor-sharp” may not need more than the former vice-president’s adulation in order to get into the job. Having left military service only four years ago, Austin requires a special waiver from the House and the Senate to enable him to become the next Defense chief.
The law for which he needs the waiver prevents former soldiers from becoming Defense secretary within the first seven years of retiring from military service. The last man to need the waiver was Jim Mattis, Donald Trump‘s first Secretary of Defense who dramatically fell out with the outgoing president.
But political watchers are confident this will be no stiff hurdle for Austin. He is also generally respected across partisan divides. A lot of the conversations about his nomination have suggested that Austin may need to convince a few on the Capitol with particular regard to the global war on terrorism as well as his private sector dealings.
Austin was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1953 but he was raised in Thomasville, Georgia along with five siblings. He joined the army in 1975 growing in stature over the course of forty years.
Between 2008 and 2009, he was the Commander of Multinational Corps in Iraq. In 2010, former President Barack Obama appointed Austin as the Commanding General of all U.S. Forces in Iraq.
Austin has been called a “devout Catholic” and conservative man who would often speak of himself in the third person.