Ashton Carter will be Barack Obama’s nominee for Defence Secretary, the president announced at a White House ceremony this morning.
Carter, a high-ranking and widely respected Pentagon policymaker under both Obama and Clinton, was Chuck Hagel’s second-in-command in the Defence Department during his first ten months as Defence Secretary.
Hagel was reportedly dismissed from his position as Pentagon chief because of disagreements with the White House over Obama’s policies in Iraq and particularly Syria, where Hagel advocated a more confrontational stance towards the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Hagel was pointedly absent from Obama’s press conference announcing Carter’s nomination.
Carter is a former theoretical physicist who was in charge of day-to-day operations at the Pentagon under Hagel and was formerly the Department’s head of weapons and technology acquisition. He is “considered one of the country’s top administrators and students of military technology” according to the Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe.
Obama cited Carter’s “record of service that has spanned more than 30 years, and said that he is “rightly regarded as one our nation’s foremost national security leaders.”
He also emphasised Carter’s “unique blend of strategic perspective and technical know-how.”
“He’s also a physicist, which means he’s one of hte few people who understands how many of our defence systems work,” Obama said. Obama also emphasised Carter’s role in discontinuing out of date weapons systems and finding ways to cut unnecessary weight from the defence budget.
During his most recent stint at the Pentagon, Carter was involved in reorganising US Cyber Command and shifting US national security priorities towards the cyber realm. He’s also been a forceful advocate for opening the defence procurement process to smaller US tech companies. Carter has a background in more traditional global security and strategic issues as well: Lamothe notes that Carter was once best known in Washington for his “leading role in the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which dismantled 8,000 Soviet nuclear weapons.”
Carter’s nomination comes just weeks before the end of Operation Enduring Freedom, the US’s 13-year-old mission in Afghanistan, and three months into Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Coming in on the heels of Hagel’s chaotic time in the Pentagon’s top chair, he faces a raft of challenges during Obama’s final 18 months in office.
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