Biden’s Pick for Secretary of Defense

Robert Brooks Contributor
Biden’s Pick for Secretary of Defense
Read Time: approx. 3:16

This is the top story from our daily newsletter published on December 11, 2020. To have this and more delivered directly to your inbox scroll down and enter your email or click here to sign up. Photo Credit: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III (right) meeting outside Baghdad, Iraq, on Sept. 11, 2007. DoD photo by Spc. Nicholas A. Hernandez U.S. Army.

Top story from Axios’ news team: “President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday said he would nominate retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his defense secretary. Austin, a former commander of US Central Command, would be the first Black secretary of defense in American history.” Here’s what both sides are saying about Biden’s pick:

On the Left: Democrats and left-leaning commentators are split. One faction of the party believes Austin is the perfect person for the job. The other cohort is unsupportive because they don’t think a retired general should be secretary of defense. For example, in an op-ed for The Atlantic, Joe Biden (or someone on his team) wrote that Austin “is a true and tested soldier and leader… He was the 200th person ever to attain the rank of an Army four-star general, but only the sixth African American. He was the first African American general officer to lead an Army corps in combat and the first African American to command an entire theater of war.” Biden believes Austin is capable of “quarterbacking an enormous logistics operation to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines widely and equitably, ensuring the well-being and resilience of our service members and their families, and making sure that our armed forces reflect and promote the full diversity of our nation.” Fred Kaplan of Slate, on the other hand, writes that “Lloyd Austin is the wrong choice.” Kaplan acknowledges that “he’s had an impressive career, and it’s a historic pick,” but “… as a rule, it is a bad idea to make any retired general the secretary of defense, a job expressly created for a civilian.” In addition, Kaplan says Austin “had lapses as the head of Central Command.” For example, when “allotted $500 million to organize a rebel army in Syria, he recruited only 60 fighters, all but a handful of whom fled or were killed at the first flash of combat.” In conclusion, Kaplan says “it’s possible the Senate, including some Democrats, won’t confirm him.” Plus, keep reading with a deep dive from the left: Why Biden’s Pentagon pick is causing so much controversy from Alex Ward of Vox.

On the Right: Republicans and conservative commentators focused less on Austin’s identity and more on his track record. For example, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board notes that “anyone skimming the coverage might believe the most important recommendation is his race. But Senators interested more in substance than identity politics have plenty to think about.” The board commends the 67-year-old retired general for serving “the country well during his four-decade career in the Army.” However, they say while overseeing America’s retreat from Iraq in 2010-2011 he failed “to anticipate the full withdrawal that Barack Obama ordered and prepare adequately, which led to a hasty exit.” The board infers that this led to “the failed program to train Syrian rebels” and the “swift rise of ISIS in 2014.” Although “his spokesman denied it, Gen. Austin reportedly told the White House that ISIS was only ‘a flash in the pan.” Zooming out, the WSJ Ed Board says: “Blame for the Middle Eastern failures of these years sits primarily with Mr. Obama and his team, including Mr. Biden. But Gen. Austin’s role warrants more scrutiny during confirmation hearings.” Keep reading from James Carafano of Fox News who asks: Does Biden pick Lloyd Austin have what it takes to be an outstanding defense secretary?

Flag This: Austin can only be confirmed if both the House and Senate waive the law that prohibits former military officers from becoming defense secretary within seven years of leaving active duty. Austin retired in 2016.  President Trump’s first nominee, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, was in a similar position and was ultimately confirmed, but it was an uphill battle. Austin will face similar pushback, including from Democrats. For example, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a Democratic Senator on the Armed Services Committee stated plainly that he would never support another waiver after Mattis. If there’s anyone to watch, keep an eye on Reed to see if he holds true to his word.