July 01, 2019

An Acting Secretary of Defense Isn’t Enough

The U.S. public is rightfully anxious about U.S. policy on Iran and whether the Trump administration is leading the country toward war in the Persian Gulf. The White House has ricocheted from one policy position to another, which has done nothing but heighten the fear that the president and his advisors do not themselves agree on a course of action. As the Trump team presses for policies that could lead to direct confrontation—and as Iran turns to more aggressive policies, including stockpiling uranium beyond the limits assigned under the 2015 nuclear deal—all we can do is hope the leaders who sit around the Situation Room table know how to handle a mercurial president who does not inspire confidence in his crisis management but instead makes crises worse.

A major player at that table is acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who replaced Patrick Shanahan after he stepped down as acting secretary last month. At a time of international tension and possible conflict, you want the best minds focused on the issue and strong advisors not afraid to tell the president when he is wrong. However, senior leaders in an acting capacity, such as this succession of acting defense secretaries, have the deck stacked against them when it comes to telling truth to power. This is made still worse by President Donald Trump’s management style—he does not seem to be looking for advisors who will say no to him. That’s why there are so many empty positions in his government temporarily filled by acting officials.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

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