Top Pentagon Official Stepping Down

 December 12, 2023

A significant shift occurs at the Pentagon as Mara Karlin, a top policy official, prepares to leave her position.

Mara Karlin, the acting under-secretary of defense for policy, is set to depart from her role at the end of December.

Karlin, a pivotal figure in shaping the Biden administration's National Defense Strategy, has chosen to return to academia. This departure signals a major transition within the Department of Defense, as it leaves the top two policy roles and the top strategy role in the hands of acting officials.

Implications of Karlin's Departure

With Karlin's departure, Melissa Dalton, the Assistant Secretary of Defense, will assume her responsibilities. This change underscores the growing trend of interim leadership within the Pentagon's senior ranks.

The transition to acting officials in these crucial roles raises questions about the stability and continuity of defense policy, particularly in a time of global uncertainties and challenges.

As assistant secretary for strategy, plans, and capabilities, Karlin contributed significantly to strategic discussions on emerging capabilities and defense modernization. Her leadership in fostering the AUKUS partnership and managing relations across various global regions has been particularly noteworthy.

Senator Tuberville's Role in Defense Nominations

Senator Tommy Tuberville's holds on numerous defense nominations have added complexity to the situation. While he has lifted his blockade on hundreds of military nominations, he continues to block nominations for 4-star officer positions and senior civilian roles.

This impasse has left several critical positions within the Pentagon unfilled, affecting not only the immediate functioning of the defense department but also its long-term strategic planning.

Derek Chollet, nominated to replace Colin Kahl as Under Secretary of Defense for policy, is still awaiting a Senate committee vote. This delay further exacerbates the leadership vacuum at a crucial time for the Pentagon.

Karlin's Contributions and Future Plans

Karlin's tenure at the Pentagon has been marked by her strategic acumen and profound commitment to public service. Her work encompassed a broad spectrum of defense issues, from Indo-Pacific posture modernization to managing complex relations with key regions like Europe, NATO, the Middle East, Africa, Russia, Eurasia, and the Western Hemisphere.

Her decision to return to academia is a loss for the Pentagon and a shift in the landscape of defense policy-making in the United States.

Baker spoke about Karlin's departure and highlighted her significant contributions to the department.

“I deeply appreciate Dr. Karlin’s dedication, strategic acumen, and her profound commitment to public service. Her contributions significantly strengthened the department’s strategic approach and preparedness for future security challenges. As Dr. Karlin embarks on her next chapter, we wish her the very best and are confident that her impact on national security will continue to resonate for years to come.”

Senator Tuberville's Objections and Holds

Senator Tuberville's objections, particularly regarding the military's abortion policy, have been a central factor in his decision to place holds on top leadership nominations. His actions have sparked debates about the intersection of military policy and broader political issues.

Last week's lifting of holds on hundreds of military nominations was a significant development, yet his continued blockade on top leadership positions remains a contention.

This situation, coupled with the departure of key figures like Colin Kahl over the summer, adds complexity to the Pentagon's ability to navigate current and future challenges.

The Impact on Pentagon Leadership

The cumulative effect of these developments is a Pentagon grappling with leadership transitions amid a backdrop of global tensions and evolving security challenges. The absence of permanent appointments in top positions may impact the effectiveness and perception of U.S. defense policy.

As the Pentagon navigates these transitions, the role of acting officials becomes increasingly crucial, raising questions about the long-term implications for defense strategy and international relations.

These changes come when global security dynamics are increasingly complex, necessitating strong and consistent leadership at the highest levels of the Department of Defense.


The departure of Mara Karlin from the Pentagon represents a significant shift in the landscape of U.S. defense policy and strategy. The implications of this departure, coupled with the ongoing holds on senior defense positions by Senator Tuberville, present challenges to the stability and continuity of defense leadership.

  • Mara Karlin, a key Pentagon official, is leaving her position at the end of December.
  • Melissa Dalton will assume Karlin's duties, leaving top Pentagon roles filled by acting officials.
  • Senator Tuberville's holds on defense nominations affect senior leadership positions.
  • Karlin's contributions to defense strategy and international relations have been significant.
  • The Pentagon faces challenges in maintaining continuity and effectiveness in its leadership.

About Aileen Barro

With years of experience at the forefront of political commentary, Robert Cunningham brings a blend of sharp wit and deep insight to his analysis of American principles at the Capitalism Institute.

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