Van Hipp: Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin would be outstanding defense secretary in Biden administration

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President-elect Joe Biden has made a wise choice in nominating retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to head the Defense Department.

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President-elect Joe Biden has made a wise choice in nominating retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to head the Defense Department.

Austin has the background and the right mix of life experiences to enable him to be one of our best secretaries of defense. I hope the House and Senate swiftly approve a waiver to allow him to serve in the post (necessary because he retired from the Army less than seven years ago) and I hope the Senate goes on to confirm his nomination.

Our next secretary of defense will face a challenging national security landscape: China, North Korea, Iran, Russia and cyberwar, to just to name just a few of the challenges.

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There are also complex challenges facing our military community domestically, such as the alarming suicide rate among our service members. As vice chief of staff of the Army, Austin got personally involved in looking for solutions to the suicide epidemic. I believe he will once again lead on this issue and, just as he did before, seek to tackle this problem head-on.

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As a former Army officer and deputy assistant secretary of the Army for President George H.W. Bush, I believe that our best secretaries of defense have been those who have worn the uniform at some point in their career. It gives the secretary an appreciation of military culture. It also ensures that the secretary grasps what a young recruit is going through in basic training, and later when he or she is deployed and has left family members behind who depend on our military health system.

I also believe that when a person like Lloyd Austin has actually led our troops in combat he is much more likely to advocate committing U.S. troops only when there is a real American national security interest at stake and a clearly defined mission.

Austin has a sterling reputation among current and former military leaders.

You can tell a lot about a man and a leader by how he treats his people, and by what those who have worked for him have to say. I have friends who have worked for Austin and they are pulling for him to be confirmed as our next secretary of defense because they know what his leadership will bring to the Pentagon.

"Look out for Lloyd Austin — he gets it and is the real deal," the late Army Maj. Gen. "Sandy" Davidson told me back in 2006.

Gen. Lloyd Austin in 2015. Now retired from the Army, he has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to become secretary of defense. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Gen. Lloyd Austin in 2015. Now retired from the Army, he has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to become secretary of defense. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Davidson was one of our best minds in the use of civil affairs and psychological operations to counter and delegitimize terrorist organizations with their own people. He was also a good friend and someone I trusted on all military matters.

Davidson was a big fan of Austin, who he worked for and who later went on to command U.S. Forces-Iraq and later serve as commander of the military’s Central Command.

Davidson introduced me to Austin at CENTCOM Headquarters. I have followed Austin’s career ever since and I’ve also been a fan.

In my book, "The New Terrorism: How to Fight it and Defeat It," I tell the story of how Austin advised civilian leadership in 2010 to leave a small residual force in Iraq to prevent a terrorist resurgence, rather than withdrawing U.S. troops from the country entirely.

As I wrote of Austin: "If we had listened to him, I firmly believe ISIS, whose predecessor organization had largely been destroyed, would never have taken hold in Iraq — it would have been delegitimized from the start."

Importantly, Austin didn’t run to the media when civilian leadership turned down his plan to ensure ISIS wouldn’t take hold in Iraq. Instead, he saluted and carried out his mission, even though our civilian leadership was wrong.

This incident shows that Austin understands the principle of civilian control of our military and that he deserves the congressional waiver he needs under the National Security Act of 1947 to serve as defense secretary only five years (rather than the required seven) after his Army retirement.

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Some in Congress, along with some policy analysts, have argued against granting a waiver, saying that to ensure civilian leadership of the Defense Department, the required seven years of separation from military service must be maintained for the secretary.

 The seven-year separation from the military requirement is designed to ensure that a retired general won’t seek guidance just from former military colleagues, but will understand the role that the civilian community, through industry and academia, plays in our nation’s defense.

Austin understands this. He has been engaged in the civilian community, has his own business, and serves on the board of Auburn University, which boasts a strong cybersecurity program and open-source intelligence lab.

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Lloyd Austin has come a long way from his birth in 1953 in Mobile, Ala., and his childhood growing up in Thomasville, Ga. He turned down an academic scholarship to the University of Notre Dame in order to go to West Point and has been serving his country ever since. While serving in the Army he earned two master’s degrees.  

Austin is a quiet man who leads and a humble man who inspires confidence. He is the right person to resume service to our country by heading the Defense Department. Gen. Davidson was right when told me that Austin "gets it and is the real deal."

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  • Van Hipp: Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin would be outstanding defense secretary in Biden administration photo


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