Inside Ash Carter’s Pentagon Transition Team

Inside Ash Carter’s Pentagon Transition Team

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Gordon Lubold, writing on today’s DefenseOne.com website, writes that new Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter, “has picked a small team of experienced hands with whom he has worked closely with in the past — to form a transition team — to help prepare him for a confirmation process (early February hearing) to be contentious — but, ultimately successful.” Mr. Carter expects to face pointed questions on “the Obama administration’s war policies from Senator John McCain, the new Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee — who will consider Mr. Carter’s nomination — among others,” Mr. Lubold wrote.

“My view, is that he is going to have to speak his own mind,” said Shawn Brimley, Executive Vice President of the Center for New American Security, a think-tank based in Washington D.C. “The political reality is that Secretary Carter can afford to have his own view; and articulate his own view to Congress…I wouldn’t be surprised if even his confirmation hearing — he puts some distance between current [White House] policy, and what he thinks.”

“Brimley suggested that Carter could push to have more American trainers in Iraq; and shift the policy slightly to allow U.S. military personnel to be embedded in frontline, Iraqi units. That would raise the risk considerably; but, could fill gaps in the current policy — that some believe have hamstrung the U.S. military’s ability to train Iraqi forces,” Mr. Lubold noted.

Mr. Carter’s transition team, includes a former, trusted military aide; Army Maj. Gen. Ronald Lewis, Matthew Spence, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy; James Swartout, Carter’s former spokesman; Jody Bennett, who works on the Senate side for the Pentagon’s Office of Legislative Affairs; and, Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine two-star, who has served in a variety of official, and unofficial capacities, for the U.S. military in recent years,” Mr. Lubold added.

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has designated “two of his own trusted aides, Rexon Ryu, his Chief-of-Staff, and Michael Lumpkin, a former naval officer, who is now serving as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict — to be point men for Mr. Carter’s transition team,” according to Defense One.

“But, it is the individuals who are close to Mr. Carter, who will play the most important roles,” Mr. Lubold correctly observes. “Lewis, now head of the Army’s public affairs apparatus, who just pinned on his second star last week, is considered extremely close to Carter, as Lewis was the senior military aide when Carter was Deputy Secretary of Defense. MG. Lewis remains the head of the Army Public Affairs; but, is spending much of his time now on Mr. Carter’s transition. Lewis could be in the running to play a critical role as a senior officer in Carter’s front office; and, after confirmation, potentially serving as Carter’s Senior Military Assistant. Although the job is typically filled by a three-star flag, or general officer, there are no rules that require that rank. Carter would be expected to turn to a military officer whom he has had a long relationship. Lewis, who is well-regarded in the Pentagon, is a cavalry officer with command positions in both Iraq, and Afghanistan,” Mr. Lubold noted.

Mr. Spence “announced just weeks ago, that he was leaving the administration after six years of working for the Obama administration; but, he left his departure date vague,” Mr. Lubold observes; and, has now been asked to stay on for a while to assist in Mr. Carter’s transition — and, is serving as Carter’s Senior Policy Advisor — through the confirmation process.”

“Swartout served as spokesman for Carter, when he was [Carter], Deputy Secretary of Defense. Last summer, Sawrtout moved to work as Special Assistant and Chief-of-Staff to Under Secretary of the Air Force, Eric Fanning. He has returned now to help Mr. Carter on communications — through the transition process; and, is serving as Carter’s official spokesman, at least until the confirmation process is concluded.”

“Jody Bennett is the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense — in the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Legislative Affairs Department, working on the Senate side of the house; and, is working to coordinate Carter’s Hill visits; and, helping prepare him for his confirmation hearings.”

Defense One added that “Carter’s transition team also incudes more than a dozen individuals, who are not detailed to the transition team specifically; but, who are assisting in one form or another. Each major department or office within the Pentagon has a point person who is tasked as needed.”

Mr. Brimley said Mr. Carter must focus on four things in the confirmation process:

1) The Middle East and the linkage now between terrorism and the attack in Paris last week, and the ‘wars’ in Iraq and Syria — and, the Islamic State;

2) The Military compensation review, a massive undertaking that will be politically sensitive for the recommendations it is expected to make — to trim the Pentagon’s expanding personnel costs — and, is expected to be released in the next few weeks;

3) The Pentagon’s war, and baseline budget, sequestration, and the forced spending cuts imposed by Congress;

4) The myriad of procurement issues within the Pentagon — something Carter know much about as the Defense Department’s former weapons buyer.”

Good luck Mr. Carter. The biggest obstacle to progress you will face, is not any of the issues above; but, a POTUS and Whit House national security team that seems to be over-whelmed and without a clue. V/R, RCP

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