In selecting Army Secretary Mark Esper to succeed Patrick Shanahan as acting secretary of defense, President Trump has picked a combat veteran whose views are more likely to align with those of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and serve as a bulwark against the more hawkish national security adviser John Bolton.
Esper and Pompeo, both former Army officers, went through the U.S. Military Academy at West Point together, class of 1986.
Esper’s views on warfare were shaped as an infantry officer in the 1991 Persian Gulf War assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, in which he was awarded a Bronze Star, among other military decorations.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner last month, Esper said what has changed the most since he served a young captain in Operation Desert Storm is the shift from high-intensity conflict with tank-on-tank battles to low-intensity warfare fighting insurgents and terrorist groups.
Now, Esper says, with the rise of China and Russia, the United States has to think more about high-end warfare, or what the Pentagon calls “the era of great power competition.”