After seven months of provisional status, the United States is finally going to appoint a Pentagon chief. Mark Esper, a retired military officer with Congress experience and as a lobbyist, faced Tuesday the first Senate confirmation hearing, trying not to get out of the official Department of Defense script, singing the priorities set by the national strategy: China and Russia as rivals, Iran and North Korea as threats and Al-Qaeda and ISIS as targets on which to maintain pressure. Many surprises had already arisen until his arrival at the Capitol, this hot July morning in Washington.
The post of head of the Pentagon was released last December after the resounding resignation of Jim Mattis, following the controversial withdrawal of troops from Syria announced by Donald Trump without counting the allies or the support of the head of defense, who had taken time apart by the president. He then opted for the deputy secretary of the department, a veteran engineer Boeing named Patrick Shanahan, as a temporary replacement. In May, Trump decided to definitely confirm it, but a month later Shanahan had to resign by surprise when a family violence scandal happened years ago.
It is here that Mark Esper (Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 55) appears on the scene, having arrived at the Trump Administration in November 2017 to take over the army. Classmate of the current Secretary of State, Mike Pompey, at the West Point Military Academy, Esper spent a decade on active duty and 11 years in the National Guard. He retired in 2007, decorated as a veteran of the Gulf War (1990-1991), among other missions, and started his stadium in the jungle of power in Washington. He worked as a chief of staff of an acquaintance think tank Conservative, The Heritage Foundation, was recommended in the presidential campaign by Republican Senator Fred Thompson in 2008 and participated in the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
The past that will cause the first doubts in the Capitol, however, will be that of his work as a lobbyist for the Raytheon company, a major contractor of the Department of Defense. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, announced Tuesday that she asked her last week if she thought she could serve as secretary of state, following the controversy over Turkey's purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia . Trump said just this Tuesday that, in response, the United States will not sell F-35 jets to the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan because of the risk that the new technology of these aircraft will be accessible to the S-400 system. The S-400 alternative is a system developed by Raytheon, therefore the suspicion of a possible conflict of interest.
On Tuesday, however, Esper received good words from Democratic senator Tim Kaine, who assessed his management of military housing problems. In his initial declaration to the Senate, he undertook to maintain the strategic objectives of his predecessors. "We must be ready to respond to regional threats such as Iran or North Korea, while maintaining pressure against terrorist groups such as ISIS (Islamic State) and Al-Qaeda," he said. Some of the problems he faces – he has been doing this for weeks as an interim secretary – are the escalation of tension with Tehran and uncertainty about Venezuela, where Nicolás Madura is still clinging to power.
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