President Obama’s nomination of Ashton Carter to succeed Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is sailing through the Senate. The former deputy secretary and nuclear weapons authority is likely to be confirmed by the end of Wednesday.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the nomination 25-0 yesterday after Carter deftly handled hours of testimony last week. Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat, and other key lawmakers appreciate Carter’s straight-from-the-shoulder style and vast experience in defense strategy, procurement and budgeting.
Carter, 60, served under Hagel for a year as deputy secretary of defense after reportedly being passed over for the top spot at the Pentagon. He is a physicist by training and a nuclear weapons expert.
Unlike the roasting that Hagel, a former GOP senator from Nebraska, suffered two years ago, the Armed Services Committee went relatively easy on Carter. Lawmakers also used the hearings as an opportunity to vent about Obama’s policies in a series of trouble spots around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.
Moreover, unlike Hagel’s tenuous performance under the spotlight, Carter wasn’t reluctant to occasionally take positions somewhat contrary to the administration’s line or to stress that he wouldn’t be reluctant to speak up if he disagreed with the commander-in-chief.
When asked by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), for instance, if he would recommend putting U.S. boots on the ground to deal with ISIS if required – an approach the president currently opposes – Carter replied, “If confirmed, I would, in close consultation with our senior military leaders, provide the president with my best strategic advice as to how to most effectively counter the ISIL threat.”
He added, “In formulating my advice, I will not hesitate to consider all options.”
Whether he makes good on that pledge remains to be seen. But he’ll have plenty of opportunity to voice differing views with the president and the White House national security team on a number of pressing issues. They include the stepped-up efforts against ISIS in the Middle East, the challenges of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, negotiations on a nuclear weapons deal with Iran, and increased spending requests to Congress for the Pentagon.
Defense One has detailed several areas in which Carter hinted he might differ with President Obama, based on his testimony and written responses to lawmakers’ questions. These areas include the Russia-Ukraine conflict: “I reject the notion that Russia should be afforded a ‘sphere of influence,’” Carter said. “If confirmed, I will continue to encourage U.S. partners, such as Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, to build their security capacity and military interoperability with NATO.”
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