Unofficially official: Ash Carter wins SecDef: Survivor contest

Politico declares, “It’s official,” but the appointment of Ashton Carter won’t actually be official until a formal White House statement, expected around 10 am this morning. Barack Obama has finally settled on Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense after other potential candidates like Michele Flournoy and Jack Reed made it clear they wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Even when Carter was the obvious choice, the White House strung it out longer to look for anyone else who might want the job. But now it’s all Carter’s, even if by default:


President Barack Obama will nominate former senior Pentagon official Ashton Carter on Friday to replace Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, the White House said.

Carter is expected to win Senate confirmation easily in 2015. A White House official said on condition of anonymity that Hagel will join Obama to announce Carter’s nomination.

The nomination ceremony, set for 10 a.m. ET, will cap 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.

So, y’know … congrats, or something:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is set to take over as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but it was unclear how quickly he can realign committee staff and schedule a confirmation hearing.

McCain and other defense-backers in the Senate have praised Carter as a good fit for the job, but skeptics wonder if any defense secretary can succeed under what’s been called a dysfunctional national security process within the Obama administration. …

Today, the Pentagon’s top job has become one of the least appealing in Washington following Hagel’s ugly ouster.

Three other candidates withdrew from consideration before the White House reached for Carter on its short list. Meanwhile, Hagel’s camp sought to describe his departure as a voluntary resignation — but administration officials stressed it was a relief for cause. Hagel “was just not up to the job” of doing what was needed in the final two years of Obama’s term, one official told POLITICO Magazine.

But if Hagel was pushed rather than jumped on his own, he did not put up much of a fight. In fact, when it became clear he could not continue in the job, he was reported to have opted to announce his resignation as early as possible, before the administration was ready with a replacement.


The New York Times reports that Carter “is known as assertive and independent,” which might explain why Obama kept the candidate recruitment operation going long after Carter’s selection became obvious:

Assertive and intellectual, Mr. Carter, is a sharp contrast to Chuck Hagel, the current defense secretary who was seen as passive and who submitted his resignation under pressure last week. He is more like Robert M. Gates, the president’s first defense secretary who tangled with the White House. Mr. Carter has remained in close touch with Mr. Gates and reviewed chapters of “Duty,” the former secretary’s critical memoir of working in the Obama White House that was published this year.

Mr. Carter makes no secret of his jaundiced view of life in Washington. While he sought the top Pentagon job — for which he was passed over two years ago — he also once compared working as a senior administration official in Washington to “being a Christian in the Coliseum. You never know when they are going to release the lions and have you torn apart for the amusement of onlookers.”

Unlike Mr. Hagel, Mr. Carter comes to the job with a deep knowledge of the vast department. He worked in the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, returned as the chief weapons buyer under Mr. Gates, and served as deputy defense secretary, the No. 2 position, under Leon E. Panetta and Mr. Hagel. In that job, he served as the chief operating officer for more than two million uniformed and civilian employees. He would face little learning curve about the Pentagon’s challenges in a time of shrinking budgets.


Just how independent will this White House allow Carter to be? Don’t get your hopes up:

Less certain is whether Mr. Carter, a Democrat, would bring the political skills necessary to penetrate Mr. Obama’s insular inner circle, a group that includes Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, and Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff. Like Mr. Gates, a Republican, Mr. Carter is widely viewed as to the right of the president on issues like the administration’s policy in Syria and the pace of the release of prisoners from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Not to mention unilateral acts of war. Apart from the high level of competence Carter brings to Pentagon management — a considerable and much-needed quality after Hagel — this has the makings of another disaster. If Carter disagrees with Obama on Syria and Gitmo, it’s difficult to see how Obama’s inner circle allows Carter to have any voice in policy at all. Carter clearly isn’t going to be another Hagel in the “hey, I’m just happy to be here and carrying water” sense. He’s a policy wonk as well as an administrative success, which means he’s not going to be satisfied to just stand and salute whenever Obama’s inner circle issues policy. The only way this works is if Obama really desires a fundamental change in national-security policy, but if that were the case, then Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Valerie Jarrett would be passing Carter in the hallway on their way into private-sector work.


So, y’know, congrats to all. Enjoy the photo op. Can’t wait for the leaks on conflict to start arising, which given the Congressional schedule might begin even before the confirmation vote.

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