Biden’s choice to head the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, focused his opening statement on his status as a recently retired Army general, which would disqualify him from being secretary of defense without a congressional waiver of a law that prohibits a military officer from holding the job within seven years of leaving the service.
Watch Austin’s remarks in the player above.
Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin, who served 41 years in the Army, vowed to surround himself with qualified civilians and include them in policy decisions. He said he has spent nearly his entire life committed to the principle of civilian control over the military.
“I know that being a member of the president’s Cabinet — a political appointee — requires a different perspective and unique duties from a career in uniform,” Austin said. “I would not be here, asking for your support, if I felt I was unable or unwilling to question people with whom I once served and operations I once led, or too afraid to speak my mind to you or to the president.”
Austin said he understands why some have questioned the wisdom of putting a recently retired general in charge of the Defense Department.
“The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” he said.
Austin pledged that the Pentagon will “work hand-in-glove” with the State Department, supporting the work of diplomats. Like Blinken, Austin said he views China as the leading international issue facing Biden’s national security team.
Putting his national security team in place quickly is a high priority for Biden, not only because of his hopes for reversing or modifying Trump administration policy shifts but also because of diplomatic, military and intelligence problems around the world that may create challenges early in his tenure.