Esper, ex-defense chief who refused Trump on using Army to quash protests

Washington, Nov 9 (efe-epa).- US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was summarily fired on Monday by Donald Trump, will be remembered for having opposed the president’s intention to use the Army in suppressing nationwide protests against police brutality in recent months.

In a Twitter message, Trump announced his firing of Esper, saying that he was replacing him on an interim basis with Christopher C. Miller, who has up to now been the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

“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? …Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service,” Trump tweeted.

The ousting of the Pentagon chief, who had been confirmed in his post last July, came two days after Trump’s election defeat by Democratic challenger Joe Biden became clear, although the president so far has refused to concede or acknowledge his loss.

Esper’s name figured on the list of Trump’s potential firings after the defense chief had opposed the president’s idea to send military units to suppress disturbances arising from protests of police brutality and racism in various cities this past summer after the death in police custody of African American George Floyd.

Trump had repeatedly threatened to send all kinds of security forces, including the military, to put down those protests, which in some cases had resulted in acts of violence and looting, a situation that led Esper to announce his opposition to the idea at a Pentagon press conference.

At the time, Esper had said that using active duty troops in a law enforcement role should be considered only as a last resort and only in the most urgent and extreme circumstances, adding that the US was not in such a situation.

According to reports at the time, Trump became furious with Esper and had to be convinced by other staffers not to fire him immediately, but Esper – who kept a low profile thereafter – was already seen as someone with one foot out the Pentagon exit door.

Trained at West Point and with experience both in government and in the private sector, Esper had taken over at the Pentagon in July 2019 replacing James Mattis, who resigned as defense chief because he was not in agreement with Trump’s plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.

Born in 1964, Esper graduated from West Point at age 23, before joining the army as an infantry officer, a move that resulted in him participating in the first Gulf War.

He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit.

Upon his return to the US, still on active duty, he completed a Master’s Degree in Public Administration at Harvard University.

After 10 years of military service, he decided to leave the military and began working for The Heritage Foundation, a conservative studies center with great influence in Washington.

From that institution, he moved into public service and joined the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in 2001-2002 he served as public policy director for the House Armed Services Committee.

It was then that he was first called to serve in the executive branch.

In 2002, the George W. Bush administration offered him the Pentagon post of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy, and this role gave him the chance to work on matters related to arms control, international security and nuclear non-proliferation.

After his brief stint at Defense, he returned to the private sector to work in institutions such as the Aerospace Industries Association and Raytheon, one of the Pentagon’s main weapons contractors.

In 2017, he left Raytheon to return to the Pentagon as Secretary of the Army, a post in which he managed resources for the 1.4 million soldiers serving in that branch of the Armed Forces.

As a result of his service in that post, he became one of the most recognizable Pentagon officials and was frequently seen in the halls of the Capitol as a firm defender of the Army’s needs as well as White House policies.

At his Senate confirmation hearings for the post of Defense Secretary, Esper had promised to abide by the law at all times.

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