Here is the awkward fact: Historically, appointing a retired four-star general or admiral to the post of secretary of Defense has been a sign of weakness—almost a vote of no confidence in the rest of the administration’s civilian team. Truman needed Marshall because his presidency was in trouble, his two prior civilian secretaries of Defense had failed miserably, he was fighting a losing war in Korea run by a powerful general who was more popular than he—indeed, who was one of his most potent political rivals. Trump needed Mattis because he was manifestly unprepared to be commander in Chief and had only a weak pool of national security talent on his team.
None of those conditions apply today, so it is odd that Biden went in this direction.
Regardless, at this point, the onus lands on Austin to repair the potential damage to the tradition of civilian control. Here are three things he can do.
First, he should make it clear that he understands his role to be the civilian.