New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pledged Monday to give candid military and strategic advice to President Obama and a White House staff often accused of attempting to "micromanage" the military.
After his swearing-in ceremony at the White House, Carter used the word "candid" twice in describing how he and the Joint Chiefs would carry out the statutory mission to give their best military advice to the White House.
In a message to all Pentagon personnel, Carter said: "I have pledged to provide the president my most candid strategic advice. I will count on your experience and expertise as I formulate that advice. I will also ensure the president receives candid professional military advice."
Carter rattled off a list of crises that must be faced from the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to the ongoing fighting in Ukraine but also pointed to the opportunities for the U.S. to make the world safer.
"While we deal with the challenges to our national security, I also want to make sure that I help our leadership grab hold of the wonderful opportunities that lie before this great country," Carter said.
Carter arrived at the Pentagon on a day the building was shut down along with other federal offices in Washington because of a snowstorm. Carter's wife, Stephanie, took a spill on the icy walkway but was unhurt, the Associated Press reported.
Carter then went to the White House to be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden, who called him a "buddy" and a "driving intellectual force" on the military. As a senator, Biden worked closely with Carter, then the Pentagon's acquisition chief, on funding and fielding MRAPs (Mine Resistant-Ambush Protected Vehicles) for Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Ash Carter was the guy who leapt into action" at the rising death toll for U.S. troops from improvised explosive devices, Biden said. "He worked like the devil to get our troops (MRAPS) and they've saved lives and limbs in countless numbers," Biden said.
Biden described Carter, a Rhodes scholar who holds a doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford, as a "thinker and a doer, he gets things done."
In taking the oath, Carter was replacing Chuck Hagel, who stepped down after less than two years as defense secretary as the result of what Hagel called a "mutual decision" reached by himself and President Obama.
Hagel was said to have felt he was hamstrung by the "micromanagement" of the White House staff. Former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta have made similar complaints.
Hagel was also hampered by a stormy Senate confirmation process in comparison to the relatively easy and quick approval won by Carter. Hagel was confirmed by a full Senate vote of 58-41 while Carter's vote was 93-5.
In his remarks, Biden took note of the bipartisan backing for Carter. Biden said the new defense secretary was beginning his tenure with the "confidence of everyone in your building, confidence of the United States Senate, confidence of President Obama, and me."
Carter previously served as deputy defense secretary, the No. 2 position at the Pentagon, from 2011- 2013, From 2009-2011, he was the chief weapons buyer as undersecretary for Acquisitions. In the administration of former President Bill Clinton, Carter was the assistant Secretary for international security policy.
In his Senate confirmation hearing, and in his remarks Monday, Carter repeated a pledge made by several former defense secretaries – to streamline the Pentagon's creaky process for acquiring and fielding new weapons and systems.
He also has pledged to be an independent voice on policy, saying that he was "inclined" to favor sending arms to Ukraine and stressing caution in the release and transfer of prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com