Biden To Visit Pentagon Amid Worries About Racism, Extremism

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

Joe Biden will make his first visit as president to the Pentagon Wednesday as the US military seeks to address far-right extremism and racism among its troops.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will cross the Potomac River to the iconic seat of the Department of Defense in the early afternoon where they will be greeted by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and top generals and civilian officials, the White House said.

US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris during her swear-in as the 49th US Vice President by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / POOL / AFP)

 

Austin, a retired general and former US Middle East commander, is the first African American to hold the position.

He has set his priorities on combatting Covid-19 in the US forces to preserve readiness, on supporting Biden’s national 100-day plan to get the virus under control, and to root out racism and related extremism in the more than two million uniformed service members.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

Issues of racism and extremism have always challenged the force, but came to the fore after hundreds of extremist supporters of former president Donald Trump, some of them embracing white supremacy ideology, stormed the US Capitol on January 6.

Biden has set a theme for his administration of advancing greater opportunities for minorities across the entire government.

To make the point, Biden will visit a Pentagon exhibit portraying the history of African Americans in the military.

The visit could also set the tone for the US defense stance as Biden reviews Trump’s push to remove nearly all US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan after nearly two decades of war.

On Tuesday Defense Department Spokesman John Kirby said the two aims of Biden’s visit were to talk to senior leaders on foreign and defense policy and then to address the huge Pentagon workforce.

AFP

US Senate Confirms Lloyd Austin As First Black Chief Of Pentagon

(FILES) US President-elect Joe Biden has chosen retired General Lloyd Austin to head his Defence Department, US media reported on December 7, 2020. 
Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

The US Senate confirmed retired general Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense Friday, the second cabinet nominee of new President Joe Biden to gain approval, and the first African American to lead the Pentagon.

Austin sailed through with overwhelming support from both Biden’s Democrats and opposition Republicans, who voted 93-2 in his favor.

The retired four-star general will be the first African American to lead the Department of Defense, and takes on the job as the Pentagon sees the need for greater efforts to root out racism in the ranks and give more opportunities for leadership positions to minorities.

Biden picked Austin, and the Senate endorsed him, despite a law that says the US military must be led by a civilian or, if a former military official, someone who has been out of the service at least seven years.

The requirement is to ensure civilian control of the military,

That meant both houses of Congress had to grant a waiver for Austin, who retired in 2016.

Biden chose a former officer he knew well from when he was vice president in the administration of Barack Obama.

Austin, a West Point graduate who served four decades in the military, was commander of US forces in Iraq and then head of the US Central Command covering the Middle East, from 2010 to 2016.

The two bonded because Austin was friendly with Biden’s late son when both were serving in Iraq.

Biden called him “uniquely qualified to take on the challenges and crises we face in the current moment” when announcing the nomination in December.

Austin, known to be media-shy and not particularly politically savvy, tweeted a statement quickly after gaining Senate approval.

“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,” he wrote.

“Let’s get to work.”

– Key threats: China, extremism –
He honed in on two urgent issues facing the US military in his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

He singled out China as the country’s most potent adversary.

Under his leadership, the Pentagon would “make sure that we are prepared to meet any challenge and that we continue to present a credible deterrent to China or any other aggressor who would want to take us on, and convince them that would be a really bad idea,” he said.

He also pledged to tackle extremists in the forces, after some members of the military took part in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump.

“The activity that we’ve seen recently in terms of potential racists or extremist behavior within our ranks is in my view absolutely unacceptable,” Austin said.

“The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks,” he added.