President-elect Joe Biden has selected retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the former commander of US Central Command, to be his secretary of defense, a source familiar with the decision told CNN on Monday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black man to lead the Department of Defense.
In addition to serving as commander of United States Central Command, Austin previously served as the vice chief of staff of the Army.
Politico was first to report on Biden’s selection of Austin.
Austin would need a congressional waiver to be confirmed for the civilian post because he retired from active-duty service only four years ago. Federal law requires seven years of retirement from active duty before taking on the role.
I think this is selection is the result of the previous relationship that President-elect Biden has with GEN (ret) Austin. When President Obama decided to replace Secretary Mattis as the commanding general of US Central Command, he selected GEN (ret) Austin for that position. As the commanding general of the Geographic Combatant Command (GCC) with the most active area of responsibility (AOR), GEN (ret) Austin would have been in regular contact, often several times a day, with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and their senior national security advisors. As a result, President-elect Biden likely has a very good feel for GEN (ret) Austin and, as seems to be the case with almost every one of his selections so far, is going with senior, qualified, experienced people that he is comfortable with based on prior relationships. There was reporting several weeks ago that President-elect Biden did not have much of a personal relationship at all with Michelle Flournoy, who was being reported as the leading candidate for this nomination, and that this was an issue for the President-elect. The selection of GEN (ret) Austin would seem to confirm this.
GEN (ret) Austin is more than qualified and capable to run the Department of Defense. But, as CNN reported, he has only been retired for four years and will, as a result, require the same waiver from Congress that Secretary Mattis required. Hopefully, unlike Secretary Mattis, GEN (ret) Austin will be able to overcome a 40 plus year career’s worth of conditioning to be overly deferential to the President as commander in chief of the military. Given that he has a very different personality and temperament than Secretary Mattis, and that President-elect Biden is, in many ways, the polar opposite of Trump, this will hopefully not be a problem for the Biden administration as it was for the Trump administration.
Full disclosure: I know GEN (ret) Austin, but not well. I met him in Iraq in 2008 when he was the Commanding General of 10th Mountain Division. The brigade combat team my team was assigned to had been split off from the rest of 1st Armored Division in Multi-National Division North and sent south and east of Baghdad to Multi-National Division Central. 10th Mountain Division fortunately took over Multi-National Division Central two months into our deployment. I met GEN Austin when he came to our FOB as part of his initial battlefield circulation. I was introduced to him, he spoke to me for about 90 seconds, and my part of his briefing lasted about two minutes tops. I also provided support to him when he was the Commanding General of CENTCOM via his Command Sergeant Major, who was my point of contact in the CENTCOM command group. He might recognize my name, but if I was standing next to him he would most likely not know me from Adam and I am Adam!