President Obama has apparently chosen a new candidate for Pentagon chief—a relative unknown on the national stage who worked as former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's "alter ego" for about two years. That candidate is Ashton Carter, whose public profile was boosted by his role in planning the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He would be Obama's fourth secretary of defense if nominated—as senior GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe said today he would be—and confirmed. That would thrust Carter out of his comfort zone as a behind-the-scenes confidante and into the center of more defense and foreign policy problems, arguably, than Panetta faced in his 20 months as defense secretary. Carter's name was among the first to surface after Chuck Hagel abruptly resigned last month.
That is largely because of Carter's academic and government credentials and his reputation as one of the brightest minds in the national security establishment. During the administration of President Bill Clinton he was assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Before that he was director of the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School. He is associated with a concept he helped champion in the 1990s called "preventative defense"—the notion that after the Cold War, the US could forestall major new security threats by forging and strengthening security partnerships with China, Russia, and others. Carter also says America needs to focus on the threat of cyberattacks. (One possible candidate for defense secretary was a woman.)