Joe Biden picks retired general for defence secretary, who would be first Black man to hold position

Four-star army general Lloyd Austin currently on board of Raytheon

Josh Marcus
Tuesday 08 December 2020 21:37 GMT
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The Biden administration has named Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general, as its pick for defence secretary, a move that could be historic yet at the same time may anger some progressives.

Following widespread media reports, Mr Biden’s team released a statement saying it had opted for Mr Austin, who under the Obama administration led US military operations in the Middle East as head of US Central Command. If confirmed, he would be the first Black man to hold the position. 

Mr Austin has also served as a senior commander in Iraq and was the first Black vice chief of staff for the Army, the service’s second highest ranking officer.   

“With a distinguished record of military service spanning four decades, secretary-designate Austin is a deeply experienced and highly decorated commander who has served with distinction in several of the Pentagon’s most crucial positions,” it said in a statement.

The administration had also also reportedly been considering other Obama alums for the role, such as Jeh Johnson, former secretary of homeland security, and Michèle Flournoy, who served as under secretary of defence for policy. 

Before retiring from public service in 2016, Mr Austin faced scrutiny for the US’s role in spending hundreds of millions of dollars to train only a handful of Syrian groups during the country’s civil war, and for painting an overly optimistic portrait of US intelligence in the region on issues like terrorism and the US military’s progress.

Four-star General Lloyd Austin is reportedly on the short list to be Joe Biden’s defence secretary
Four-star General Lloyd Austin is reportedly on the short list to be Joe Biden’s defence secretary (AFP via Getty Images)

The retired general is on the board of Raytheon, a major Pentagon contractor, as well as steel producer Nucor and health care company Tenet.

Mr Biden has pledged to assemble the most diverse cabinet of senior leaders in US history, and has named people of colour as his picks to lead agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.   

Common Dreams pointed to a tweet by Danielle Brian, executive director of watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, who said Mr Biden's selection of Mr Austin spelled “bad news for civilian control [of the armed forces] and any real distance from the military-industrial complex”.

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