President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate retired four-star Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as secretary of defense. If confirmed, he’ll be the first Black Pentagon chief, Politico reported.
Austin retired in 2016 as the chief of U.S. Central Command, overseeing military operations in the Middle East. He led the U.S. military intervention to stop the rise of the Islamic State
After 41 years of service, Austin joined the board of directors of weapons manufacturer Raytheon Technologies, one of the largest U.S. defense contractors. His appointment is a potential problem for progressive lawmakers who have raised concerns over appointing a defense secretary with ties to industry.
Here are five things you need to know about Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s pick to lead the Pentagon.
1.Possible conflict of interest
“The person Biden has reportedly picked to lead the Department of Defense is on the board of Raytheon, a key supplier of bombs to the U.S.-Saudi war in Yemen that has lobbied aggressively in opposition to curbs on arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition,” tweeted In These Times reporter Sarah Lazare.
In addition to Raytheon, Austin is also on the board of Nucor, the largest American steel producer, and the board of health care company Tenet, Politico reported. He is a trustee of the philanthropic foundation the Carnegie Corporation of New York. He also has his own consulting firm, Austin Strategy Group, LLC in Great Falls, Va.
Austin’s role on the Raytheon board is not just a “side issue” given the company’s stake in ongoing overseas conflicts, said Jon Rainwater, executive director of advocacy group Peace Action.
“Biden will quickly face calls to block arms sales to the (United Arab Emirates) that include Raytheon missiles,” Rainwater said, according to a Common Dreams report. Congress must question Austin on arms sales during his confirmation hearings, he said.
2.Could be ‘bad news’ for civilian control of the armed forces
For Austin to be confirmed, lawmakers must be willing to support a waiver of a law that mandates any service member must be out of the military for at least seven years before being eligible to serve as defense secretary, Washington Post reported. The law is meant to ensure civilian control of the military. Austin has to receive a congressional waiver to serve as head of the Pentagon.
Civilian control of the military is supposed to put responsibility for the country’s strategic decision-making in the hands of the civilian political leaders rather than professional military officers.
The Trump administration got a similar waiver for retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis to serve as defense secretary.
President-elect Biden has promised to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and end U.S. support for its assault on Yemen, Common Dreams reported.
“Biden’s Defense secretary pick, fmr Gen. Austin, would be the first Black Pentagon chief — and will likely prompt a fight over whether his selection thwarts civilian control of the military,” tweeted Washington Post reported Michelle Ye Hee Lee.
“OH COME ON. A General and Raytheon board? Possibly the worst of all options. Bad news for civilian control and any real distance from the military-industrial- complex,” tweeted Danielle Brian, executive director of watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.
3. Austin is used to breaking barriers
During his 41-year military career, Lloyd Austin was the first Black officer to command an Army division in combat and the first Black officer to oversee an entire theater of war operations, Politico reported.
He also was the commander of the combined forces in Iraq and Syria and commanded troops in combat throughout his command. Awards and decorations include five Defense Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star and the Legion of Merit, aaccordng to his Raytheon bio.
He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and he holds two master’s degrees – one in education from Auburn University and another in business management from Webster University.
4. Raytheon just authorized a share buyback program
The Raytheon board of directors on Monday authorized a $5-billion share buyback program, allowing itself to repurchase the company’s outstanding common stock.
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Stock buybacks often benefit big shareholders the most, and that often means company managers who hold stock options, according to All Business. “When the buyback boosts the stock price, often temporarily, that rise may help the stock hit a target price the managers need to exercise their options. The managers can then quickly resell their stock and pocket their profits. So company management is enriched, while the company’s research and development, marketing, hiring, and other departments are impoverished by the move.”
Buyback can also help distract investors from the fact that excessive stock handouts are taking place, according to All Business.
5. Late Sen. John McCain was a critic of Austin’s record on fighting ISIS
In 2015, then-Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Gen. Lloyd Austin that operations in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were an “abject failure.” At the time, militants had seized control of Mosul and other major Iraqui cities and refugees were fleeing Syria.
The U.S. government spent $500 million-plus as part of a plan to train more than 5,000 moderate Syrian fighters. Austin was forced to acknowledge at the hearing that only four or five Syrian fighters had actually graduated from the train-and-equip effort.
“General, what you’re telling us is that everything is fine as we see hundreds of thousands of refugees leave and flood Europe,” McCain said. “I’ve never seen a hearing that is as divorced from the reality of every outside expert and what you are saying.”