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9 essential facts about Ashton Carter, Obama's pick for Defense Secretary

Ashton Carter at the Pentagon
Ashton Carter at the Pentagon
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

It's official: Ashton Carter is Obama's pick to succeed Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Never heard of Carter? Here are a few quick facts to get you up to speed:

  1. Carter previously served as Deputy Secretary of Defense under Hagel and his predecessor Leon Panetta, and as an Under Secretary handled military purchases for the first two and half years of Obama's presidency.
  2. Before that, he was a professor at Harvard's public policy school and an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Bill Clinton. He's a theoretical physicist by training, receiving his doctorate from Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship.
  3. As Deputy Secretary, he effectively ran the Pentagon and left Panetta and Hagel to handle policy, which apparently annoyed Hagel.
  4. He was responsible for implementing the Obama administration's defense budget cuts but was also perhaps the department's most vocal critic of sequestration.
  5. He's championed reforms to the DoD purchasing process to prevent contractors from going over budget, but it's not at all clear his efforts have succeeded.
  6. In 2006, he argued that the US should bomb North Korea if it tested one of its long-range ballistic missiles.
  7. He's supported the administration's diplomatic efforts in Iran but worked on a 2008 report that explored military options to hamper the country's nuclear program, leading some to conclude he'd take a harder line on Iran relative to Obama.
  8. He's faced criticism from nonproliferation specialists for opposing cuts to US nuclear weapons programs.
  9. Republicans on the Hill, including incoming Senate Armed Services chair John McCain, appear pleased with the pick. He was confirmed by voice vote in 2009 and 2011 but 18 Senators opposed him when Clinton made him Assistant Secretary in 1993, including three still in office: Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, and Thad Cochran.

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