After Esper, Top Pentagon Official Ousted
Are the resignations due to malice on the part of Trump, or is he trying to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan once and for all?
A top policy official at the U.S. Department of Defense’s top policy official was dismissed on Tuesday, one day after President Donald Trump fired defense secretary Mark Esper via tweet. Sources say the White House now seems focused on going after Mark Esper’s undersecretaries at the Pentagon.
James Anderson, the confirmed deputy undersecretary of defense for policy and a former George W. Bush administration official, has been replaced in the Pentagon’s powerhouse policy shop with former Fox News contributor Anthony Tata. Anonymous officials told media they are afraid Tata will force resignation’s across the department.
There are a number of high-level firings and resignations occurring throughout the administration. On Monday, the Department of Justice’s top election crimes prosecutor quit to protest Attorney General Bill Barr’s call for U.S. prosecutors to take account of election irregularities before the Electoral College certifies Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. It is expected that Pentagon intelligence chief Joseph Kernan and Esper’s former chief of staff Jen Stewart will also be removed.
Much of the media is speculating that the latest Trump firings may be retaliation for person affronts to Trump.
“The rapid-fire personnel changes at the Pentagon are emblematic of overall confusion and unease at the president’s refusal to accept the election results, officials said. Trump insists the election results are not final, alleging baseless claims of voter fraud,” reports Foreign Policy.
“It’s embarrassing for the United States. I was a CIA officer for 26 years,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior officer with the intelligence agency, quoted in Foreign Policy.“These are the [situation reports] that I’d be writing about a dictator who’s mad at his defense minister and has his interior minister fire him. It’s like something out of the Middle East.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper offers a less sinister explanation.
“Sources say [the firings] may be because Esper and his team were pushing back on what they viewed as a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan before conditions were met, as well as other pending security issues,” Tapper wrote.
If true, this means that these people lost their jobs because they were unwilling to carry out Trump’s foreign policy objectives. In some cases, this unwillingness may have stretched to actual opposition. Trump pledged to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Christmas. As with other troop withdrawal promises, the Pentagon stonewalled.
“Military experts said it would be impossible to withdraw all 5,000 US troops in Afghanistan and dismantle the US military headquarters by the end of the year,” reports the Guardian.
So, are the most recent spate of resignations the result of personal malice on the part of the President towards his underlings? Are they the result of policy differences on withdrawal from Afghanistan? Or, maybe these people think they’re heading into a lame-duck presidency and want to secure high-paying work in the private sector.
Whatever the reason for the recent slate of firings, in the case of Anderson in particular, several current and former officials told Foreign Policy that he was given the option to resign or be fired by Trump’s new acting Pentagon chief Christopher Miller. Anderson had anticipated his firing and moved his belongings out of the Pentagon weeks ago.
In his resignation letter, Anderson praised the “dedicated team of national security professionals” at the Pentagon and said “[i]t is clear that despite profound national security and defense challenges, America is more secure than it was four years ago.”
“Now, as ever, our long-term success depends on adhering to the U.S. Constitution all public servants swear to defend,” Anderson wrote.
Anderson had previously opposed the appointment of other Trump favorites to slots at the Pentagon, according Tata, Rich Higgins, a former National Security Council staffer, and Frank Wuco, a former State Department official and radio shock jock known for posing as a jihadi. He also opposed the removal of the Pentagon’s top Europe and NATO official Michael Ryan. Anderson’s predecessor, John Rood, was also removed earlier this year.
“They are filling all of the positions with political types not policy people,” a former senior administration official said anonymously. “So they are the crew they sent over from the [White House].”
There are not many qualified policy people who would take a job that they will likely only have for 73 days until January, 2021 — and it is extremely common for old hands to leave as the presidency enters either a second term or its lame-duck period. Media fears about the rapid exit of officials are likely overblown.