Written by By Helene Cooper
US President Donald Trump nominated Mark T Esper, the secretary of the Army and former West Point classmate of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on Friday to be the next defence secretary.
If confirmed, Esper, an Army infantryman who fought in the Persian Gulf war of 1991 before becoming a lobbyist for Raytheon, would succeed Jim Mattis, who resigned in December during a dispute over pulling American troops out of Syria.
Esper is set to become acting defence secretary on Sunday, after the abrupt resignation of Patrick Shanahan, who was also nominated by Trump to the top Pentagon job. Shanahan withdrew on Tuesday amid news reports about his 2011 divorce.
The president nominated Ryan McCarthy, the under secretary of the Army and a former Army Ranger, to succeed Esper. He also nominated David Norquist, the Pentagon’s chief financial officer, to be the next deputy defence secretary.
The nominations come as Esper and the Pentagon are already in the throes of an international crisis over Iran’s downing of an unmanned American drone Thursday morning. On Thursday night, Trump called off planned airstrikes on Iranian radar and missile sites; the president tweeted on Friday that he called off the strikes because of chances of casualties.
Esper, along with Shanahan, was at the White House on Thursday for meetings with Trump over how to respond. Iran asserts that the American drone was in Iranian airspace, a charge that the United States Central Command denies.
An American strike on Iran likely would be viewed as an act of war, at the very least by Iran and possibly by the international community, as well, military experts said.
When announcing on Tuesday that Esper would be acting defence secretary, Trump called him “outstanding,” and “a highly respected gentleman with a great career — West Point, Harvard, a tremendous talent.”