WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to appoint retired General Lloyd J. Austin III, a former commander of the US military efforts in Iraq, as the next Secretary of Defense, according to two people who are knowledgeable about the selection.
If this were approved by the Senate, General Austin would become the first African American to make history to lead the country’s 1.3 million active troops and the vast bureaucracy that supports them.
A formidable figure in the Pentagon for years, 67-year-old General Austin is the only African American to have headed the U.S. Central Command, the marquee combat command of the military, responsible for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria – most of them Places where the United States is at war.
General Austin is known as a strong commander on the battlefield, but less known for his political instincts. He has at times stumbled into Congressional hearings, including a session in 2015 where, amid irritated questions, he confirmed that the Defense Department’s $ 500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters had gone nowhere.
Still, General Austin, who retired as a four-star general in 2016 after 41 years of military service, is seen in the army, especially among African-American officers and soldiers, as one of the rare black men to crack the glass ceiling that has the top ranks of the military largely held the domain of white men.
General Austin supporters say he created this barrier because of his intellect, experience in command, and the care of a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, broken, who had plucked him to head the staff of the joint chiefs’ office.
Shortly after the election, General Austin attended an online meeting Mr. Biden had with former National Security officials. His choice was previously reported by Politico.
In General Austin’s election, Mr. Biden bypassed Michèle A. Flournoy, a former senior Defense Department official in the Obama administration who would have been the first woman in the job.
Like Jim Mattis, who was President Trump’s first secretary of defense, General Austin would have to get a waiver from Congress because he has only been out of the military for four years and American law leaves a seven-year waiting period between active service and Pentagon boss.
General Austin is a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He and his wife Charlene have been married for 40 years.