President-elect Joe Biden said he chose retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III as his nominee for defense secretary because of his experience and integrity, calling the retired soldier “the definition of a patriot.”

“[Austin] and I share a commitment to empowering our diplomats and development experts to lead our foreign policy, using force only as our last resort,” Biden wrote in an essay for The Atlantic Tuesday explaining his decision. “The threats we face today are not the same as those we faced 10 or even five years ago. We must prepare to meet the challenges of the future, not keep fighting the wars of the past.

“We must build a foreign policy that leads with diplomacy and revitalizes our alliances, putting American leadership back at the table and rallying the world to meet global threats to our security — from pandemics to climate change, from nuclear proliferation to the refugee crisis.”

Austin, 67, is poised to become the first African-American defense secretary in U.S. history, if the Senate confirms him.

He was a surprise choice given the strong backing in many Democratic circles behind former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy. But Biden wrote in his piece that his past relationship with Austin — especially their work together ending U.S. presence in Iraq while Biden was vice president — gave him confidence in Austin’s leadership.

“He played a crucial role in bringing 150,000 American troops home from the theater of war,” Biden wrote. “Pulling that off took more than just the skill and strategy of a seasoned soldier. It required Austin to practice diplomacy, building relationships with our Iraqi counterparts and with our partners in the region.

“He served as a statesman, representing our country with honor and dignity and always, above all, looking out for his people.”

Austin was only the sixth African-American four-star general in Army history, and Biden praised his “distinguished and trailblazing career” as a factor in his nomination.

And Biden said Austin will need that experience to handle a variety of key national security missions, including distribution of a coronavirus vaccine to facing a variety of overseas military threats.

“The fact is, Austin’s many strengths and his intimate knowledge of the Department of Defense and our government are uniquely matched to the challenges and crises we face,” Biden wrote. “He is the person we need in this moment.”

Biden is expected to hold a press conference with Austin on Wednesday afternoon.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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