President Obama on Friday 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.”
“He’s an innovator who helped create the program that has dismantled weapons of mass destruction around the world and reduced the threat of nuclear terrorism,” Obama said. “He’s a reformer who’s never been afraid to cancel old or inefficient weapons programs. He knows the Department of Defense inside and out, which – all of which means that on day one, he’s going to hit the ground running.”
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, though Republicans who will take over the Senate are already skeptical of the administration’s handling of operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
“We’re going to have to make smart choices precisely because there are so many challenges out there, and we’re going to have to squeeze everything we have out of the resources that we have in order to be as effective as possible,” Obama said. “And I can’t think of somebody who’s more qualified to do that.”
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.
In brief remarks, he addressed Obama, saying, “I pledge to you my most candid strategic advice, and I pledge also that you will receive equally candid military advice.”
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.
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