Washington, Jan 22 (efe-epa).- Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin has become the United States’ first African-American defense secretary after the Senate confirmed him on Friday by an overwhelming margin.
Austin is the second person to officially join newly inaugurated President Joe Biden’s Cabinet after Avril Haines, who became the first woman to lead the intelligence community when she was confirmed as new director of national intelligence on Wednesday.
In the historic 93-2 vote, Austin received the unanimous backing of Democrats and was approved by all but two Republicans: Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th Secretary of Defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position. Let’s get to work,” he wrote Friday on Twitter.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this week before the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Austin said the focus of US troop deployments globally should be Asia and that China poses “our most significant challenge going forward.”
The 67-year-old retired four-star Army general and erstwhile commander of the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of South Asia, described Iran as a “destabilizing force” in the Middle East and said of the war in Afghanistan that he would like to see that conflict end with a negotiated settlement.
“We’re going to make every effort that we can to ensure that that happens,” he said in reference to a nearly two-decade-old conflict that is the longest war in US history.
Austin, who retired from the Army in March 2016 after 41 years of service, needed a congressional waiver before being confirmed because of a requirement intended to uphold the tradition of civilian control of the military.
That waiver, which was necessary because Austin entered civilian life less than seven years ago, was approved on Thursday with a 326-78 vote in the House of Representatives and a 69-27 vote in the Senate.
Former President Donald Trump’s first pick to head the Pentagon, retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis, required that same waiver before he was confirmed in 2017.
In a farewell address on Tuesday, Trump said he was “especially proud to be the first president in decades who has started no new wars.”
Trump’s record in the defense area was notable for a drawdown of troops in different theaters of operation such as Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Military spending as a share of gross domestic product remained virtually unchanged at around 3.4 percent during the Republican’s term in office, after having trended downward during the tenure of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. EFE-EPA