For 3 years, President Biden has been simply effective with the personal nature of his media-shy, introverted protection secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III.

However in failing to tell the president that he required surgical procedure for prostate most cancers, and that he later needed to return to the hospital affected by extreme problems, Mr. Austin, 70, has not solely attracted extra consideration to himself than at any level in his lengthy profession. He has additionally drawn scrutiny and criticism to Mr. Biden’s nationwide safety workforce throughout a interval when it’s managing a number of crises all over the world.

Requested about Mr. Austin on Friday, Mr. Biden mentioned he retained confidence in him. However the president gave a pointed, one-syllable answer when requested if it was a lapse in judgment for Mr. Austin to not have knowledgeable him that he had been out of fee at instances in latest weeks. “Sure,” he mentioned.

Your entire incident has uncovered Mr. Austin as that rarest of creatures in Washington: an intensely personal individual in a relentlessly public job.

Mr. Austin, the previous commander of United States Central Command, introduced 40 years of service with him when he took the highest Pentagon job in 2021.

He led women and men within the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and helped devise and put in place the marketing campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. A graduate of West Level, Mr. Austin did what no different Black man had completed earlier than, rising by means of the army to finally lead the nation’s 1.4 million active-duty troops in a civilian position that places him second solely to the president within the chain of command.

However Mr. Austin additionally introduced with him to the job a status for avoiding consideration and exposing as little as doable about himself.

On the Pentagon, staffers usually share the meme of Homer Simpson backing into a hedge and disappearing from view to characterize their boss’s aversion to any limelight. However that reticence, Mr. Austin’s backers say, displays many years of cultural challenges for a Black man who has succeeded within the army by studying to not showcase an excessive amount of of himself.

Mr. Austin has advised associates the story about how simply after graduating from West Level, he did what many younger males coming into their very own do after they get their first few paychecks: He purchased a flashy new automotive. Inside weeks, he was stopped by the cops in Alabama eager to know if the automotive was stolen.

“This entire factor of being a personal individual — you’re not round him very lengthy earlier than you discover that out,” mentioned Consultant James E. Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat who helped Mr. Biden vet Mr. Austin.

However the historical past of Black males who fought in wars abroad solely to return dwelling to discrimination, Mr. Clyburn mentioned, taught many Black army males to imagine they might succeed provided that they confirmed much less of themselves.

Mr. Austin has spoken of getting a white officer to offer his briefings again when he was the commander of the storied 82nd Airborne Division as a result of he figured a white officer was extra prone to be listened to.

Now it’s Mr. Biden who listens to him. The 2 males spoke as not too long ago as Thursday, forward of the strikes carried out by United States and allied forces in opposition to the Houthi militia in Yemen, despite the fact that Mr. Austin stays hospitalized.

Requested about what position Mr. Austin performed within the planning for the strikes, John Kirby, the White Home’s nationwide safety spokesman, mentioned that his “participation was no totally different than it might be on every other given day, besides that he was briefing the president on choices and engaged within the discussions from the hospital. However he was absolutely engaged, as he could be in every other occasion.”

For a lot of the three years he has been protection secretary, Mr. Austin’s low-key nature was obscured by the voluble presence of Gen. Mark A. Milley, who was his sidekick as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Workers till Oct. 1.

“I actually want you wouldn’t write that,” Mr. Austin advised one reporter final month within the Pentagon’s E Ring hallway, discussing a narrative about his position in advising Israel to do extra to guard civilians in Gaza.

His beef was not with the thrust of the story. It was with the inference that he had a job within the coverage.

It has been greater than a yr since he appeared within the Pentagon briefing room to speak to reporters, and he normally avoids reporters who journey with him on his aircraft journeys. Ditto for a lot of his employees; when touring, he prefers to dine alone in his resort room when he doesn’t have a scheduled engagement with a international counterpart.

He doesn’t prefer to schmooze or have interaction in lubricating political relationships. He waited for weeks to get on the telephone with Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, when Mr. Tuberville started threatening to place a maintain on army nominations to protest the coverage Mr. Austin had put in place to make sure that service members would have continued entry to abortions and different reproductive medical care.

Mr. Austin’s relationship with the president, earlier than this newest disaster, was believed to be cordial and affectionate, going again to the times when Mr. Biden’s son, Beau Biden, served underneath Mr. Austin in Iraq. Beau Biden died of mind most cancers in 2015.

After Mr. Biden ignored Mr. Austin’s recommendation to not pull troops out of Afghanistan in 2021, the protection secretary appeared earlier than Congress within the chaotic aftermath and shielded his boss, saying, rigorously, solely that he didn’t “help staying in Afghanistan ceaselessly.”

When he was head of Central Command, his most high-profile job within the army, Mr. Austin was referred to as a wise strategist. In conferences on the Pentagon and on the White Home, officers say that Mr. Austin demonstrates a command of army technique and an understanding of the day-to-day problems with the rank and file.

He has been stung by some earlier public controversies. After tangling whereas nonetheless in uniform throughout a listening to in 2015 with Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, over the Obama administration’s coverage in Syria, Mr. Austin made headlines when he acknowledged publicly for the primary time {that a} $500 million Pentagon program to train Syrian fighters against the Islamic State had solely produced 4 or 5 of them.

He hardly ever bothers to defend himself to political critics. He left it to General Milley to answer a Republican congressman criticizing the Protection Division for turning into, in his view, too “woke.”

Mr. Austin’s backers mentioned that along with his prostate most cancers, he was following a army ethos that has been hammered into him his complete work life: Don’t complain. However in retaining quiet about his sickness and hospitalization, Mr. Austin threw an enormous chunk of crimson meat to Republican critics of the Biden administration.

There are calls from Republicans in Congress for Mr. Austin to be impeached, there’s an investigation underway by the department’s inspector general, and the evolving story of his failure to maintain the White Home apprised of how his absence may create a spot within the chain of command has been in everlasting rotation within the 24-hour tv information cycles.

Consultant Chris Deluzio of Pennsylvania turned the primary Democrat in Congress to name for Mr. Austin’s resignation, saying on social media that he had “misplaced belief in Secretary Lloyd Austin’s management of the Protection Division as a result of lack of transparency about his latest medical therapy and its influence on the continuity of the chain of command.”

On prime of that’s the disappointment expressed by Black well being advocates that by hiding his most cancers, Mr. Austin bolstered the notion that prostate most cancers, which impacts African American males at a better charge, is one thing of which to be ashamed.

“I want Lloyd Austin a quick most cancers restoration, however he set a nasty instance for Black males,” learn the headline of an opinion essay within the Kansas Metropolis Star.

“We now have now politicized a deeply private and personal concern in a deeply private and personal man,” Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Workers underneath Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, mentioned in an interview. “We should always transfer on.”

Prior to now few days, the Pentagon has develop into extra forthcoming about what Mr. Austin is doing. “Over the past 72 hours, Secretary Austin has been actively engaged in overseeing and directing” the U.S. strikes in Yemen on Thursday night time, a Protection Division official wrote in an e-mail to reporters.

The e-mail included a protracted record of telephone calls the secretary had from the hospital.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.



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