Lloyd Austin, a general with a brilliant 41-year career in the Army, has been confirmed by the Senate as the new Secretary of Defense. He will be the first African-American to head the Pentagon in US history.
The confirmation in the upper house of Austin, by 93 votes to 2, is the second of Joe Biden’s Cabinet, after the same Wednesday, when he assumed the presidency, Avril Haines became the first woman to lead the National Intelligence . With the arrival of Austin, who led the Army Central Command until his retirement in 2016, the new president seeks to bring stability to the Pentagon, which during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency had two leaders confirmed by the Senate and four interim.
Austin’s appointment had the complication that, having served in the Army until 2016, he needed a special authorization to circumvent the prohibition of accessing the position to people who have served in the Army in the last seven years. Both houses of Congress approved the authorization on Thursday. This is the third time in history that such an authorization has been granted, after those that allowed George Marshall to lead the Pentagon during the Korean War in 1950, and more recently Jim Mattis, Trump’s first defense secretary.
The speed of Austin’s confirmation underscores the conviction in both parties in Congress that consolidation of leadership in the Pentagon is urgently needed. Softening the suspicions of those legislators who are suspicious that, contrary to custom, it is a military profile that runs the Department of Defense, Austin and the entire Biden team have made it clear that they are in favor of civilian control. Only two Republican senators have voted against it.
Austin is a four-star general. He was Chief of Staff of the United States Central Command between 2005 and 2006, and led US and coalition forces in the Iraq war from February 2008 to April 2009. It was in those years that Biden was vice president, when Austin and the current president began to have a relationship.
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