Obama Expected To Pick Ash Carter, Says Report
President Obama reportedly will nominate former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to helm the Pentagon. By Gordon Lubold
The White House is expected to name Ashton Carter to become the Pentagon’s next chief, replacing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who resigned under pressure last week, according to media reports.
Carter, the Pentagon’s former deputy, was long seen as a frontrunner to succeed Hagel. His name percolated to the top after two other names also floated, former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, dropped from consideration in the last week.
CNN, citing administration officials, reported Tuesday morning that Carter would be Obama’s choice “barring last minute complications.” His formal nomination could come in the next few days. As the former deputy secretary of defense, and before that as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, Carter is thought to know the ins and outs of the Pentagon and would be the easiest solution for a White House desperate to find someone to manage the Pentagon after Hagel announced his resignation last Monday.
White House officials told Defense One that they could not confirm that Carter would be formally nominated, but did not push back on the CNN report. Other administration officials said Carter would likely be the nominee.
President Obama considered Carter for the Pentagon’s top job in 2012, but gave the nod to Hagel, the former Senator and moderate Republican who had coached Obama on foreign policy for years. Carter, then the Pentagon’s No. 2, agreed to stay in the job after President Obama asked him to stay on personally. But the dynamic between Carter and Hagel was always uneasy, and Carter, feeling as if he had been passed over for the job he has long coveted, left in January.
Carter could be a good political answer for the White House since he is well liked on Capitol Hill for his bureaucratic acumen and Defense Department know-how. And perhaps most importantly, Carter is well liked by Sen. John McCain, the Republican Senator from Arizona poised to take over the Senate Armed Services Committee and command the confirmation process.
In a tribute to Carter after he announced his retirement from the Pentagon last year, McCain said Carter possessed the skills of “some of the Pentagon’s finest leaders,” using words like “respectful,” and “candid” and “clear” and “productive.”
“There can be no doubt that on many issues relating to defense and national security, Ash and I have had our differences. Some have been profound,” McCain said at the time. “But Ash has always conducted himself in a manner that appreciated the valid concerns underlying opposing views, while also mindful of the constitutional responsibilities of the elected officials who hold them.”
Carter, a physicist by training, is known for having an encyclopedic mind and is always thought to be, in the words of one former staffer, “the smartest guy in the room.” Carter once said he considers his “hero” to be Brent Scowcroft, the moderate Republican and former national security advisor and mentor to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Should the White House nominate him, he could return to the Pentagon with little need for a learning curve. And for a White House intent on keeping the Pentagon’s brass in check, Carter is seen as having enough gravitas to go toe-to-toe with the building’s generals and admirals on budget and operational issues. When he was deputy, Carter always listened and he understood the issues the uniforms presented to him, but he also never shied away from a bureaucratic fight.
“He was not intimidated by the services,” said the former staffer.