Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Perry Accepts Defense Nomination

WASHINGTON -- Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Perry has accepted President Clinton's nomination to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Les Aspin, but even his fans are wondering if he is politically suited for the highly demanding cabinet post.


Perry, 66, has legions of admirers in the Pentagon and Congress, but the soft-spoken expert on how the military designs and buys arms has little experience in the explosive political issues that forced Aspin to resign last month.


"Perry's a techie (technocrat)," said one defense expert. "He has focused on defense technology all his life, and does it very well. But he's an unknown quantity on the bigger strategic and political issues -- how to downsize defense, gays in the military, Bosnia, Somalia and things like that."


A senior military officer said Clinton's nominee was "well respected by the uniformed side," but he added that Perry was "not known to be a compelling spokesman" on military policy.


One of the contentious issues the new defense secretary will have to face is reconciling U.S. military strategy with defense budget cuts that will make it hard, to staff, train and modernize the forces needed to implement the strategy.


"The services are going to be coming in asking for more money, and there isn't any more. So you're going to have this enormous firestorm, and the secretary will be right in the middle of it," the defense expert said.


In announcing that he had selected Perry, a soft-spoken former professor, Clinton called him "a real pro" with "the right skills and management experience for the job."


Perry is currently the administration's number two defense official. His chance at promotion came after others spurned the opportunity to grab the nomination given up by retired Navy Admiral Bobby Ray Inman last week.


A native of Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, Perry holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Stanford University and a doctorate from Penn State University, all in mathematics.


Perry is married and has five children, previously served as executive vice president of Hambrecht and Quist Inc., an investment banking firm in San Francisco specializing in high technology companies.


During Jimmy Carter's presidency, he was undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, and an analyst familiar with Perry's service during this time said he had singlehandledly spurred development of the Tomahawk cruise missile and Stealth fighter technology used in the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.


Perry is also believed to be easily confirmable, being well-regarded by both Democrats and Republicans.


But Clinton has been faulted for fielding a weak foreign policy team, leading former defense official Lawrence Korb to question how Perry would improve things.


"Perry is a bright, capable guy. He's been a success in business and government. The question is, is he the person to round out Clinton's national security team -- can he take on the press and otherwise handle the public role of defense secretary?" Korb asked.


Russian turmoil, North Korea's suspected nuclear bomb development, and ethnic strife around the world are but some of the issues that could catch fire at any moment.


"I think Clinton is asking for trouble politically with this nomination," said William Kristol, a conservative Republican operative.