Mark Esper
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper is interviewed remotely by Norah O’Donnell of CBS Evening News, about the DoD response to COVID-19, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 31, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

The “ter­mi­na­tion” of U.S. Defense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper, announced in a Tweet by Pres­i­dent Trump, is a “child­ish” act that will embold­en America’s adver­saries dur­ing a time of pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion, in words of U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Adam Smith, D‑Wash., chair­man of the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Committee.

Smith has warned about the politi­ciz­ing of the Pen­ta­gon, which he has described as one branch of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that has stood apart from revolv­ing appoint­ments of offi­cials ter­ri­fied of anger­ing the President.

“Dis­miss­ing polit­i­cal­ly appoint­ed nation­al secu­ri­ty lead­ers dur­ing a tran­si­tion is a desta­bi­liz­ing move that will only embold­en our adver­saries and put our coun­try at greater risk,” Smith said in a state­ment after Trump’s abrupt post-elec­tion action.

“Pres­i­dent Trump’s deci­sion to fire Sec­re­tary Esper out of spite is not just child­ish, but it’s also reck­less. 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.”

Esper had pre­pared a let­ter of res­ig­na­tion. But a vin­dic­tive Trump has made fir­ing by tweet a hall­mark of his gov­ern­ing style. The Defense Sec­re­tary incurred the incum­ben­t’s ire by announc­ing in June he would not deploy active-duty troops to Amer­i­can cities. Trump had float­ed use of the Insur­rec­tion Act to quell civ­il unrest.

Esper angered Trump again by mov­ing to ban dis­plays of Con­fed­er­ate flags at mil­i­tary instal­la­tions. Trump has defend­ed the nam­ing of major mil­i­tary instal­la­tions for such fig­ures as Con­fed­er­ate Gen­er­als Brax­ton Bragg and John Bell Hood. Both were major “losers” in the Civ­il War.

Esper is being replaced by Christo­pher Miller, direc­tor of the Nation­al Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter, who will serve as act­ing defense sec­re­tary dur­ing the remain­ing sev­en­ty days of the Trump administration.

The jobs of two oth­er nation­al secu­ri­ty pro­fes­sion­als, CIA Direc­tor Gina Haspel and FBI Direc­tor Christo­pher Wray, are report­ed­ly also in jeopardy.

A sec­ond senior North­west law­mak­er, Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden, D‑Oregon, crit­i­cized the Esper fir­ing and Miller hir­ing. Said Wyden: “Don­ald Trump fired some­one who wouldn’t order U.S. troops to attack peace­ful pro­test­ers and is replac­ing him with some­one he may think will car­ry out those orders.

“I opposed Chris Miller’s nom­i­na­tion ear­li­er this year, because he refused to promise that intel­li­gence agen­cies wouldn’t tar­get Amer­i­cans based on their polit­i­cal views. He should remem­ber that any­one who car­ries out an ille­gal order from Don­ald Trump will be held ful­ly account­able under the law.”

Mark Esper
Defense Sec­re­tary Dr. Mark T. Esper is inter­viewed remote­ly by Norah O’Donnell of CBS Evening News, about the DoD response to COVID-19, at the Pen­ta­gon, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., March 31, 2020. (DoD pho­to by Lisa Ferdinando)

Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi warned, in a state­ment, that the tim­ing of Esper’s ter­mi­na­tion “rais­es seri­ous ques­tions about Trump’s planned actions for the final days of his Administration.”

The ter­mi­na­tion of Esper “is dis­turb­ing evi­dence that Pres­i­dent Trump is intent on using his final days in office to sow chaos in our Amer­i­can Democ­ra­cy and around the world.”

Sen­a­tor Jack Reed, D‑Rhode Island, the rank­ing Demo­c­rat on the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, added: “Fir­ing of the Sec­re­tary of Defense in the wan­ing weeks of the Admin­is­tra­tion under­mines nation­al secu­ri­ty at a crit­i­cal moment.”

Adam Smith heads one of Con­gress’ most col­le­gial committees.

He has been more out­spo­ken of late, par­tic­u­lar­ly after the fir­ing of Capt. Brett Crozi­er of the car­ri­er U.S.S. Theodore Roo­sevelt, removed from his job for plead­ing for Pen­ta­gon help with a coro­n­avirus out­break on his ship.

Crozi­er was “thrown over­board” in a move that will have “a chill­ing effect” on truth-telling in the armed forces, Smith declared at the time. “Dis­miss­ing a com­mand­ing offi­cer for speak­ing out on issues crit­i­cal to the safe­ty of those under their com­mand dis­cour­ages oth­ers from rais­ing sim­i­lar con­cerns,” he warned.

When more than one hun­dred crew mem­bers con­tract­ed the pan­dem­ic, Crozi­er told the Pen­ta­gon, “Keep­ing over 4,000 young men and women on board the Theodore Roo­sevelt is an unnec­es­sary risk and breaks faith those sailors entrust­ed to our care. We are not at war. Sol­diers do not need to die.”

The fir­ing was proof that Trump chaos had arrived at the Pentagon.

Crozi­er was fired by act­ing Navy Sec­re­tary Thomas Mod­ly, who said the cap­tain “demon­strat­ed extreme­ly poor judg­ment.” Mod­ly was forced to resign after he flew to Guam, board­ed the car­ri­er and made deroga­to­ry remarks about Crozier.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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