Defense Secretary Ashton Carter talks veterans, Iran at speech Tuesday

The secretary of defense spoke at Dineen Hall, crediting the university's "pathbreaking" work in aiding veterans.

“It's just a much wider game now,” said Ashton Carter, the U.S.' 25th Secretary of Defense, as he leaned back into his grey armchair onstage. “You can't take that narrow point of view that, I suppose, was possible for me to take earlier in my career. Not so anymore.”

In an appearance on his first domestic trip after taking office on Feb. 17, Carter, who has played prominent roles in the Department of Defense throughout the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama eras spoke to a crowd in the Melanie Gray Ceremonial Courtroom of Dineen Hall at SU’s College of Law. Carter addressed issues of veterans’ reform, contentious U.S. defense policy in Ukraine and the Middle East, and the future of the United States military in the new century.

Carter started the speech by explaining his desire to both make the military more accommodating to future generations, and to confront issues the force currently faces. He also touched on the unique position of SU to partner with the DOD on these tasks.

Carter said part of the challenge he faces is “thinking outside the five-sided box called the Pentagon about how we need to change, so that we remain attractive to people.”

“We need to understand that and connect to that to continue to have the best people come in,” Carter added. “Because people today want to think about their futures. We can't offer them a conveyor belt that you get on and you don't move until you get off.”

In regards to SU, Carter credited the university’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families for its groundbreaking work in service of aiding veterans, citing its competent, committed and “pathbreaking” level of work that he said was not being done anywhere else in the country.

A large focus of military reform and the partnership with SU is going to be improving the process of veterans transitioning back to civilian life, Carter said. Also, the research of the IVMF and other SU institutions will continue to inform the DOD effort to shift toward more successful and thoughtful transition programs, Carter said.

Aside from veterans’ reform, Carter discussed with students other shifts in the U.S. military as global challenges have taken on a different character, such as new strategies and more international, open-minded approaches to developing and implementing military technology and American roles.

“Today's national security challenges  you all know from picking up the newspaper  are not purely military in character,” Carter said. “They are political and economic and social in a complicated way.”

Cooperation between different government agencies and use of Special Forces are critical in facing new struggles, Carter said. On special forces: “They are very frequently our best instrument in a conflict.”

Carter also voiced opposition to sequestration policies, which aim to cut defense and military budgets. “We can’t afford to take ourselves apart in the way sequester is suggesting,” Carter said.

Still, Carter said he understood taxpayers’ desires to see their dollars spent well, admitting that the DOD has not spent every dollar in the best possible way, something he intends to address.

Carter also mentioned nearby Fort Drum, where he visited on Monday and announced that 1,250 troops there would be deployed to Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces against the Islamic State.

At one point during the Q&A session that spanned most of his time before the crowd, a student asked Carter what principles were guiding convoluted U.S. policy in the Middle East, where alliances are uncertain and goals of our partners often conflict.

“The grounding point is the pursuit of our interests and our values,” Carter said, essentially explaining that the U.S. seeks to build and strengthen factions that suit its interests. Carter gave the examples of American-fostered coalitions currently trying to forge unified Iraqi and Syrian states that are free from enemies like ISIS and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

When Lorraine Branham, dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, asked Secretary Carter about the Iran nuclear negotiations that had a deadline of midnight on Tuesday at the time, he said he did not know the specifics of the current discussion.

“One of my jobs is to make sure all options are on the table,” Carter said, emphasizing that Obama is determined to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. “At the same time, of course, we all hope that a good agreement is possible."

After about 45 minutes of speaking and taking questions, Carter commented last on developing a broader and more socially involved strategy for combating terrorism in the future, paying more attention to the environments that foster terrorism. 

“But, you know, job one for me is to protect this country and protect our people,” Carter finished, before leaving the auditorium and departing in a formidable-looking security motorcade from behind the building.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.