Biden names African-American General Charles Brown to head U.S. Armed Forces

His tandem with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin means that for the first time the Pentagon will have an all African-American leadership, if the Senate confirms the nomination

Gen. Charles Q Brown, head of the U.S. Air Force, is President Joe Biden’s pick to be the nation’s top military commander. If confirmed by the Senate, the pilot will be the first black chief of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff since Colin Powell held that position three decades ago. The tandem of Brown and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin would mean that for the first time in history the Pentagon will have an all African-American leadership at its helm.

The former pilot will fill the position vacated by General Mark Milley, who will move to the reserves in September. The candidate for the military leadership “has a unique knowledge of our operations and areas of operation, and a strategic vision for understanding how to work together to ensure the security of Americans,” Biden said when introducing Brown at an event on the White House lawn.

The military man, nicknamed “CQ” among his acquaintances, has an impeccable record of service. His extensive experience includes, before heading the Air Force General Staff, command of U.S. air power in the Pacific, an area of great geostrategic interest for Washington and where the rivalry between the United States and China is at its most intense. He has also been stationed in Europe and the Middle East.

As the highest-ranking military officer in the military hierarchy, Brown’s duties will include advising Biden on everything from the war in Ukraine to the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific region. His experience in that area, where he has seen firsthand the extensive modernization of Beijing’s military force, is seen as particularly valuable in the eyes of the White House.

“In managing, and responding to, China’s territorial and geopolitical aspirations is where General Brown’s appointment can truly shape the future of U.S. Defense,” asserts Thom Shanker of the think-tank Atlantic Council. “In any complicated approach involving the South China Sea or any attempt to wrest territory from Taiwan…General Brown offers a whole range of fundamental and widely deployed skills.”

Brown’s proposal is also intended to send a message in divided U.S. domestic politics, with Republican Party representatives accusing military commanders of excessive progressive leanings. A senator of that party, Tom Tuberville of Alabama, has been blocking since February all nominations of military commanders proposed by the Biden Administration. The legislator believes that the military uses funds from its budget to improperly finance the travel of its female soldiers who need them to undergo an abortion.

Where Milley has been an extroverted, history-loving military man who has never shied away from public speaking or spared his time to explain the links between current situations and their relationship to past events – his wife has once asked him, after a lengthy talk of his own, if he had “used all the words he knew” – Brown defines himself as an introvert.

According to Thom, the selection of the African-American military officer to command the U.S. forces “will be welcomed, correctly, as a milestone in shaping the image that our Armed Forces present to the world, and to themselves, in the years to come”. The expert recalls that, although about 40% of active U.S. soldiers are non-white, “very often the most prestigious leadership positions have gone to whites”.

Despite his professed laconism, Brown himself has spoken eloquently about this situation and his personal experience. During the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020, he recounted in a video the discrimination he had suffered throughout his life, including in the military. The video, released while his confirmation as head of the Air Force was still pending, went viral, especially among U.S. troops.

“I think of the protests in my country (…), the equality expressed in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that I have sworn to support and defend throughout my adult life. I think of a history of racial issues and my own experiences, which did not always brim with freedom and equality,” he explained in that video after a massive outrage erupted following the death of George Floyd, an African-American citizen, who was choked to death by police officers in Minneapolis.

In his own case, he “was the only African American in my squadron and, as a senior officer, the only African American in the room,” he recalled at the time. Brown also recalled how he had to “work twice as hard” as his white peers “to prove that the expectations and perceptions (by his superiors and his comrades) about African-Americans were baseless.”

Brown is also an advocate of the need for changes in the Air Force and, by extension, the entire U.S. military to strengthen its capabilities and respond to modernization by its rivals. In 2020 he published a strategic memorandum under the title “Accelerate Change or Lose,” in which he warns against complacency and the idea that U.S. air superiority is guaranteed in the event of a conflict.

In the document, the general “stresses that U.S. adversaries are actively developing their own capabilities to respond directly and to reverse supposed U.S. strengths,” recalls Delharty Manson, also of the Atlantic Council. “He is always thinking about the theater of operations of the future.”

Categorized in: