Since the news broke that Joe Biden selected retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to run the Pentagon there has been pushback in Congress over the choice.
US law mandates that a secretary of defense must not have served in the military for at least seven years. Since Austin retired from the Army in 2016, he must be granted a waiver by Congress to take the position.
US lawmakers are reluctant to sign off on a waiver since it would be the second time in four years. Jim Mattis was given a waiver in 2017. Mattis was the first retired general to be granted such a waiver since George Marshall in 1950. Biden addressed the controversy on Wednesday and stood by his choice.
“I believe in the importance of civilian control of the military,” Biden said. “So does the secretary-designee Austin. He’ll be bolstered by a strong and empowered civilian sector.”
Another concern with Austin is his ties to the arms industry. Austin sits on the board of Raytheon, one of the top US defense contractors. Raytheon filings show, as of October, Austin owned $500,000 in Raytheon stock. In 2019, Austin received $351,183 in total compensation as a member of Raytheon’s board of directors.
Despite Austin’s clear conflict of interest with his employer relying on US arms sales, Congress seems more concerned with the waiver, and Biden was not asked about the Raytheon connection. Biden also defended Austin’s record as a military commander and credited him with “crushing” ISIS.
Austin served as the head of US Central Command from 2013 to 2016, overseeing US operations in Iraq and Syria. Austin oversaw a failed policy to train Syrian fighters to fight ISIS. After the US funneled $500 million into Syria to train these fighters, Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015 that only “four or five” stuck around to fight ISIS.