President Barack Obama has bungled the job of appointments to key national security positions for the past six years, and the nomination of Ashton Carter will allow him to maintain his streak. Carter is the classic example of the defense intellectual who has labored in the halls of academe, and then becoming extremely hawkish as he or she attains status and influence in the halls of the Pentagon. An important example is Carter’s views on national missile defense over the past three decades.
In the 1980s, while on the faculty of Harvard University, Carter wrote a study for the Office of Technology Assessment that assailed the effectiveness and usefulness of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. As a defense department official in the Clinton and Obama administrations, however, Carter became a strong supporter of both national missile defense in the United States and even the ridiculous idea of installing a regional missile defense in Eastern Europe against the possibility of a threat from Iran. The latter idea at least displays a certain amount of imagination.
Carter, however, has displayed a consistency in recommending the use of force. Although there has been a persistent misuse of military force in U.S. national security policy over the past several decades, which has costs tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, you would be hard pressed to find an example of Carter offering any criticism of how military policy has been used and misused. Fortunately, his advice to use military force has been ignored on several important occasions. President Bill Clinton ignored Carter’s recommendation to use air power against North Korea in 1994, and wisely resorted to diplomacy.
As a result, the State Department helped to arrange the Agreed Framework with Pyongyang that led to a freeze in the North Korean nuclear program. Carter recommended a similar use of force to the Bush administration to prevent the test of a North Korean long-range missile that failed in less than 40 seconds. President George W. Bush ignored Carter’s recommendation, which predictably had the support of Vice President Dick Cheney.