“In more than 40 years of serving the U.S. Army, Austin has met all the challenges with extraordinary skill and character. He is a truly tested soldier and leader. I spent countless hours with him in the field and the White House military intelligence room, soliciting his advice, witnessing his command, and admiring his calmness and character.”
This is widely interpreted as: Biden is sure to nominate four-star General Lloyd Austin, 67, who has been discharged from the army for many years, as the Secretary of Defense in the new administration.
Compared with the previous hot candidates, Michelle Flunoy, the former head of defense policymaking at the Pentagon under the Obama administration, and Jeh Johnson, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, Austin has too many characteristics that can make Biden feel at ease.
The “African-American” label on him helped him repeatedly break the racial “ceiling” of the U.S. military and win countless “firsts”: the first African-American officer to command the battle of the army; the first African-American to command the entire theater; and if confirmed by Congress, he will also be the first African-American to lead the Department of Defense. American.
He has been on the battlefield and has remarkable military talent. In his career of more than 40 years, he once served as the highest commander of the Iraqi battlefield and the commander of the United States Central Command.
More importantly, he is a low-key person. He and Biden have been an old acquaintance for many years. The two of them hit the same time on many work issues.
Perhaps it is because of Austin’s characteristics that Biden would rather face the pressure of many parties and break the tradition of “military governance”, rather ask the old acquaintance to “go out” again to support his first presidency.
Repeatedly breaking the “ceiling” of the military
In the midsummer of 1953, “Lion Man” Austin was born in Alabama in the southern United States. He is not as outgoing and cheerful as most Africans born in hot weather, but calm and silent, as if he was a child with a heavy mind.
Austin, a newcomer to the workplace, has kept a low profile, rarely attended public events such as press conferences or think tank discussions, and hardly said aggressive words to avoid attracting attention.
But his low-key character can’t stop his sharpness. His accumulated military achievements still made him have a strong sense of existence in the U.S. military.
As a veteran, he has rich experience. After graduating from West Point in 1975, he entered the U.S. Army. Since his platoon commander, he has served as a company, battalion, brigade and division commander. During this period, he conscientiously wrote the history of the black American military with “first”: the first black general in American history to command the entire army division. The first black general to oversee operations throughout the theater, the first black deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Army, the first black commander of the U.S. Army Central Command…
On the battlefield of Iraq, Austin crawled and rolled, and experienced the whole process of war.
In March 2003, when the Iraq War began, he was the deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. For the next two years, he served as the commander of the 10th Mountain Division and the commander of the 180th Joint Task Force in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
From 2008 to 2012, he served as the commander of the multinational force in Iraq, the commander of the U.S. military in Iraq and the deputy chief of staff of the army, commanding more than 150,000 coalition forces in Iraq. By the time the U.S. withdrew from Iraq in 2011, he arranged for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as the commander of the U.S. military in Iraq.
This period is the Obama administration. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta once commented on Austin: “When Austin was in Iraq, our country was in an important period of military transformation. He directed our army to gradually withdraw, while ensuring that the hard-won security gains are preserved.
Austin’s resume has a strong Middle Eastern color. The chaotic situation in this area has made him experience various times.
In 2013, Austin became the commander of the U.S. Central Command and was responsible for all U.S. military operations in the Middle East. The following year, he supervised U.S. military operations against extremist organizations of the Islamic State in large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria until his retirement as a four-star general in 2016.
He has a thorough view of the situation in the Middle East. In 2015, describing how Islamic State militants controlled large areas of northern and western Iraq, he said that most Sunnis in Iraq “refuse to fight for their own government” and that they “allowed – in some cases even helped Islamic State’ extremist groups to advance throughout the country”.
Austin is particularly respected by African-American soldiers. After all, among the senior military generals, mainly white, he is one of the few black people who broke the ceiling. According to the New York Times, although 43% of the active U.S. military is of color, it is still white people who make important military decisions.
After retirement, Austin remained low-key and hard, achieving a perfect transformation from a professional soldier to a successful businessman.
Finally, he was able to end his days of gathering less and leaving his wife, and Austin chose to make a home in Great Falls, Virginia. Here, he quickly found the stage for himself in the second half of his life. First, he joined the board of directors of Raytheon, one of the largest contractors of the famous American arms company, and then became a board of directors of Newco, the largest steel company in the United States, and Tenet, a health care company. He also served as the Carnegie Foundation in New York. Director. This is not satisfying. He also set up his own consulting company there.
In a hurry, Austin also won two master’s degrees in non-military fields – Auburn University’s master’s degree in education and a master’s degree in business management from Webster University, gilding himself on his gorgeous turn in the workplace.
Obama’s old acquaintance
Austin naturally relies on more than just his military achievements and academic qualifications to become Biden’s carefully selected defense minister. He and Biden have long been old acquaintances, and they trust each other and are very close to each other.
Biden, who is also low-key, and Austin have cooperated tacitly in his work. The two met during the Obama era and held close discussions on a series of regional issues such as the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, and also coincided with the drawdown plan of the U.S. military.
At that time, Biden, as vice president, had a considerable part of the diplomatic work and was responsible for formulating U.S. policy towards Iraq. He is very appreciative of Austin, who has been tested by war and crisis, and once “posted” working photos of the two shaking hands on Twitter.
Austin is very good at playing cooperative roles, which obviously suits the needs of the Biden team. His military skills, military connections and good reputation can well serve as a link between Biden’s team and the army, helping to communicate smoothly when the Pentagon disagrees with the White House.
Austin’s race is also an important consideration.
According to the analysis of American media, there are more and more African-Americans in the U.S. military, and Austin can make African-American soldiers in the army more centripetal. In addition, if he is the Secretary of Defense, he can act as a buffer for racial conflict in the United States, especially to appease the “Black Lives are also Life” movement. Biden can also fulfill his promise to bring more minorities to the cabinet at the election, reflecting “political correctness”.
The Reverend Sharpton, the leader of black civil rights in the United States, said: “I think this is a good choice, and many people in the civil rights community will support it. This is the first time we have seen people of color (as the defense minister), which means something special, especially after our relationship with the previous administration (referring to the Trump administration) is so opposed.” He praised it as “a step in the right direction”.
Austin will also be the best helper to fight the epidemic in the face of the “first enemy” of Biden after taking office.
In the full responsibility for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, this largest logistics “migration” of the U.S. Army in 60 years has allowed Austin to accumulate rich logistics service and logistics management experience. In the future, Biden’s experience can make a huge difference if he wants to use the U.S. military to help complete tasks such as COVID-19 vaccination. In fact, Biden has said that the next defense minister must immediately assume the logistical support task of distributing the coronavirus vaccine.
CNN and other U.S. news media compared “Mr. Good” Austin with the previously rumored two defense chief candidates, Johnson and Flunois.
Johnson’s tough stance on immigration issues, advocating expanded detention of illegal immigrants, accelerating their deportation, and approving hundreds of drone attacks against civilians have made him the target of criticism of civil rights activists.
Flunoir likes to express radical views in public. Although she has the spotlight of a “political actress”, she often speaks without surprising death. This style may not meet Biden’s needs at present. What’s more, she and the Biden team are also divided on many issues, such as the war in Afghanistan.
According to the analysis of Politico, a U.S. political news website, Austin’s style of behavior may be more in line with Biden’s desire to “make the Department of Defense more low-key” at this stage. Biden needs to ease tensions with all sides and reduce differences in order to take over the White House smoothly.
Whether you can succeed in taking office is variable
Although Biden has been determined to nominate Austin, there are still some uncertain whether he can finally get what he wants.
Under the National Security Act of 1947, the Secretary of Defense must be a civilian who has not joined the active service for at least seven years. This provision originated from the tradition of “civil service rule” in the United States, requiring that the defense chief must be civilians. Austin has been retired for less than seven years and needs the approval of the U.S. Congress to grant an exemption to take office.
There are precedents for this immunity. U.S. President Trump nominated former commander of the Central Command and four-star Marine Corps General Mattis as his first defense commander in 2017. At that time, Matisse retired from the army for less than four years. To this end, the U.S. Congress held a fierce hearing, and Mattis was finally exempted with the consent of a majority of Republican lawmakers.
Whether the U.S. Congress will approve a recently retired general as defense minister again is still unknown.
Democratic leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, has publicly said that Matisse has been exempted from taking office and that such exceptions should not be allowed again and again in a generation.
Another opposition pointed to Austin’s business activities after retirement, fearing that he might be influenced by interested groups when he became defense minister.
According to the analysis of the U.S. media, Austin’s military experience is mainly in the Middle East, and his nomination may indicate that the Biden administration’s military strategic focus will be on the Middle East. Austin is not familiar with the Asia-Pacific region, which allows him to deal with Asia-Pacific affairs more objectively.
Austin, the person concerned, has always looked flat and silent about the overwhelming voices of support, opposition, speculation and prediction. He quickly accepted Biden’s invitation to “go out of the mountain”, but refused to comment through the spokesman, maintaining a free-go attitude and waiting for the final arrangement.