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Senate Panel Advances Obama’s Pentagon Nominee Carter

Washington (AFP) – A U.S. Senate panel voted unanimously Tuesday in support of Ashton Carter to be the new secretary of defense, sending his nomination to a full chamber vote possibly this week.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 25-0 to advance the nomination of Carter, a highly-regarded technocrat who is expected to be confirmed to replace outgoing Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.

Hagel resigned under pressure, criticized by some as too passive in the face of rapidly changing security developments, and as the United States prepares its next phase in the war against Islamic extremists.

Senator John McCain, the panel’s chairman, is a fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, saying that as commander in chief Obama has failed drastically to show leadership in the midst of crises in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

But McCain praised Carter as an accomplished and intelligent defense overseer.

“Hopefully we can get a vote perhaps even as early as tomorrow,” McCain told the committee after the vote.

The U.S. military that Carter would inherit finds itself in an air war against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, a sharp reversal of course for an administration that had sought to bring home troops after 13 years of fighting.

He must also oversee the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, as well as challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear program and China’s growing military might.

Photo: A US Senate panel has voted unanimously in support of Ashton Carter to be the new secretary of defense (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Obama Names Ex-Defense Official Ashton Carter As Pick To Run Pentagon

By W.J. Hennigan, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Obama today nominated former top Defense Department official Ashton B. Carter to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, describing Carter as an innovator, a reformer and “one of nation’s foremost national security leaders.”

“On day one, he’s going to hit the ground running,” the president said.

Obama formally announced his choice from the White House. Hagel, who was pushed out of the post late last month, was expected to attend the event, but backed out at last minute.

Carter, 60, is expected to win Senate confirmation without major difficulty after the new Congress convenes next month.

Carter previously served as the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, and as deputy Defense secretary, the No. 2 official. While out of government, he served on advisory boards for both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Unlike Hagel, he never served in uniform. But Carter is widely respected in the military establishment and in national security circles for his experience in managing the vast Pentagon bureaucracy and budgets.

A native of Philadelphia, Carter holds degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale and a doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar.

Carter first joined the Pentagon in 1981 for a year under President Reagan as a technical analyst. He left to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before spending nine years as a professor at Harvard University.

In 1993, President Clinton named him assistant secretary of Defense for international security policy, a post in which Carter worked to ensure that the former Soviet nuclear weapons stockpile did not fall into the hands of potential terrorists or rogue states.

He left the Pentagon in 1996 but returned as chief weapons buyer after President Obama took office in 2009. He restructured the controversial $400-billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, and approved purchase of 8,000 armored vehicles and construction of 200 new bases for the military buildup in Afghanistan in 2010.

Carter was named deputy secretary in 2011 but left again after Obama picked Hagel to succeed Leon E. Panetta.

AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-Je

Report: Ashton Carter Likely Next U.S. Defense Secretary

Washington (AFP) – The former number-two ranking official at the Pentagon, Ashton Carter, likely will be named as the next U.S. defense secretary, CNN reported Tuesday.

President Barack Obama was poised to name Carter to replace outgoing Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, “barring any last minute complications,” CNN reported, citing several unnamed administration officials.

Pentagon officials acknowledged to AFP that Carter was on a short list of candidates for the post but could not confirm if a final decision had been taken.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced his resignation last week, with officials privately saying he was forced out after losing the confidence of the White House.

Carter, 60, has gained a reputation as an expert on hi-tech weapons and military budgets, portraying himself as a reformer intent on making the vast Pentagon bureaucracy more efficient.

While Carter is fluent with weapons programs and technological trends, he has less experience overseeing war strategy and has never served in uniform — unlike his predecessor, Hagel, who was wounded in the Vietnam War.

An academic by training who holds a doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford, Carter worked in the Pentagon during Bill Clinton’s presidency overseeing nuclear arms policies and helped with efforts to remove nuclear weapons from Ukraine and other former Soviet territories.

A former professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Carter served as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer from 2009 to 2011 and then as deputy defense secretary until 2013.

AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-Je

Obama Appears To Be Seeking A More Forceful Defense Chief

By W.J. Hennigan and David S. Cloud, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As he searches for his fourth Defense secretary in six years, President Barack Obama appears to be looking for a more forceful, articulate military leader to navigate the tough but limited wars that are likely to consume much of his final two years in office.

Finding a candidate with deep Pentagon experience who can help set a coherent strategy and defend it to the public and Congress won’t be easy.

Only a day after the job came open, two leading prospects — former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) — took themselves out of the running to replace Chuck Hagel, whose departure Obama announced at the White House on Monday.

That leaves Ashton Carter, who was deputy secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013, as one of the few contenders with the qualifications Obama appears to be seeking.

In his previous two nominees, Obama placed little priority on Defense Department experience, focusing on someone who could oversee the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Hagel was a retired Republican senator from Nebraska who was critical of the wars of the past decade, while Leon E. Panetta, who preceded him, had been director of the CIA and had little background in military affairs.

Obama is now facing a different environment. With U.S. forces engaged in military operations in Iraq and Syria, and an incoming Republican majority in the Senate already questioning the administration’s handling of the conflicts, he needs a Defense secretary who can explain the strategy to Congress and better direct the military, current and former officials say.

“The president clearly wants someone who can be more forceful and win a public debate defending his policies,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of Defense who’s currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “He wants someone who looks good on the Sunday talk shows.”

Flournoy, who has long been considered a contender for the post, said in a letter Tuesday to the board of the Center for a New American Security, the think tank she heads, that she asked Obama not to consider her for the post, citing “family considerations,” according to a person familiar with the matter who asked for anonymity to discuss the private communication.

With Flournoy out of the running, a top White House staffer said that Obama was still considering “a number of well-qualified candidates.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest emphasized that Obama was not looking for someone to take the Pentagon in a new direction, but rather to carry out “the strategy that the president has selected.” A top priority is dealing with Islamic State militants who have seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, Earnest said.

Carter, 60, a theoretical physicist and former Harvard professor, spent years in the Pentagon through two administrations, rising to deputy Defense secretary before leaving last year.

He is known as a bold thinker who understands the Pentagon well and would not likely run into trouble winning Senate confirmation. He was confirmed unanimously by the Senate for both the No. 2 and No. 3. Pentagon positions.

When Carter resigned from the Pentagon in 2013, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) praised him lavishly. Now McCain is the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will hold hearings on the next Pentagon nominee.

“On many issues relating to defense and national security, Ash and I have had our differences,” McCain said at the time. “Some have been profound. But Ash has always conducted himself in a manner that appreciated the valid concerns underlying opposing views.”

Obama could also look outside to a candidate like retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who isn’t as likely to challenge the administration’s current policies and is well respected in Congress. Jeh Johnson, the current Homeland Security secretary and former general counsel for the Pentagon, is also said to be under consideration.

Whoever is tapped for the job will need to be comfortable working closely with the president’s national security staff. Panetta and another former Defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, both complained in autobiographies about what they saw as White House micromanagement of the military.

“What’s most needed is a secretary who will challenge assumptions and ask tough questions about policies for issues like (Islamic State) and Afghanistan, and help avert group-think,” said Stephen D. Biddle, a military expert with the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. “I’m not sure that’s what the White House wants, though.”

It can be hard to predict how a new Defense secretary will affect policy decisions in the administration. When former President George W. Bush chose Gates to head the Pentagon during the height of the Iraq war, it was widely assumed Gates would push quickly to scale down the U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

Gates instead became a strong advocate for sending more troops to Iraq. After staying on under Obama, he backed the military’s request to send more troops to Afghanistan, persuading Obama to back the increase, a decision Obama later came to regret.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, rebuffed questions at a news conference Tuesday about whether Hagel had been forced out because of policy disputes. Among other things, the White House was said to be impatient about the slow the pace of prisoner transfers from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. In October, a rift emerged after Hagel penned a two-page memo — leaked to the media — criticizing the administration’s approach to Syria.

“This was a mutual decision arrived at between the president and the secretary of Defense after a series of discussions that they had about the next two years,” Kirby said, declining to say more about the discussions.

Hagel’s departure is not a sign of coming changes to the U.S. strategy for fighting Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, Kirby added.

If Obama chooses Carter, he comes into office with far more recent Pentagon experience than Hagel had and close ties with senior military commanders.

Carter, who has a doctorate from Oxford University, joined the Pentagon during President Bill Clinton’s first term as assistant secretary of Defense for international security policy, an influential position following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Carter worked to ensure the Soviet’s nuclear weapon stockpile did not fall into foreign hands.

Carter came back to the Pentagon in 2009, serving as chief weapons buyer overseeing projects like the $400-billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. He rose to deputy Defense secretary, but left for Harvard after being passed over for the top spot.

Carter could prove to be more aggressive than the often self-effacing Hagel was in defending the administration’s policies in public and at pushing back against White House attempts to keep tight limits on military operations.

Inside the Pentagon, other choices include Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has been discussed as a candidate in the past. Robert O. Work, the current deputy Defense secretary, is also a contender.

“The White House has shown they want someone who is onboard with their current policies,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst with the American Enterprise Institute. “They might not know exactly who they want for the job at this point, but they’re just sure they don’t want Chuck Hagel.”
___
Christi Parsons and Michael A. Memoli of the Tribune Washington Bureau in Washington contributed to this report.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after he announced his resignation on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014 in the State Dinning Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)