World

Pentagon pick sparks row over military background

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday formally named Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general, to lead the department of defence. His choice drew immediate opposition on Capitol Hill for breaking with tradition and putting a former military commander at the head of the agency, a position typically filled by a civilian.
The move will require a congressional waiver for General Austin, who retired in 2016, short of the requirement that any military veteran be retired from active duty for at least seven years before leading the defence department. Civilian control of the military has been a priority in the country since the nation’s founding.
Austin, speaking after Biden introduced him as his nominee, said he understands the need for civilian control of the military and sees himself as a civilian, not as a general. On becoming the first black leader of Pentagon, he said he’s aware of the historical moment that would come with his confirmation from the Senate, and credited black pioneers for “paving the way for him”.
Rejecting a waiver for such a historic nominee could be tricky for lawmakers, especially those who approved a similar measure for Trump’s first defence secretary, Jim Mattis. But many lawmakers, including Democrats, said they do not want the practice enshrined into US’ political life.

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