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Ashton Carter

Secretary’s Day? Senate Grills Obama’s DOD Pick

By Tony Perkins

If you thought you had a tough job, try being tapped to sort out the mess the President has made of the U.S. military. If the Senate agrees, Ashton Carter — the White House’s pick for Defense Secretary — could be that man. In a day-long hearing with the Armed Services Committee, the pitfalls of the post were painfully clear.

“I must candidly express concern about the task that awaits you, if confirmed, and the influence you would have on some of the most critical national security issues facing our nation,” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said bluntly. With the problems of sexual assault, suicide, budgeting, low morale, religious hostility, terrorists-for-deserters, and a volatile Middle East on the plate of Chuck Hagel’s replacement, there were plenty of issues for the committee to work through.

In just six years, President Obama has gone through three Secretaries of Defense, making this latest appointment even more crucial. “I’m confident that he has no influence whatsoever,” McCain told reporters later, “nor did his three predecessors. Because all the decisions, we know, are made by three or four people at the White House level.” As Robert Gates explained candidly in his book, that included issues like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” where the concerns of military leaders were openly shoved aside in pursuit of a dangerous social agenda.

On the hot topic of religious liberty — which continues to be a thorn in the troops’ side — Carter offered a surprisingly positive take. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has been a champion on the issue, used the opportunity to question Carter about his views. “I think the ability to believe according to one’s own belief system and to express those, those views appropriately is of utmost importance to the morale of all of our service men and women and to their families. I think it is also something of a pillar of our society, something that we have always expected would be tolerated, is a diversity of religious viewpoint and religious expression. Certainly one’s religious freedoms should never be curtailed merely because one decides to serve one’s country in the military.”

Briefly, he explained the case of Army Chaplain Lawhorn, who was reprimanded for sharing his faith during a suicide prevention training. “What’s your view on religious freedom and the freedom of religious expression within the military? And, what will you do if you are confirmed as Secretary to make sure that those rights are respected and that the obligations imposed by Congress on the military are honored?”

Carter seemed sincere, replying, “There is no inherent conflict between religious expression and good order and discipline. You can have both. I don’t know anything about this particular case. If I am confirmed, I would want to see to it that no one thought there was an inherent conflict between the two.” For conservatives, it was an encouraging sign after years of hostility toward men and women in uniform. Let’s hope that if Carter is confirmed, he justifies our cautious optimism.

Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.

(Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)


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