DEFENSE SECRETARY MARK ESPER FIRED BY TRUMP
President Trump unceremoniously fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper via Twitter on Thursday, sparking yet another round of upheaval at the Pentagon and injecting even more drama into an already tense, uncertain post-election period for the administration and the military.
The president made the abrupt announcement in a midday tweet and officials said Mr. Esper was given just a few minutes’ notice that his firing was imminent. Mr. Trump named National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller as the acting defense secretary, making him the fifth Pentagon chief in less than four years.
Such turnover atop the military is unprecedented in modern U.S. history. The latest personnel change carries even more weight because of the political circumstances that surround it.
Over the weekend, major media outlets called the presidential race for Democrat Joseph R. Biden, and the presumptive president-elect immediately began work on a transition plan that will include the naming of a new defense secretary and nominees to other top posts across the Pentagon. . . .
Over the weekend, major media outlets called the presidential race for Democrat Joseph R. Biden, and the presumptive president-elect immediately began work on a transition plan that will include the naming of a new defense secretary and nominees to other top posts across the Pentagon.
“I am pleased to announce that Christopher C. Miller, the highly respected Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (unanimously confirmed by the Senate), will be Acting Secretary of Defense, effective immediately,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
“Mark Esper has been terminated,” he said. “I would like to thank him for his service.” . . .
“I think we’ve been really successful in transforming the department,” Mr. Esper told the Military Times. “And then … preserving my integrity in the process.”
“My frustration is, I sit here and say, ‘Hmm, 18 Cabinet members. Who’s pushed back more than anybody?’ Name another Cabinet secretary that’s pushed back,” he said. “Have you seen me on a stage saying, ‘Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?’”
In addition to their clash over active-duty troops on U.S. soil, Mr. Esper also backed moves inside the military to effectively ban the display of the Confederate flag and an ongoing push to remove the names of Confederate generals from 10 Army bases. On the latter, Mr. Trump publicly vowed to block the changes and seemingly used the issue to appeal to supporters who are wary of such changes. . . .
“It is certainly the president’s prerogative to do so. The timing and manner of firing, however, are unfortunate,” said Bradley Bowman, director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “During the next couple of months, we need leaders at the Pentagon who are willing to push back on any bad ideas emanating from the White House and to work closely with President-elect Biden’s transition team.”
Mr. Esper released letters to Mr. Trump and to Defense Department personnel discussing their joint accomplishments Monday. He did not directly thank Mr. Trump for his appointment and signaled in his letter the troops that he had some regrets.
“I step aside knowing that there is much more we could accomplish together to advance America’s national security,” he wrote.
“It is concerning that reports show that this firing was an act of retribution by the president, allegedly for Secretary Esper’s refusal to send active-duty military troops to crack down on peaceful demonstrations against police brutality,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Most disturbingly, however, the timing of this dismissal raises serious questions about Trump’s planned actions for the final days of his administration.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, was equally scathing, accusing Mr. Trump of destabilizing the Pentagon at a time when U.S. adversaries might be tempted to exploit a distracted and divided Washington. . . .
“It has long been clear that President Trump cares about loyalty above all else, often at the expense of competence, and during a period of presidential transition competence in government is of the utmost importance,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Esper also seems concerned about what could happen if the Pentagon is led by someone who will not question Mr. Trump. He said his willingness to oppose the commander in chief is a reason why he remained in the post.
“You’ve got to pick your fights,” he told the Military Times. “Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.” . . .
Mr. Miller, a military veteran who served in the Army’s elite special forces unit, arrives at the Pentagon at a pivotal moment. There are heightened concerns that major U.S. adversaries as China, Russia, North Korea or Iran may seek to exploit the political uncertainty of the American leadership transition by carrying out aggressive moves to expand their regional influence.
In initial meetings with Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Mark Milley and senior generals, Mr. Miller said he did not plan major immediate changes, the AP reported.
Mr. Miller’s specific views on U.S. strategy toward China, Russia and North Korea have not been publicly documented, although he signaled during an interview last month that he thinks tensions between the U.S. and Iran could escalate suddenly and quickly if the Iranian regime engages in actions deemed too aggressive by Washington.
“I get the sense [the Iranians] understand that there’s a line they can go up to, but if they cross that line, I mean it’s all hands on deck, it’s gonna be really, really bad,” Mr. Miller said during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mr. Miller is the fifth Pentagon chief of the Trump tenure. Mr. Trump’s first defense secretary, retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, resigned in late 2018 in protest of the administration’s decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria. He was replaced by former Boeing executive Patrick M. Shanahan, who served in a temporary capacity for about six months.
During that process, former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer served as acting defense secretary for about a week.
(Excerpt from The Washington Times. Article by Ben Wolfgang. Photo Credit: White House Flickr.)
Are you surprised by Trump firing Mark Esper? Let us know in the comments!
Partner with Us
Intercessors for America is the trusted resource for millions of people across the United States committed to praying for our nation. If you have benefited from IFA's resources and community, please consider joining us as a monthly support partner. As a 501(c)3 organization, it's through your support that all this possible.