Joe Biden will nominate retired four-star Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin to be secretary of defense, according to four people familiar with the decision. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black leader of the Pentagon.
The impending nomination of Austin was confirmed by four people with knowledge of the pick who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the selection hadn’t been formally announced. Biden offered and Austin accepted the post on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the process.
As a career military officer, the 67-year-old Austin is likely to face opposition from some in Congress and in the defense establishment who believe in drawing a clear line between civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon. Although many previous defense secretaries have served briefly in the military, only two — George C. Marshall and James Mattis — have been career officers. Marshall also served as secretary of state.
Like Mattis, Austin would need to obtain a congressional waiver to serve as defense secretary. Congress intended civilian control of the military when it created the position of secretary of defense in 1947 and prohibited a recently retired military officer from holding the position.
Austin is a 1975 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and has served 41 years in uniform.
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.
Among Austin’s wide range of military assignments, in 2009-2010 he ran the joint staff during a portion of Navy Adm. Mike Mullen’s term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen had high praise for Austin.
“Should President-elect Biden tap him for the job, Lloyd will make a superb secretary of defense,” Mullen said in a statement late Monday night. “He knows firsthand the complex missions our men and women in uniform conduct around the world. He puts a premium on alliances and partnerships. He respects the need for robust and healthy civil-military relations. And he leads inclusively, calmly and confidently.”
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 has a reputation for strong leadership, integrity and a sharp intellect. He earned the admiration of the Obama administration for his work in Iraq and at Central Command, although he disagreed with Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq entirely in December 2011.
Austin was involved in the Iraq War from start to finish. He served as an assistant commander of the 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and oversaw the withdrawal in 2011. When Austin retired in 2016, Obama praised his “character and competence,” as well as his judgment and leadership.
One person familiar with the matter said Biden was drawn to Austin’s oversight of the Iraq pull-out, especially given the military’s upcoming role in supporting the distribution of the coronavirus vaccines.