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Obama nominates Ashton Carter as defense secretary

·Chief Washington Correspondent
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Locking in a post-election shake-up of his national security team, President Barack Obama on Friday formally nominated former senior Pentagon official Ashton Carter on Friday to replace Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. Carter is expected to win Senate confirmation easily in 2015.

"We face no shortage of challenges to our national security," Obama said with Carter and Vice President Joe Biden at his side, citing the looming U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the war against the so-called Islamic State, the military's work to contain West Africa's Ebola outbreak and other issues.

"Ash is going to be critical to all of these efforts. When we talked about this job, we talked about how we’re going to have to make smart choices precisely because there are so many challenges out there," Obama said. "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. And I can’t think of somebody who’s more qualified to do that."

A White House official had said on condition of anonymity that Hagel would join Obama to announce Carter’s nomination — but the outgoing secretary stayed away. A defense official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hagel "believes strongly that this day belongs to Ash Carter and his nomination to be the next secretary of defense."

The nomination ceremony capped an awkward process during which several high-profile potential candidates took themselves out of contention for what may be the worst — or at least the most challenging — job in the federal government.

Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a former officer in the Army’s storied 82nd Airborne Division, released a statement saying he did not want the job even before reports of Hagel’s departure had been confirmed.

President Barack Obama shares a laugh with Ashton Carter, his nominee for defense secretary, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, during the announcement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama shares a laugh with Ashton Carter, his nominee for defense secretary, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, during the announcement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Michèle Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official who could be tapped to run the Defense Department if Hillary Clinton runs for president and wins in 2016, also declined the job. So did retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who currently chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Hagel’s two predecessors, Republican Robert Gates and Democrat Leon Panetta, each complained in their respective memoirs about the White House’s micromanaging of military policy.

“I can tell you that whoever [the defense secretary] is, it will be very clear about what the chain of command is and they’ll understand that the president of the United States is the commander in chief and sits atop the chain of command,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday when asked about the criticisms of the former defense chiefs.

A New York Times report announcing Hagel’s imminent removal included several quotes from unnamed senior Obama aides sniping at the former senator and Vietnam War veteran.

“The kinds of stories that have gotten a little more attention in the last couple of weeks about some friction existing between the White House and the Pentagon are not new and not unique to this administration,” Earnest said.

Carter served as deputy secretary of defense — the Pentagon’s No. 2 job — from late 2011 to late 2013. He left after being passed over for the top job in favor of Hagel. A highly regarded manager, Carter would come in at a time of increased grumbling in Congress about military spending cuts.

While second-term confirmation hearings frequently serve as staging grounds for attacks on a sitting president’s policies, Carter himself is not expected to face significant Senate opposition.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who will chair the Senate Armed Services Committee come January, has sharply criticized Obama’s handling of world affairs but expressed support for the nomination.

Carter would inherit several crises and more than a few difficult operations, including the struggle against the Islamic State, military efforts to help West Africa battle Ebola and the campaign to stamp out sexual assault in the armed forces.

He would also take over at a time when Republicans have readied an all-out assault on across-the-board spending cuts to military programs.

Here is Carter’s biography, as provided by a White House official:

Ash Carter is a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a lecturer at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He is also a Senior Executive at the Markle Foundation, helping the Markle Economic Future Initiative advance transformative strategies that use technology to enable all Americans to flourish in the economy of a networked world.

This Nov. 2, 2009, file photo shows Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter standing in front of a MRAP all terrain vehicle (M-ATV) at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
This Nov. 2, 2009, file photo shows Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter standing in front of a MRAP all terrain vehicle (M-ATV) at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Ash was Deputy Secretary of Defense from October 2011 to December 2013, serving as DOD’s chief operating officer overseeing more than $600 billion per year and 2.4 million civilian and military personnel, and managing global 24/7 operations. From April 2009 to October 2011, he was Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics with responsibility for procurement of all technology, systems, services, and supplies, bases and infrastructure, energy and environment, and more than $50 billion annually in R&D.

Previously, Ash was Professor and Chair of the International Relations, Science, and Security faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Ash has also been a member of the Defense Policy Board, the Defense Science Board, and the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Strategy Group.

From 1993-1996, Ash served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, responsible for policy regarding the former Soviet states, strategic affairs, and nuclear weapons policy. He previously was a physics instructor at Oxford, a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University and M.I.T., and an experimental research associate at Brookhaven and Fermilab National Laboratories. Ash earned his bachelor’s degrees in physics and in medieval history from Yale University in 1976, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and received his doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford University in 1979, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

For his service to national security, Ash has on several occasions been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Department’s highest recognition. He received the Defense Intelligence Medal for his contributions to intelligence and the Joint Distinguished Service Medal from the Chairman and Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate for both the Deputy Secretary and Under Secretary positions.

Ash is author or co-author of 11 books and more than 100 articles on physics, technology, national security, and management. A native of Philadelphia, Ash is married to Stephanie Carter and has two children, Will and Ava.

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