Moving On

Top Pentagon Official Goes to CAP

Vikram Singh, a top Pentagon official dealing with Asia, is leaving government serice to head up national security at a progressive think tank linked to the Obama administration.

The Pentagon’s top official dealing with South and Southeast Asia will soon leave the Obama administration to take the helm of the national security section of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank founded by White House senior advisor John Podesta.

On Monday, CAP will announce that Vikram Singh, currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, will join the think tank in March to become their new Vice President for National Security and International Policy. Singh leaves government after spending over five years working on policy in a region spanning from Afghanistan to New Zealand in both the Defense and State Departments. He was one of the original team members working under Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We’re thrilled to have Vikram Singh lead our national security and international policy team,” CAP President Neera Tanden told The Daily Beast. “Vikram is a leading foreign policy thinker of his generation and has tackled the country’s greatest foreign policy challenges during his time at the State Department and the Pentagon. As we continue to shape a pragmatic foreign policy strategy over the next decade, Vikram’s insights, sharp strategic mind, and experience will guide our work.”

He will succeed Rudy DeLeon, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration. DeLeon will stay on as a senior fellow at CAP.

Though Singh is best known for serving as one of Holbrooke’s deputies at State from 2009 until shortly after Holbrooke’s death in late 2010, Singh was a civilian official for years prior to that at the Department of Defense and returned to the Pentagon as a political appointee in 2011. There, he was the Pentagon’s representative during interagency reviews of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. More recently, Singh worked on implementing the Obama administration’s “rebalance” to Asia. Before first joining the Defense Department in 2003, Singh worked for the Ford Foundation in Sri Lanka and also was a reporter during the civil war there for the Voice of America.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Singh said the CAP job provided a great opportunity for him to take a break from policy implantation to concentrate more on larger strategy and writing.

“It’s been the greatest privilege to serve both at State and Defense. After 5 years, it was time to take a step back and take time to think and spend some time with family,” he said. Singh and his wife, former Holbrooke staffer Ashley Bommer, are also expecting their first child in the coming weeks.

At CAP, he will manage a team of over a dozen people who work on a range of issues from defense budgets to climate change, with a focus on progressive national security policies which emphasize shifting to what they see as a more sustainable security posture balanced on equal legs of defense, diplomacy, and development.

“CAP does incredible solid work on a range of issues from a progressive foreign policy standpoint and I want to keep building on that,” said Singh. “It is a really critical time for how we as a country think about national security, as we end more than a decade of large scale foreign military entanglement. It’s a really good time to figure out where we go from here.”

The Singh departure creates one more vacancy at an already depleted Asia shop inside the Pentagon. While the White House searches for his replacement, Singh’s duties will be performed by Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joaquin Malavet.

The position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia is also vacant. Acting Assistant Secretary Peter Lavoy left government late last year and Kelly Magsamen is filling in, also in an acting capacity. Higher up in the Pentagon, Christine Wormuth has been nominated for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Bob Work as Deputy Secretary of Defense, but all nominations are stalled due to Republican intransigence in the aftermath of last year's invocation of "the nuclear option" to prevent filibusters on nominations by Senate Democrats.