The Cable

McCain: Carter Is Right for the Pentagon, but Only if the White House Lets Him Run It

The Republican senator hopes Carter's voice won't be sidelined in national security debates.

Senate Armed Services Holds Hearing On F-35 Joint Strike Program
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 19: Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Ashton Carter testifies during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 19, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was held to examine the F-35 joint strike fighter program in review of the defense authorization request for FY2012 and the future years defense program. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sen. John McCain believes Ashton Carter is the right person to run the Pentagon, but the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that he’s worried about the diminished role the defense secretary plays within the Obama administration.

McCain cited complaints of White House micromanagement and an insular National Security Council from former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

Much of the harshest criticism has come from Gates, the only defense secretary in history to serve in the post under consecutive presidents from different parties. In his memoir, released last year, Gates described the Obama White House as “by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost.”

Hagel, who announced his resignation Nov. 24, is also believed to have grown frustrated with being sidelined within the administration, particularly when it came to the White House’s Syria policy.

Speaking to troops last month at Ft. Bliss, Texas, Hagel said, “I’ve always thought the smartest leaders are the ones that will let people manage.  You cannot micromanage or even attempt to micromanage this department.”

But the White House’s tendency to micromanage stretches beyond the Pentagon, with former cabinet secretaries from the Energy Department to the Transportation Department saying they felt marginalized.

McCain said he hopes Carter’s voice will be listened to.

“Dr. Carter, I sincerely hope the President who nominated you will empower you to lead and contribute to the fullest extent of your abilities,” McCain said during his opening statement.

Carter is expected to be swiftly confirmed, most likely before the Senate goes on recess Feb. 16. Both McCain and Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the committee, have voiced their strong support for his nomination.

Carter told the committee that he will ensure the president “receives candid professional military advice.”

If confirmed, Carter said he will be a “stickler for the chain of command.”

Gates described situations when he was serving at the Pentagon when National Security Council staff members would call four-star combatant commanders directly, something Gates considered totally out of line.

Carter’s resume includes multiple positions at the Pentagon, including deputy defense secretary, a position he stepped down from just over a year ago.

“Carter is one of America’s most respected and experienced defense professionals,” McCain said Wednesday.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Kate Brannen is deputy managing editor at Just Security and a contributor to Foreign Policy, where she previously worked as a senior reporter. Twitter: @K8brannen

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola