President-elect Joe Biden will nominate retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to lead the Department of Defense. Austin’s 40-year career includes two command assignments at Ft. Bragg. If confirmed as secretary of defense, If confirmed by the Senate, the former commander of US Central Command Austin will be the first black Secretary of Defense in U.S. history to lead the Pentagon.
Biden has known Austin at least since the general’s years leading U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq while Biden was vice president. Austin was commander in Baghdad of the Multinational Corps-Iraq in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, and he returned to lead U.S. troops from 2010 through 2011.
Austin also served in 2012 as the first Black vice chief of staff of the Army, the service’s No. 2-ranking position. A year later he assumed command of U.S. Central Command, where he fashioned and began implementing a U.S. military strategy for rolling back the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
Austin retired from the Army in 2016, and he would need a congressional waiver of the legal requirement that a former member of the military be out of uniform at least seven years before serving as secretary of defense. That waiver has been granted only twice — most recently in the case of Mattis, the retired Marine general who served as President Donald Trump’s first Pentagon chief.
Like Mattis, Austin would need to obtain a congressional waiver to serve as defense secretary. The laws were meant to preserve the civilian nature of the Department of Defense.
Biden and Austin got to know each other during the Obama administration’s Iraq drawdown when the former vice president led Iraq policy and Austin served as the last commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq. In that position, Austin played a key role in the surge of forces that began in 2007 and was in charge of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in 2011.
Austin’s nomination may run into trouble on Capitol Hill. Austin has not been out of the military for the required seven years and would need a waiver from Congress to become secretary of Defense — and lawmakers have signaled their wariness of granting yet another exception for a retired general to lead the Pentagon just four years after President Donald Trump sought one for his first defense secretary, Jim Mattis.