U.S. President-elect Biden confirmed on December 8th local time that he would nominate 67-year-old retired four-star Army General Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense. If the nomination can be approved by Congress, Austin will become the first African-American defense minister in the United States.
As soon as the news came out, almost everyone was shocked – first, Biden did not nominate Michelle Flunois, the popular candidate who had been “bet” by all sides before; second, the celebrity he finally belonged to, was also controversial in itself. And it is these disputes that lead to multiple obstacles and even legal risks that Biden’s nomination plan may face.
Judging from the resume, Austin can be said to be a talent who has grown up from the front line and grassroots. Austin, who graduated from West Point in 1975, has led military operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other places, and has rich practical experience.
From 2008 to 2012, he served as the commander of the multinational force in Iraq and the commander of the U.S. military in Iraq. Promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army in 2012, and a year later, he served as the commander of the U.S. Central Command, commanding U.S. military operations throughout the Middle East until his retirement in 2016. After retiring, he joined the military industry and was on the board of directors of Raytheon, one of the largest contractors in the Pentagon.
What surprised the American media and politics most was Austin’s “retirement” identity. Because according to the current law of the United States, soldiers can only serve as Secretary of Defense after more than seven years of retirement, and Austin can only serve as Secretary of Defense after four years of retirement.
They need to go through a special exemption voting procedure in Congress to become Secretary of Defense. This exemption has historically only happened to two people – George Marshall, who proposed a European revival plan after World War II, and Mattis, who was nominated by Trump.
Not only some Republicans opposed Biden’s decision, but also some of his Democratic colleagues. For example, Democratic Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Military Committee, said that Mattis was confirmed as an exception, and that this situation “should not be more than once in a generation”.
But Biden is obviously also very clear about the legal obstacles to the nomination of Austin. He wrote in the Atlantic on the 8th to urge Congress to grant Austin immunity.
Biden said that Congress should quickly confirm Austin’s nomination given the huge and urgent threats and challenges facing the United States. He said in the article that Austin’s experience leading the withdrawal of 150,000 troops from Iraq helped the military distribute the coronavirus vaccine.
Why does Biden take the risk of “breaking the law” and insist on nominating Austin? According to the analysis of the U.S. media, there are several reasons: Austin has experienced the trials of war and the test of crisis and is widely respected in the military; Biden worked with Austin on U.S. military operations in the Middle East when he was vice president, and had a harmonious relationship with similar views on many military policies, and Biden trusted him; Austin Biden appreciates the loyalty to implementing White House decisions in his past military careers, even if there are different opinions; some black leaders have urged Biden to appoint more African-Americans to key cabinet positions, and he has promised to bring more minorities to the top of the government during his campaign, and he is under pressure to fulfill his promise.
In addition to the insufficient number of years of retirement, Austin’s nomination has triggered another controversy: it is not the best choice to lead the Department of Defense to meet the “China Challenge” by many American politicians.
This can be confirmed from public information. Due to his low-key behavior, rarely attends public events such as press conferences or seminars, has not written books, and has not expressed tough policy positions on platforms such as think tanks. At present, Austin’s attitude towards China is not clear. This low-key style also makes his views on policy issues outside the Middle East a mystery.
Moreover, Austin has never held a senior position in the Pacific region and is from the army, which has led many political and academics in the United States to doubt his ability to deal with possible future military conflicts with China. Many American observers believe that in future conflicts, the navy will almost certainly play a more important role than the army. Former U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee member Eric Sayers said Biden’s choice showed a lack of seriousness in his approach to the “China challenge.”
Former top candidate for defense, Michelle Flunoir, is in sharp contrast to Austin. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense, Flunoir is the co-founder of the National Security Center, a national security think tank, and often testifies in the United States Congress on how to deal with China’s “security challenges” and sends various discussions.
Words. For example, in June, she said: “If the U.S. military has the ability to sink all Chinese warships, submarines and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours, Beijing may think twice before blocking or invading Taiwan.”
Some heavyweights in the U.S. Congress are disappointed that Biden will not nominate Flunoir. “Flunois is competent as a defense minister, and she has a keen eye on China issues,” tweeted Michael Waltz, a Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
While Austin has not spoken publicly about how he will respond to China, he has said that building coalitions are essential for military action, as Biden’s emphasis on strengthening his ties with allies to address potential conflicts with Russia and China.
In fact, China does not care who is the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Because whoever heads the Pentagon will not affect the military policy of the United States towards China and the Asia-Pacific region, not to mention that the military policy of the United States is not up to the defense minister, but by the national security team of the White House.
It is widely believed that under Biden’s leadership, the United States will continue to increase its “sense of presence” in the Asia-Pacific region, and will also attract allies to deal with the so-called “China threat”.
In this regard, China has a very clear understanding. Of course, it will not place its national security on someone else. Whoever heads the Pentagon will not affect the determination of the Chinese army to firmly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.