Defense & National Security

Nomination for Defense secretary may be delayed

Nomination for Defense secretary may be delayed

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told reporters that his immediate plans are to stay put, and that may not be just because he loves his job. With a half-trillion dollars of cuts to defense under sequestration looming over the Pentagon, President Barack Obama may well delay nomination of a new defense head until the end of the year, when the fate of the Defense budget is clear.

“I think the White house will encourage Secretary Panetta to stay on until the sequestration issue is largely resolved,” Heritage Foundation research fellow Baker Spring, a national security expert, told Human Events.

If sequestration does take effect, Spring said, the White House may delay nomination and give Panetta “a very limited time to put together instructions to the Pentagon bureaucracy to manage that.”

When Obama does move to nominate a new defense secretary, many in Washington speculate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) could get tapped, particularly if Kerry is passed over for Secretary of State in favor of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. With his relatively thin military resume, however, it’s not clear that Kerry would want the top defense spot.

“I think that the position would be more appealing to somebody who is confident about managing large bureaucracies and making the system work for projects in the DoD,” Spring said.

A Kerry nomination would come with what may be a positive externality for Republicans: the Massachusetts Senator would vacate his seat, leaving open the possibility for recently ousted Republican Sen. Scott Brown to reclaim a seat in a special election.

Other candidates for the spot are less controversial than those floated for Secretary of State. Both Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and former U.S. under secretary for Defense Policy Michele Flournoy are Pentagon insiders with a long index of accomplishments.

But here again, Obama may be best served with a creative choice such as President’s Intelligence Advisory Board chairman Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator whose name has been discussed before for Defense Secretary.

A Hagel nomination might prove an opportunity to reach out to Republicans and still give Obama a Secretary of Defense with whom he has rapport and a relationship—Hagel and Obama traveled together to Middle East war zones in 2008.

Another more likely pick might be Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), whose name, like Hagel’s, has been floated for both State and Defense nominations this year. Lieberman’s close relationships with Republican defense hawks might make him the preferred choice for those who want to safeguard defense spending.

But with Secretary of State nominations dominating discussion in Washington, there has been little word about the president’s intentions regarding the next Defense chief.

“We’re just going to have to see,” American Enterprise Institute vice president of Foreign and Defense Policy studies Danielle Pletka said. “I think that honestly this is nothing more than a parlor game for most people right now.”

Potential  Nominees

Likely nominee: John Kerry

Current title: Senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1985-present)

Resume: Navy junior officer (1966-1970); Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts (1982-1985); Democratic presidential nominee (2004); Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee (2009-present)

Why: If U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice gets tapped for Secretary of State, Kerry, who has reportedly sought the seat, could be tapped for the Defense Department as a consolation prize. Kerry served in Vietnam and received three purple hearts (though the nature of his service was cast into doubt Swift boat veterans during his 2004 presidential run) and that service could help him overcome an otherwise thin military resume.

Possible nominee: Ashton Carter

Current title: U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense (2011-present)

Resume: Assistant Secretary of Defense for National Security Policy (1993-1996); member, Defense Science Board (1991–1993 and 1997–2001), Defense Policy Board (1997–2001); member, National Academy of Sciences Committee on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism (2001-2002).

Why: Carter is well respected in the defense community and has helped to oversee, among other things, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after Sept. 11, 2001, and the negotiation of a host of nuclear arms control treaties. In his current position, he may also be a natural successor to the job, have moved up through the Defense Department over decades.

Possible nominee: Michele Flournoy

Current title: Former U.S. Under Secretary for Defense Policy (2009-2012)

Resume: Founder and president, Center for a New American Security (2007-2009), Defense Department appointee, Bill Clinton administration.

Why: Flournoy has long been discussed as the first female Defense Secretary, an idea that might appeal to Obama, who has gone out of his way to court women and minority individuals for top administration officials. Flournoy advised the Obama campaign and led his transition team in the Defense Department; she also has demonstrated a willingness to work with members of both parties on national security issues.

Crossover possibility: Joe Lieberman

Current title: Independent U.S. Senator for Connecticut (1989-2013)

Resume: Connecticut Attorney General (1983-1989); Chairman, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (2001, 2001-2003, 2007-present)

Why: Lieberman, a hawkish defense advocate who often joins forces with senior Armed Services Republicans John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could be an exciting choice for Republicans and a way for Obama to find compromise with conservatives. As the Democrat-turned Independent plans to retire from the Senate in 2013, it could be a perfect opportunity for him to move to the Defense Department, though his name has also been mentioned as a candidate for Secretary of State

Crossover possibility: Chuck Hagel

Current title: Chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (2009-present)

Resume: U.S. Army (1967-1968); Deputy administrator of Veterans Affairs (1981-1982); Republican Senator from Nebraska (1997-2009); Chairman of the Atlantic Council (2009-present)

Why: Hagel was reportedly on the short list for Defense Secretary when Obama took office in 2008, but was asked to chair the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board Instead. Though a Republican while in office, Hagel has pushed back against partisan ties, endorsing Democrats. He reportedly was open to a vice presidential nomination from Obama in 2008. Hagel’s name has been rumored for a State or Defense nomination this time around.

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