Introducing retired Army general Lloyd J Austin as his nominee to lead the Pentagon, US President-elect Joe Biden has urged Congress to waive a legal requirement that a secretary of defence be out of military service at least seven years before taking office. Austin retired four years ago in 2016 after 41 years in the Army. If confirmed by the Senate, the 67-year-old career military officer would be the first African-American to lead the Department of Defence.
”The law states that an officer must have left the service seven years before becoming Secretary of Defence. There are good reasons for this law that I fully understand and respect, and I would not be asking for an exception here if I did not believe this moment in our history didn’t call for it and if I didn’t have the faith I do in Lloyd Austin to ask for it,” Biden said at an in-person event in Delaware on Wednesday. I believe in the importance of civilian control of our military so does secretary-designate Austin, he said.
A congressional waiver to the legal prohibition against a recently serving military officer running the Pentagon has till now been granted only twice: in 1950 for George Marshall and in 2017 for James Mattis. Mattis, a US Marine Corps general who retired in 2013, served as the defence secretary from January 2017 through January 2019.
Austin in his remarks said he would keep the importance of civilian control of the military ”at the forefront of my mind” and would run a Pentagon ”grounded in meaningful civilian oversight.” ”I come to this new role as a civilian leader — with military experience, to be sure — but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military,” he said. Austin said if confirmed by the Senate, he will surround himself in the Pentagon with civilian officials and advisers to ensure accountability.
Austin said he has spent much of his military career tackling tough issues and formidable adversaries in challenging parts of the world and as defence secretary, he will give the ”same direct, unvarnished counsel”. ”I understand the important role the department plays in maintaining stability, deterring aggression, and defending and supporting critical alliances around the world, including in the Asia Pacific, in Europe, and around the world…Over the years, I’ve worked hand-in-hand with our diplomatic colleagues and our partners around the globe, and witnessed firsthand what we’re able to accomplish, together. And, if confirmed, I look forward to resuming this important work, he said.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said she is absolutely confident that Austin is the right person to lead the defence department at this ”critical moment”. We need a proven leader to help address this pandemic, someone with the experience to help make sure safe and effective vaccines are distributed equitably to all. A leader who will honour the service and sacrifice of those who wear the uniform of the United States, provide for their well-being, and make sure they and their families are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned.
And a leader who recognises that our service members represent America around the world, and must uphold our nation’s highest values and ideals. General Austin is that leader, Harris said. Austin comes with a distinguished record of military service spanning four decades.
The first African-American to serve as Commander of US Central Command, he is a trusted and crisis-tested leader who has overseen some of the most complex and impactful operations in the history of the armed services – including serving as the chief architect of the effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and working closely with Biden to bring nearly 150,000 American military personnel home from Iraq, the transition said.