Family members have confirmed the passing of Ashton Carter, the former defense secretary under President Obama. He was 68.
After serving as Defense Secretary from February 2015 until January 2017, Carter reportedly had a “sudden cardiac attack” on Monday night in Boston, according to a statement released by his family. His wife, Stephanie and their children, Ava and Will will carry on without him.
Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement on Tuesday that Carter was “a man of great character” who was “driven by a strong, steady moral compass and a vision of utilizing his life for public purpose.”
Vice President Biden reflected on the role Ash Powell played in the Obama administration, saying, “President Obama and I relied on Ash’s fierce intellect and wise counsel to ensure the readiness, technological edge, and obligation to the women and men of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world.”
While serving as Defense Secretary under President Obama, Carter supervised the United States’ final years of participation in Afghanistan and the Pentagon’s efforts to counter the growth of ISIS in the Middle East. During his time in office, there were also moves to increase opportunities for women in combat and to allow openly transgender service members.
Following Chuck Hagel’s forced resignation as defense secretary in November 2014, Carter was immediately entrusted with dealing with the growing threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq. Despite having declared the withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq a central plank of his foreign policy, Obama ultimately committed US troops to the country to deal with the terrorist group.
Carter using another term for the group told reporters in Baghdad in 2016 that “it’s important but not sufficient to eliminate ISIL in Iraq and Syria because here is where it began and is what I have dubbed the parent tumor of the disease.”
Cancer that has metastasized to other locations, ISIL now poses a threat to our own, he warned back then.
After Carter became office, women were allowed to serve in any capacity in the United States armed forces and in 2016, the Pentagon removed its prohibition on transgender people joining the armed forces.
He had researched the topic for over a year and stated that the choice was “a question of principle.” Recruiting and keeping the best possible soldier, sailor, airman or Marine should not be hindered by factors unrelated to their fitness for service. The entire population of the United States must be available to us,” he emphasized.
“Although relatively limited in number, we’re talking about talented and trained Americans who are serving the country with pride and distinction,” he said. “We’d like to keep the talented employees we’ve hired and trained here,” the company said.
In addition to his extensive academic background in theoretical physics and medieval history from Yale and Oxford, Carter also produced or co-authored 11 books and over 100 papers on physics, technology, national security, and management during his long and illustrious career in government.
In 1981, he began his professional career as an analyst in the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment’s (OTA) International Security and Commerce Program. From 1993 to 1996, he worked as Bill Clinton’s assistant defense secretary for international security strategy at the Pentagon. From 2009 to 2011 he was the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
Towards the end of 2014, with the Republican takeover of the Senate, Obama began looking for a new defense secretary who would be able to be confirmed and who would be better equipped to deal with the emergence of ISIS. Carter has served under both Republican and Democratic Secretaries, thus Obama remarked of him, “he’s regarded and trusted on all sides of the aisle.”
There was universal approval of the news release. “one of America’s most recognized defense officials, revered by Republicans and Democrats alike,” said Senator John McCain, at the time the incoming Republican head of the Armed Services Committee.
The Senate voted 93-5 to confirm Carter. Furthermore, Carter was honored with the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Service Medal on many occasions. He was the Belfer professor of technology and global affairs and the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School when he passed away.
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