Following the resignation of U.S Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel last month, one name has steadily risen to the top of the shortlist to replace him – that of Ashton B. Carter. The former Deputy Defense Secretary has now emerged as the preferred candidate of President Obama and, with the stringent vetting process almost complete, his official nomination is expected to be announced as early as Thursday or Friday of this week. Mr Carter was previously a contender for the post after the resignation of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, but was in that instance passed over, in favour of Hagel.
The New York Times reports that Pentagon personnel are generally supportive of Mr Carter’s nomination, despite his lack of military service. He is seen as the candidate that will have the greatest understanding of the complexities and requirements of the role before taking it on – a quality that is highly advantageous in such a fast-moving environment. For Mr Carter, this comes from his years of experience in defense – in both the private and public sector.
Hailing from Philadelphia, Mr Carter worked in a broad range of jobs in his youth before settling into academia, specialising in the control of nuclear weapons. The Rhodes scholar has studied and held positions at Yale, Oxford, Harvard, Stanford and MIT, among others, and applied his comprehensive knowledge in practical terms during the U.S/North Korea nuclear crisis of 1994, when he played a key role under Defense Secretary William J Perry.
During his years at the Pentagon, he spent considerable time in the purchasing of weapons and armoury, for the purpose of providing U.S troops overseas with greater protection against roadside bombs. As Deputy Defense Secretary – from 2011 to 2013 – he also oversaw the Pentagon’s $600 billion budget, and led the repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that prevented gay men and women from being open about their personal lives while serving in the military. He is renowned for spending a significant proportion of time in the field – particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan – and is a four time recipient of the Department of Defense Distinguished Service medal. Some feathers are expected to be ruffled, however, as Mr Carter is also one of the legal architects of the current administration’s drone strike policy that engages in targeted killings.
As highlighted by CBS News, President Obama’s would-be fourth Secretary of Defense, would be entering the job at a time when his office is required to steer the Pentagon through the ongoing threat from ISIS, and the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. It is significant, however, that as a qualified physicist with many years experience in the area of nuclear weaponry, Mr Carter would be able to easily step into the ongoing international talks with Iran aimed at curbing their nuclear program.
Before he is officially appointed, Mr Carter must first make it through the Senate confirmation. Those involved in that process anticipate no problems, although CNN has reported comments from Senator John McCain in which he states that, while qualified for the job, Mr Carter will have little influence.
“I’m sure he’s been around long enough to know that he will have little to no voice in the crucial decision on national security.”
McCain – who is expected to become Chair of the Armed Services Committee in early 2015, and therefore lead the confirmation hearing – took the opportunity to criticise the way in which the White House operates with regard to defense.
“No one can [lead the fight] because the White House, according to his [Carter’s] three predecessors, centers all of the decision making among a handful of people in the White House who have only one thing in common: that they don’t know anything about the military.”
Whether Mr Carter will have influence or not, the BBC reports that Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of the Senate Armed Services Committee stated he “strongly” supports Carter’s nomination.
“I’m very pleased he is going to be our Secretary of Defense. I can’t imagine that he’s going to have opposition to his confirmation.”
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