Obama's Next Defense Secretary Is Ashton Carter (Probably), A Former Republican Senator
There's a new head of the Defense Department coming to Washington, pending a Senate confirmation hearing — President Obama's reportedly nominating Ashton Carter for Defense Secretary, tabbing the 60-year-old to replace the outgoing Chuck Hagel. A former Republican Senator, Hagel was a much-ballyhooed selection for the job a mere 20 months or so ago, but tendered his resignation on Nov. 24, after what various outlets reported as a tumultuous and stressful tenure.
So, will things go better for Carter than they did for Hagel? Unlike his predecessor, who served two terms as a Nebraska Senator, Carter's never been an elected politician. Rather, his entire adult career has been focused on working within the very department he'll now take over — he first started working in the Defense Department back in the Clinton administration, serving as the as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy. In 2011, he was appointed the deputy Secretary of Defense, serving for a time under both Hagel and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. And now, at long last, he's poised to rise to the very top of America's defense agency.
Of course, until the announcement is official, there's no telling for sure — to this point, numerous outlets have reported the selection, including CNN and the AP, citing GOP Senator Jim Inhofe as having received word of the news.
Carter's career notably deviates from those of Hagel and Panetta in at least one pretty significant way — he's never actually served in the military. Hagel, to the contrary, was a Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart, while Panetta was a military intelligence officer. There's always speculation as to whether a new, incoming Secretary will be able to rally and inspire the support his their troops, and while there's certainly no reason to doubt that just yet, it is true that Carter's career likely took a less relatable path than many of his predecessors.
According to CNN, Carter is regarded as a great budget handler, a feat which is perhaps never more important then when managing the Pentagon's crucial and exhaustive balance sheet — total U.S. military spending in 2014 ranked at $640 billion. Defense industry analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute hailed Carter as a positive choice, and well-suited to the moment.
His career has sort of prepared him perfectly for this kind of a moment. On paper and in terms of his resume and preparation you probably couldn't do much better. You can always find things that you would have loved in a hundred year life span to have seen everyone do before they take this job, but realistically he has accomplished about as much as you could ask.
Of course, all this is academic until Carter is confirmed, but to this point at least, things seem rosy — he's a popular figure in Washington's defense-oriented circles, having served in various capacities under Democrats and Republicans alike (he worked under Condoleeza Rice during the Bush Administration, as well), and he's already got the strong support of Inhofe, who said he "can't imagine that he's going to have opposition to his confirmation."
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