The US has a new Secretary of Defense seven months after the sensational resignation of Jim Mattis.
The US Senate confirmed on Tuesday that President Donald Trump has nominated Mark Esper by a large majority. He then took his oath of office in the White House. This ends the longest vacancy at the forefront of defense in US history. Trump spoke of a “very important day” for the US. “There is no one more qualified to lead the Department of Defense” than Esper, said the US president.
Since the departure of Secretary of Defense Mattis in December, there had only been transitional solutions at the Pentagon. The highly respected general had resigned in protest at the withdrawal of troops from Syria announced by Trump and the reduction of troops in Afghanistan.
For his acting successor, Patrick Shanahan was appointed. He was also considered a permanent Secretary of Defense, but retired in June for family reasons. The Washington Post reported earlier acts of violence in his family. Trump then nominated the head of administration of the US Army Esper as the new Pentagon chief.
In the Senate, Esper received broad support from Trump’s Republicans as well as from the opposition Democrats. On Tuesday, 90 senators voted for the 55-year-old, and only eight senators voted against him.
Esper had been the Secretary of the Army since November 2017, with the primary responsibility for recruiting, training and equipping the US land forces, which had 1.4 million troops. He was the highest ranking civilian in the US Army, reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense. He was previously manager of armaments company Raytheon and head of the US Chamber of Commerce. In the Gulf War in 1991, he was a member of the 101st US Airborne Division of the US Army and was awarded for his service.
Esper has good contacts with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with whom he studied at the Military Academy West Point. Both graduated from the academy in 1986. He has also worked for several parliamentarians as a consultant.
The 55-year-old takes over the office in turbulent times. In recent months, tensions with Iran have dramatically worsened. Trump also wants to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan and to achieve a peace agreement with the radical Islamic Taliban. With his harsh criticism of NATO partners, the US president has also angered many allies.
Esper himself emphasized in his Senate hearing last week that he was determined to strengthen alliances with other countries. His predecessor Mattis, in his letter of resignation to Trump, had cited fundamental differences of substance with the president as the reason for his withdrawal, emphasizing the importance of international alliances. When asked whether he too would resign on such a matter, Esper said at the hearing that he would consider resigning if he were asked to do something illegal or immoral.