Carter,nominated by President Barack Obama in December to be Chuck Hagel’s replacement to lead the Pentagon,advocated for strengthening foreign alliances and asked that Congress end across-the-board mandatory budget cuts called sequestration.
“Sequester is risky to our defense,” Carter,a former Department of Defense official,said.
The Republican-led committee posed a marathon series of questions to Carter that seemed on one hand to dredge up the past,and on the other an attempt to predict the future.
Senators weren’t shy about telling Carter how they really feel about the Obama administration’s strategies on foreign affairs,but when it came to the transfer of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay,Cuba,it seemed like Carter was on the same page as the committee.
The defense secretary has the power to delay the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
Freed detainees could become a security threat to U.S. military troops abroad,the senators argued.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte,R-N.H.,estimated that 107 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have gone abroad and resumed terrorist activities.
The White House was critical of Hagel for his delay in transferring detainees.
Ayotte asked Carter to promise that he wouldn’t be pressured by the federal government to continue this increase of transfers.
Without skipping a beat,Carter agreed.
The confirmation hearing was the first time the committee could question Carter about the increase of Guantanamo Bay transfers.
Instead of increasing transfers,Carter sided with Sen. Mike Rounds,R-S.D.,to say that it’s important to interrogate terrorist detainees for what they called intelligence information.
Detainees,though,aren’t at the top of Carter’s secretary of defense to-do list.
That honor goes to the Islamic State group.
The group poses the greatest risk because of its widespread membership.
“One group,two locations,” Carter said of the Islamic State group’s influence in Iraq and Syria.
These are risks Carter said he hasn’t seen before.
When Carter,60,started his defense career,he said the world was simpler. The main risk was the Cold War,when the enemy and boundaries were defined.
The Islamic State group is the complete opposite and its effects are far reaching.
Carter repeatedly said the way to achieve the lasting defeat of the Islamic State group is to rebuild morale and power in the Iraqi government and a secure a partnership with Syria.
McCain,R-Ariz.,challenged Carter about the Obama administration’s strategy to combat the Islamic State.
McCain asked Carter if there is a strategy because he said he doubts there is one. Carter dutifully replied: “I believe I understand our strategy,” then remained mum about the topic.
One strategy is to supply the Jordanians with weapons quickly to fight the Islamic State group.
“The Jordanians are ready to fight,” Carter said.
All that appears to be stopping them is what Carter referred to as bureaucratic red tape.
Carter said he has firsthand experience with this when he ran the Pentagon’s weapons acquisition and logistics programs before becoming deputy secretary of defense.
U.S. military assistance is also needed in Ukraine and the Balkans – a region Carter wants to reunite – to counteract Russian aggression,Carter said.
Carter’s solution: more NATO troops.
Sen. Joe Manchin,D-W. Va.,agreed.
“This isn’t a partisan issue,it’s an American issue,” Manchin said. “Americans will pay more taxes to support the military.”
More money will be spent to deploy more U.S. troops to the Middle East.
Carter said the U.S. military also needs to modernize weapons to avoid repeating mistakes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nuclear weapons aren’t going anywhere,the physicist said.
If the U.S. isn’t prepared to handle national security crises,Sen. Lindsey Graham,R-S.C.,asked Carter why he wants to cut the Department of Defense budget.
It’s less about cutting the budget than spending its funds appropriately,Carter said. He said misappropriation of funds is hindering the country’s progress.
If confirmed as defense secretary,Carter will manage the Pentagon’s multi-billion dollar budget,and any war efforts.
The Senate and Armed Forces Committee is expected to vote on Carter’s confirmation early next week.
Reach reporter Jordan Gass-Pooré at [email protected] or 202-408-1490. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.