Ashton Carter, the new Defense Secretary, has wasted little time demonstrating he will be his own man and that he’s prepared to operate outside the box at the hidebound Pentagon.
Sworn in this week by Vice President Joe Biden to succeed Chuck Hagel, Carter began preparing for his confirmation hearing last month by seeking advice and counsel from a broad array of experts on government, business, economics and politics, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Defense One reported.
Carter, 60, a former deputy defense secretary, is an expert on nuclear weapons and a whiz at military budgeting. From all indications he appears determined to take a more global view of his responsibilities in leading the massive Defense Department.
He apparently spoke by phone with Bloomberg, the multi-billionaire businessman and innovative government leader who ran New York City for three consecutive terms, and Cantor, who joined the Wall Street investment bank of Moelis & Co. as managing director after losing his seat in an upset GOP primary election last summer.
Bloomberg later praised Carter for seeking out alternative viewpoints and innovative ideas from the public and private sector as he prepared to assume Pentagon control.
Others contacted by Carter for private talks included Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund; Denny Blair, a retired Navy admiral and former director of national intelligence in 2010; and Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of Human Rights First, a human rights advocate. Massimino has spoken out on topics ranging from authorization of military force in the Middle East to the Obama administration’s efforts to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Carter has a full plate, certainly, as he takes the reins of a federal department with over 1.4 million men and women on active duty and 718,000 civilian personnel. Waging a war against ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East, managing the Afghanistan war drawdown, attempting to provide a counterweight to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, and tackling defense reform all loom as his biggest challenges.
Throughout his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter signaled that while he’s aligned with many of President Obama’s military policies, he won’t be afraid to speak up if he disagrees – including on whether Obama may have to reconsider his opposition to eventually deploying more U.S. ground troops in Iraq to wage war against ISIS.
Hagel reportedly was frustrated during his stint as defense secretary because of the White House national security team’s second-guessing and micromanaging of the Defense Department.
Carter moved swiftly to assemble his team, mostly seasoned Pentagon hands. He chose Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, an Army air cavalry officer who had been serving as the head of Army public affairs, as senior military assistant. He picked Eric Fanning, undersecretary of the Air Force, as his chief of staff.
Carter also must pick a new chief spokesman after Rear Adm. John Kirby, who served as Hagel’s press secretary, announced Wednesday he’s leaving the Pentagon in the next few weeks. Carter had privately expressed concerns that a uniformed officer was serving as the Pentagon spokesman and that he prefers to have a civilian in that high-profile position, according to media reports.
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