Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Running for president last year, Republican Senator Ted Cruz was widely ridiculed for telling a young girl that "the world's on fire." That may not have been the most politically astute way to talk to a three-year-old, but you have to admit Cruz has a few facts on his side: North Korea's nuclear bombast; a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan; last-gasper Islamic State forces hanging on in Syria and Iraq; Iran arming to the teeth its proxy forces in Lebanon and Yemen; China's fake-island building; Russia's positioning hundreds of thousands of troops on the borders of NATO allies; and increasing terrorist activity in North and Sub-Saharan Africa.
You'd think the U.S. military would have its hands full just managing these crises. But as perilous as they may be, the Defense Department has an equal responsibility to look far, far ahead — defining long-term threats, developing strategies to counter them, buying the best new weaponry to deter our enemies' and rivals' aggressive tendencies, etc. And from 2014 to this year, the man with the burden of the future on his shoulders was Robert O. Work, who served as the deputy secretary of defense to three different bosses, Chuck Hagel, Ashton Carter and James Mattis.
In some ways, Work had a typical background for the job: 27 years in the Marines during which he reached the rank of full colonel, front-line roles including commanding an artillery battery, management experience as undersecretary of the Navy. But his resume is also quirky for a career Leatherneck: he studied biology as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois and has three masters — in systems management from the University of Southern California, in space-systems operations from the Naval Postgraduate School, and in international public policy from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. This week he returned as a senior fellow to the Center for a New American Security, an influential centrist think-tank in Washington where he served as chief executive in 2013-'14.