Biden’s pick to lead Pentagon faces questions about whether he’s right for the job

President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to lead the Pentagon is already facing critics, who question his judgment while he served as the top US commander in the Middle East, an issue that could complicate Gen. Lloyd Austin‘s path to confirmation.

Biden has called Austin “the person we need in this moment,” and other retired four-star generals have praised the “superb choice,” but critics are asking if the former battlefield commander has the political chops to fight military budget cuts.

They are debating Austin’s suitability for a role on the world stage and wonder whether his experience equips him to confront an increasingly assertive China, develop new tools in cyber warfare and other realms, and reassure allies skittish about US reliability.

All those questions are expected to make the decorated 40-year Army veteran’s confirmation hearing a challenge. Austin will likely have to contend with these doubts even before then, as he meets with lawmakers next week and the Biden team pushes reluctant members of Congress to grant a waiver for the recently retired general to serve in the civilian leadership post.

‘The theater of war’

Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday, Austin said he understands “the important role of the Department of Defense and the role that it plays in maintaining stability and deterring aggression and defending and supporting critical alliances around the world.”

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell offered a ringing endorsement of the 67-year-old nominee.

Biden “is making a superb choice in selecting General Lloyd Austin to be the next Secretary of Defense,” Powell said in a statement, adding that he had mentored Austin during his…