At a White House ceremony, President Obama today introduced his nominee to head the Pentagon, Ashton Carter. The first paragraph of the New York Times article on this event describes Carter as someone “who may advocate a stronger use of American power.” For a country at war for 13 straight years with no end in sight, and which more or less continuously bombs multiple countries simultaneously, what would a “stronger use of American power” look like?
Carter’s recent past provides some clues, as he wrote a Washington Post op-ed in 2006 with former Defense Secretary William Perry that advocated the bombing of North Korea:
[I]f North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. This could be accomplished, for example, by a cruise missile launched from a submarine carrying a high-explosive warhead. . . . This is a hard measure for President Bush to take. It undoubtedly carries risk. But the risk of continuing inaction in the face of North Korea’s race to threaten this country would be greater.
Carter also “believed the U.S. should have left a robust residual troop force in Iraq and believes the military has been asked to swallow dangerously large budget cuts.” Similarly, he was furious when Obama “decided at the last moment to call off military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.” Moreover, “he was one of the legal architects of the administration’s policy on targeted killings using drone strikes.” And for good measure, he said this in May at a panel discussion at Harvard: “We had a cyber Pearl Harbor. His name was Edward Snowden.”
It’s no wonder, then, that – as the Times article put it – “Mr. Carter, 60, is expected to face smooth confirmation hearings from Senate Republicans, who say they foresee no opposition to him.” A prior Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, showered Carter with praise today, tweeting this statement:
Well, a Democratic partisan would undoubtedly say, hands in the shrugging position: what is Obama supposed to do? Who else could he nominate?
The leading contender had been former Obama Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy. She currently “runs the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that’s largely funded by defense contractors.” She has also “advocated for increased defense spending and a stronger U.S. role in the world.” But she recently withdrew from consideration. Why? Because she is “considered a top contender to be defense secretary in the next administration if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2016, especially if it’s Hillary Clinton.”
Yet again we confront the most extreme myth that Washington loves to tell itself: that there is no bipartisanship, that the two parties agree on virtually nothing of significance and are perpetually unwilling and unable to agree on anything, that the Republicans vindictively obstruct everything President Obama wants. On so many vital issues, that is the opposite of reality. Or, as Don Rumsfeld put it, “Ash Carter is an excellent nomination by the President to be Secretary of Defense.”
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