Joe Biden has chosen retired general Lloyd Austin to head his Defence Department, amid pressure on the US president-elect to nominate more minorities for positions in his cabinet.
Austin, an African American, is a veteran of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He led US troops into Baghdad in 2003 and was the highest-ranking soldier during operations in Iraq under Barack Obama.
As head of the Pentagon, Austin, 67, would take responsibility for the 1.2 million active service members, of whom about 16% are black.
Black people serve disproportionately in the lower ranks, and few have achieved high command positions.
Austin faces several challenges: first is the rule that the position should only be filled by a civilian or a military officer retired for a minimum of seven years. He retired in 2016 so would require a special waiver from the Senate to allow him to serve as the Pentagon chief.
It was President Donald Trump who appointed a military man, Jim Mattis, for the first time in modern history.
“Austin shouldn’t be considered for the same reason that Mattis shouldn’t have been,” said Congressman Justin Amash.
Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor formerly with the Department of Defence, commented, “Nothing but respect for Lloyd Austin but picking another four-star general so recently retired that he needs a congressional waiver sends a terrible message.”
The feeling in Washington is that most white Americans voted for Trump. Without the overwhelming support of black voters and Latinos in particular, Biden would have lost out to the president.
Activists representing minority groups are therefore demanding that he choose a varied cabinet in terms of racial origins and gender.
In response, Biden is gathering a diverse cabinet around him. In addition to the first female vice-Biden strives for diversity as he chooses black ex-general as Pentagon bosspresident, who is also the first black and half-Asian “VP”, he is appointing two Latinos to the important posts of Homeland Security and Health, and a black woman as UN ambassador.