New Pentagon Chief: US Military ‘Remains Strong’

November 13, 2020 Updated: November 13, 2020

The new head of the Department of Defense (DoD) said Friday that the U.S. military hasn’t been compromised in any way since President Donald Trump fired former Pentagon chief Mark Esper several days after Election Day.

“I want to assure the American public and our allies and partners that the Department of Defense remains strong and continues its vital work of protecting our homeland, our people and our interests around the world,” Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said while meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart.

He was named to the position on Nov. 9 after Esper’s departure. Miller is a former special forces officer and counterterrorism specialist.

Miller said he’s spoken to leaders of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and members of the Senate and House Armed Service Committees. In his speech, Miller said he’s also spoken with allies in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, adding he will soon speak with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Several Pentagon officials have resigned over the past several days. The resignations came from Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Joseph Kernan, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Anderson, and Esper’s chief of staff Jen Stewart, according to a Pentagon statement.

“I want to thank Dr. Anderson, Admiral Kernan, and Jen Stewart for their service to the nation and the Department,” Miller said. “Over their careers each has contributed greatly to the national defense and the future of the Department of Defense. We wish them the best in their next endeavors.”

Anthony Tata will assume the responsibilities for undersecretary of defense for policy, Ezra Cohen-Watnick will assume the duties of undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, and Kash Patel is taking over as Miller’s chief of staff, according to the Pentagon.

As for Miller, he wrote an opinion piece in mid-October along with Doug Livermore that called for U.S. Army Special Forces to “go back to basics against China and Russia.”

“A refocus on increased unconventional warfare capability will both allow for greater deterrence to prevent a war with China and Russia or, failing that, provide the United States and its allies with the means to drastically increase the cost and difficulty by which adversaries might pursue such aggression,” Miller and Livermore wrote before making mention of former President John F. Kennedy’s famed quote on unconventional or asymmetrical warfare.

“There is another type of warfare—new in its intensity, ancient in its origin—war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him,” the article quoted JFK as saying. “It preys on unrest.”

Last week, Trump announced Esper’s termination on Twitter. He did not elaborate on why Esper was let go from the agency.

“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,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post. “Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service.”

Esper, meanwhile, wrote (pdf) to his staff that it has been an “honor and privilege of a lifetime” to serve as Pentagon chief.

“Together, we have made solid progress implementing the National Defense Strategy by modernizing the force, improving its readiness, strengthening ties with allies and partners, and reforming the Department to make it more efficient,” he wrote.

The recent shakeup at the DOD drew criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

“Whatever the reason, casting aside a Secretary of Defense during the volatile days of transition seems to neglect the President’s most important duty: to protect our national security,” wrote Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official, on Twitter.