The president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden, made official on Wednesday his selection to lead the Pentagon from January, a nominee that has caused discomfort among Democrats in Congress because does not fit the legal parameters to hold that position.
The nomination of retired General Lloyd Austin is so historic – it would be the First African American Secretary of Defense – as controversial, and Biden’s party did not receive it with all the enthusiasm that the president-elect expected.
“He’s the right person for this job, at the right time,” Biden said at the Austin nomination event in Wilmington, Delaware.
The core of the controversy is in an American law enacted in 1947 and amended in 2008, according to which they have to pass at least seven years for the retired military to occupy the post of Secretary of Defense.
Austin just wears four years as a civilian, so to join Biden’s cabinet, he would need not only the approval of the Senate, but the approval of an exception by both houses of Congress that allows you to circumvent the law.
“I would not ask for this exception if I did not believe that this moment in history demands it,” said the president-elect.
Both Biden and Austin, who accompanied him at the event, expressed their respect for the principle that the Pentagon must be run by civilians, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff is made up of soldiers who also advise the president.
“I come into this role as a civilian leader, of course with military experience, but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the wisdom that our Armed Forces must be controlled by civilians,” said Austin, 67.
The presentation ceremony was, first and foremost, an argument in favor of granting that exception to Austin, despite the fact that that pass has only been granted to two Defense incumbents since the middle of the last century.
The last to receive it was James Mattis, the first Secretary of Defense of the Government of the current president, Donald Trump, in 2017, and for many legislators, Getting around that legal requirement twice in four years is too much to ask.
“I will not support the exception” for Austin, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said Wednesday.
At least three other Democratic senators – Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal and Jon Tester – have also expressed their refusal to endorse an exception for the Biden nominee, arguing that Nor did they do it for Mattis and it would not be coherent to change positions now.
Seventeen senators from both parties voted against the exception for Mattis in 2017, while the Lower House were 151 congressmen those who opposed, without preventing it from finally being granted.
Democrats will have a narrow majority in the Lower House, and although they could control the Senate if they win two seats that are at stake in the state of Georgia, that possible minority would be tiny, with half of the House in Republican hands.
However, it is not yet clear how far opposition will go to the exception for Austin, and Biden may be leaning on the opposition party to get it done.
Doubts about your experience
In addition to his recent incorporation into civilian life, the nominee by Biden has raised doubts by the fact that most of his experience as a high-ranking military man focuses in the Middle East, although he has held minor positions in Europe.
At a time when the Pentagon thinks more and more about relations with China, Russia And in new challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the climate crisis, some experts, mostly Republicans, have expressed concern about Austin’s profile.
Perhaps that is why both Biden and Austin made “rebuilding” of traditional alliances Americans in Europe, Asia and the Pacific, not to mention the Middle East.
But Austin’s experience as head of Central Command, in charge of Middle East operations, would certainly be helpful in deciding what to do next. countries where the United States still has troops deployed, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Against the “eternal wars”
“We have to end the eternal wars, and make sure that the use of force is the last tool we can turn to, “Biden stressed.
When Biden comes to power in January – and if Trump follows through on his withdrawal plans – there will hardly be any 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 2,500 more in Iraq, and the new president will have to decide how he manages that smaller contingent.
According to the newspaper The Washington Post, the main reason Biden has chosen Austin is the tendency of that retired general to implement orders rather than trying to impose your own priorities.
That profile would make way for a greater power of the White House, and other members of Biden’s team such as his national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his nominee as secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to design defense policy and next steps in countries like Afghanistan.