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Obama Nominates Ashton Carter as Defense Secretary

  • Aru Pande

President Obama announces that Ashton Carter, left, is his nominee for U.S. Defense Secretary as Vice President Biden looks on.

President Obama announces that Ashton Carter, left, is his nominee for U.S. Defense Secretary as Vice President Biden looks on.

President Barack Obama has nominated Ashton Carter as the next U.S. defense secretary, replacing Chuck Hagel, who resigned last week. If confirmed, Carter, a former deputy Pentagon secretary, will take over a sprawling department that is dealing with a host of national security issues.

Whether fighting the Islamic State militant group in Iraq or ending the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, the president said Friday the United States military faces no shortage of challenges, as he named Ashton Carter to be the next defense secretary.

“Ash is going to be critical to all of these efforts. When we talked about this job we talked about how we are going to make smart choices precisely because there are so many challenges out there,” said the president.

As the next defense secretary, Carter not only will deal with overseas security issues but manage a department grappling with budget cuts and one that has, at times, had a difficult relationship with the White House.

“If confirmed in this job, I pledge to you my most candid strategic advice. And I pledge also that you will receive equally candid military advice,” said Carter.

Carter would replace Chuck Hagel, who was forced out as Pentagon chief according to senior U.S. officials, who cite concerns about his ability to take on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Unlike Hagel, Carter did not serve in the military or in Congress. He spent his career at the Defense Department as weapons-buying chief and deputy secretary from 2011 to 2013. Called an innovator, reformer and a scholar by the president, Carter has a doctorate in physics and is said to be an expert in high-tech and nuclear weaponry.

Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Carter’s reputation as someone who is not political or polarizing is an asset.

“The alternative of anyone who is seen as political, as too oriented to a given view or rigid approach, is they would inevitably get caught up in all the battles outside of defense,” said Cordesman.

Cordesman says given budget cuts and conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan - among other challenges - the next defense secretary cannot afford to get caught up in such battles.

Carter's nomination is expected to move swiftly through the U.S. Senate, where he is said to have the support of top Republicans.

Appearing alongside Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Carter also addressed the nation's military personnel, saying he promises to serve the nation with "the same unflinching dedication" they demonstrate every day.

Hagel did not appear at the White House for the announcement, with a U.S. defense official saying he did not want to distract from the focus on Carter.

But the official said Hagel looks forward to working to ensure a speedy confirmation process for Carter and a successful transition at the Pentagon.‎

Unlikely path

Carter was seen as the frontrunner for the Pentagon chief position after several others removed themselves from consideration, including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Senator Jack Reed and ex-Pentagon official Michele Flournoy.

Unlike Hagel and every other Pentagon leader in the past three decades, Carter has never served in the military or Congress. The last defense secretary without experience in uniform or politics was Harold Brown, who led the Pentagon from 1977 to 1981 under President Jimmy Carter.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Carter is "somebody that certainly deserves and has demonstrated strong bipartisan support for his previous service in government."

As Hagel's deputy, he oversaw a $600 billion budget and 2.4 million civilian and military personnel.

Earlier, from 2009 to 2011, Carter served as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. In the 1990s, he served under President Bill Clinton as assistant defense secretary for international security policy.

Carter earned bachelor's degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale University and received his doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford University.

Some information for this report comes from AP and Reuters.

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