The United States has a new Secretary of Defense. What happened?
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was fired in a surprise announcement on Twitter yesterday.
- President Trump announced in a Tweet on Monday afternoon that Mark Esper had been “terminated” and replaced by Christopher Miller, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) after he was “unanimously confirmed by the Senate.”
- Mark Esper became Secretary of Defense in July 2019 after former SECDEF James Mattis resigned. NPR reports that Trump hoped to fire Esper in June after he pushed back on Trump’s decision to invoke the Insurrection Act and deploy active duty troops to Washington, D.C. in response to Black Lives Matter Protests. Trump apparently held off after advice that it was unwise to lose a Secretary of Defense so close to the election.
- Esper, who was nicknamed “Yesper” for the perception that he allowed Trump to get away with poor military and defense policies, insists that he worked hard behind the scenes to push back on Trump’s ideas and make prudent decisions. In an interview published yesterday, he said that if his replacement is a “yes man,” then “God help us.”
- Christopher Miller served in the military for over 30 years and worked in the defense industry prior to his appointment as the director of the NCTC.
- Democratic lawmakers including chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have blasted the president’s decision to terminate Esper. Smith called it “reckless” and “childish,” while Pelosi said that it is part of a deliberate attempt to “sow chaos” ahead of the presidential transition. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the move “nothing less than a temper tantrum by someone upset at being rejected by the majority of voters in this country.”
- With Esper’s replacement occurring so soon after Trump’s projected election loss, many have raised questions about whether or not more shake-ups will follow before the end of his term.
- Suspects that Esper is one of many sweeping changes to be enacted by Trump in the next two months, potentially as part of a concerted effort to cause instability before his departure from office. Time calls the event “the beginning of Trump’s post-election reckoning” while CNN predicts it is “just the start of a very wild 72 days.” Vanity Fair calls it “Trump’s post-election purge,” while Bloomberg and Newsweek play up Pelosi’s comments that Trump is dangerously short-sighted and focused on revenge.
- Portrays Esper as a heroic defiant voice in a cabinet full of enablers. The Guardian says that Esper was fired for “contradicting” Trump, and Daily Beast highlights Esper’s reluctance to allow a “military crackdown” in D.C. this summer. HuffPost points out that Esper “defied the president on several occasions,” and The Economist hypothesizes that Esper was terminated for “insufficient subservience.”
- Is critical of Trump’s decision to replace Esper. BuzzFeed News is critical of Trump’s decision to publicly fire Esper on Twitter; an op-ed in the Washington Post calls the event “a slap in the face” which “stunned military leadership at a time when they were craving stability.”
- Is critical of Esper and sympathetic to Trump. The Federalist writes that Esper repeatedly failed to “accomplish Trump’s priorities” as SECDEF, while New York Post points out that Esper had a “rocky relationship” with the president for several months prior to his termination. Breitbart calls Esper’s firing a “long-expected move”.
- Highlights Esper’s pushback against claims that he is a “yes man.” Washington Times reports that Esper himself says that he pushed back against Trump more than anyone in the cabinet, implying that it is logical for him to be terminated.
- Looks to the future of the role, with a heavy emphasis on Christopher Miller’s fitness to serve. Washington Examiner reports that Miller was an excellent choice to replace Esper, and has already been “brought up to speed” on the role. Fox News favors detailed coverage of Miller’s background over a deep-dive into Esper’s termination.
© Evelyn Torsher, 2020