According to all accounts, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the choice of President-elect Joe Biden to head the U.S. Department of Defense, is eminently suited to be defence secretary. A man who attained the rank of four-star general and flourished throughout his 40-year career at every stage, Austin showed bravery and courage for nearly half a century while serving the country.
Ironically, however, Austin’s lengthy military career in his confirmation process has provided a stumbling point. The legislation allows a member of the military to be out of uniform for at least seven years before the civilian position of defence secretary is assumed.
Just over four years ago, Austin left the Army, leaving him theoretically ineligible for the post. In order to confirm him, Congress will have to suspend the waiting period, which it has only done twice since 1947, most recently in 2017.
The nomination for Austin is historic. He will be the first African American to lead the military establishment of the country, a step towards broadening the overwhelmingly white male leadership ranks of the Pentagon.
But the fact that the vast military experience of Austin clouds his prospects begs the question of why in the first place, the seven-year delay persists.