No military experience? Great. Ashton Carter to be nominated as next defense secretary
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter is expected to be nominated by President Obama for the position of secretary of defense. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By Craig Whitlock and Missy Ryan
December 2, 2014
President Obama will nominate Ashton B. Carter, a physicist with long experience in national security circles and at the Pentagon, as his new secretary of defense, according to a person familiar with the decision.
If confirmed by the Senate, Carter would succeed Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska senator who is being pushed aside by the White House after less than two years in the job. Hagel, a Republican, fell out of favor with Obama’s inner circle as the U.S. military became embroiled in a new war in the Middle East, a challenge that is expected to preoccupy the Obama administration for its remaining two years in office.
A White House spokesman declined to confirm that Carter was the president’s choice, saying only that an announcement was not planned for Tuesday. Still, several lawmakers predicted that he would be easily confirmed.
“Great, very highly qualified,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), who will replace Levin as chairman next month, called Carter a “noncontroversial” choice. Both senators said they had yet to receive formal notification from the White House of Carter’s selection.
Carter, 60, is little known outside Washington but is renowned for his intellect. A Rhodes scholar, he earned a doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford University and holds degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale. A longtime faculty member at Harvard, he began lecturing at Stanford this fall.
Formerly the No. 2 at the Pentagon and before that its chief weapons buyer, Carter was passed over for the top job when it went to Hagel instead.
Carter stayed on for a year as deputy defense secretary — a position often described as the chief executive of the Pentagon bureaucracy — but his relationship with Hagel was seen as awkward. When he stepped down in December 2013, Carter didn’t give a specific reason for leaving, simply stating in his resignation letter that “it is time for me to go.”
At a farewell ceremony for Carter at the Pentagon, he was jokingly lauded as a “middle-aged uber-wonk” by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “I think he’s been called the most important, least known figure in Washington, or some language to that effect, and I agree with that,” Dempsey said.
Carter would be the first defense secretary to come of age after the Vietnam War. He graduated from Yale in 1976, three years after the end of the U.S. draft.
He did not serve in the uniformed military but first joined the Pentagon in 1981 as a civilian program and technical analyst, working on missile defense, the nuclear arsenal and programs to ensure the continuity of government in the event of nuclear war. One of his first projects was to assess the merits of a pie-in-the-sky scheme to make it difficult for the Soviet Union to track 200-ton MX missiles by deploying them on giant blimps over the United States.
As his career progressed, Carter became the rare high-ranking Pentagon official who had a granular understanding of how its most sophisticated weaponry worked.
“I think his particular skill set is the ability to combine a technical intelligence, a knowledge of the technical, esoteric dimensions of defense, with a broad policy perspective that’s informed by history,” said Joseph Nye, who worked with Carter on the Harvard faculty and also served with him at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, when both were appointed as assistant secretaries of defense.
In addition to the minutiae of theoretical physics, Carter studied medieval history at Yale and wrote his undergraduate senior thesis on the Latin writings of 12th century Flemish monks.
“There was no relationship between them in my mind except that both fascinated me,” Carter said of his dual education in history and physics, according to a short autobiographical paper he wrote for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2007. “I liked dusty archives, learning to decipher manuscripts in medieval script, and learning all the languages necessary to read the primary and secondary historical literature. . . . Physics was entirely different: clean and modern, logical and mathematical.”
But Carter also has an earthy side that displayed itself during his stints at the Pentagon. Former colleagues said he speaks plainly and, at times, can curse like a drill sergeant.
According to his autobiography, he was fired from his first job at a Philadelphia car wash at age 11 “for wise-mouthing the owner.” Among the other occupations that he listed from his pre-college years were gas-pump attendant, hospital orderly, fishing boat crewman and counselor for a suicide-prevention hotline.
Paul Kane, Greg Jaffe and David Nakamura contributed to this report.http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/ashton-carter-to-be-nominated-as-next-defense-secretary/2014/12/02/837af250-7a31-11e4-9a27-6fdbc612bff8_story.html