Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Does White House Want from Next Defense Secretary? Clues at Hearing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Does White House Want from Next Defense Secretary? Clues at Hearing

Article excerpt

When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that he was stepping down last year, there was a great deal of speculation about what, precisely, the White House wanted from its new nominee, Ashton Carter.

The Defense secretary's focus has had to shift to a host of new challenges in the past year: the rise of the Islamic State, Russian aggression in Crimea, and a need to better train security forces in Iraq.

There are, too, the ongoing issues of cyberwarfare, the Pentagon's pivot to the Asia-Pacific, missile defense, and nuclear command and control.

With all these balls in the air, Dr. Carter offered some insights into his priorities -and, in turn, those of the White House - at his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. If confirmed, which is all but guaranteed, he will be the fourth person to hold the job during the Obama administration.

Indeed, much has changed since Mr. Hagel was sworn in two years ago. He was brought onboard to manage a shrinking budget and the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. As the overall force levels went down, his experience as a Vietnam soldier who has been active in issues of veterans' care was considered invaluable.

Now, the rise of the Islamic State is at the top of Carter's to- do list. Hagel's differences with the White House on this matter were widely known. In October, he wrote a letter to President Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, taking some exception to US policy toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In particular, at issue was the White House's "Iraq first" policy, which dictated that before overthrowing Mr. Assad - the stated goal of many rebel groups - the groups must first defeat the Islamic State.

GOP lawmakers seized on Hagel's memo as "welcome news to those of us who have harbored these thoughts for some time," as Sen. …

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