Acting Pentagon Policy Undersecretary Stepping Down as Biden Admin Struggles to Fill Post

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
March 26, 2024US News
Acting Pentagon Policy Undersecretary Stepping Down as Biden Admin Struggles to Fill Post
Sasha Baker, US Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy speaks during a press conference on the 4th ROK-US Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group Meeting (EDSCG) in Seoul on Sept. 15, 2023. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker is set to step down from her Pentagon role at the end of April, ending her time there at about the nine-month mark.

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder announced Ms. Baker’s resignation at a press briefing on Monday afternoon. The Pentagon spokesman said Amanda Dory, a career civil servant currently working as the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University, will assume the duties of the under secretary of defense for policy.

“Acting Under Secretary Baker was asked to step into a difficult and critical position, and she has been a pillar of strength and wisdom. Under her leadership, our Policy team has helped the Department navigate a range of complex global challenges, including major crises in Ukraine and the Middle East,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said of her departure. “Her strategic acumen and steadfast commitment to our national security have helped her play a pivotal role in shaping our defense policies, tackling emerging threats, and strengthening interagency relationships and international alliances.”

The under secretary of defense for policy is the third-highest position in the civilian leadership structure within the Pentagon, below the position of deputy secretary of defense and then the secretary of defense. Ms. Baker had held the position in an acting capacity, without full Senate confirmation, since July after Colin Kahl stepped down from the post.

In July, President Joe Biden nominated Derek Chollet to fill the defense policy under secretary position on a more permanent basis, but his nomination has been stuck in the Senate.

In his Monday press statement, Mr. Austin urged the Senate to move forward and confirm Mr. Chollet for the Pentagon role.

Biden Nominee Faces GOP Pushback Over Afghanistan Withdrawal

Mr. Chollet’s nomination process has met with added scrutiny from Congressional Republicans over his role in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.

Mr. Chollet currently serves as the counselor of the U.S. Department of State, an under secretary-level role in which he acts as a senior advisor to the secretary of state on policy matters and handles special diplomatic assignments. Mr. Chollet took on this State Department role at the start of the Biden administration and has held it through the widely criticized Afghanistan withdrawal and up to the present.

At a September Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider Mr. Chollet’s nomination, ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he was disturbed by the nominee’s comments describing the decision to leave Afghanistan as strategically sound.

At the same September Senate hearing, Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) recounted efforts he made in the summer of 2021 to attempt to personally go to Afghanistan and help evacuate American civilians in the country and said State Department officials routinely opposed these efforts.

Mr. Mullin further chastised Mr. Chollet for claims that the State Department assisted every American who wanted help getting out of Afghanistan. The Oklahoma Senator said the Hamid Karzai International Airport—the primary evacuation point during the Afghanistan withdrawal—was closed down after an Aug. 26, 2021, suicide bombing attack near the airport’s Abbey Gate entrance. Mr. Mullin said he was in the process of trying to evacuate civilians, including a three-year-old girl, on the evening of Aug. 29, but “the State Department was stopping us every step of the way.”

The Senate sent Mr. Chollet’s nomination back to President Biden on Jan. 3, in accordance with Senate rules. President Biden again nominated Mr. Chollet for the Pentagon post, but his nomination has made no new progress.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) also came out in February, urging his colleagues on the Senate side to oppose Mr. Chollet’s nomination.

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