GENERAL Lloyd Austin has become the first ever black US defence secretary after the senate confirmed his appointment today after granting him a waiver for not having retired for at least seven years before taking office.
Under the US constitution, military officers have to have retired for at least seven years before taking up office to give them time to change their mindsets from that of soldiers. However, the senate can waive this rule under special circumstances and after this waiver was granted, General Austin was confirmed in a near-unanimous 93-2 vote today.
With his confirmation, General Austin, 67, becomes just the third Pentagon chief to serve after receiving a waiver. He joins George Marshall, a retired army general nominated in 1950 by President Harry Truman and retired Marine general Jim Mattis, former President Donald Trump’s first defence secretary appointed in 2017.
Serving for more than 40 years in the US Army, General Austin headed US Central Command, the Pentagon’s key department leading military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. He also served as commander of the theatre from 2013 to 2016, making him the first black general to hold that post.
There had been question marks about whether it was expedient to grant a waiver so lightly as there are only really supposed to be used in cases of emergencies. However, following the January 6 invasion of the Congress building, both houses of parliament decided that having a defence secretary in place was an urgent matter that should supercede all other consideration.
General Austin said: “I will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended. The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil.”
He promised to surround himself with experienced, capable civilian leaders and to hire a chief of staff who will not be a military person. General Austin is the second of President Joe Biden’s nominees to be confirmed after Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence received confirmation yesterday.