Ashton Carter, a theoretical physicist with years of experience at the Pentagon, is expected to be nominated by President Obama as the next secretary of Defense, according to an official familiar with the situation.
If confirmed by the Senate, Carter would be the president’s fourth Defense secretary in six years.
Carter, 60, would come into office with far more Pentagon experience than the man he would replace, Chuck Hagel, who announced his resignation last week amid pressure from the White House and disagreements over the administration’s strategy against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
Carter, who previously served in both the Pentagon’s No. 2 and No. 3 posts, has close ties to many military commanders. Within the miltary establishment, he is considered a bold thinker who understands the Pentagon well.
He is not expected to have difficulty winning Senate confirmation. He was confirmed unanimously for his two previous Pentagon jobs and has recently won praise from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who will head the Senate Armed Services Committee after Republicans take control of the chamber in January.
When Carter resigned from the Pentagon in 2013, McCain praised him, saying that “on many issues relating to defense and national security, Ash and I have had our differences. Some have been profound. But Ash has always conducted himself in a manner that appreciated the valid concerns underlying opposing views.”
Carter joined the Pentagon during President Bill Clinton’s first term as assistant secretary of Defense for international security policy, an influential position following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Carter worked to ensure the Soviet nuclear weapon stockpile did not fall into the hands of potential terorrists or rogue states.
Carter came back to the Pentagon in 2009, serving as chief weapons buyer overseeing projects including the $400-billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. He rose to deputy secretary from 2011 to 2013 but left for Harvard University after being passed over for the top job.
Only a day after Hagel announced his resignation, two leading prospects — former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) — took themselves out of the running.
That left Carter as one of the few contenders with the qualifications Obama appears to be seeking.
Carter could prove to be more aggressive than the often self-effacing Hagel was in defending the administration’s policies in public and at pushing back against White House attempts to keep tight limits on military operations.
By W.J. HENNIGAN (LA Times)