Mark Esper Has Measured Himself, And Found That He Is A Hero
The Mark Esper redemption tour continues apace, with the former secretary of Defense telling anyone and everyone that, while it might have appeared that he was participating in an orgy of corruption that weakened US alliances and emboldened Russia and China, he was actually saving America for democracy.
"If I spoke out at the time, I would be fired, number one. And secondly, I had no confidence that anybody that came in behind me would not be a real Trump loyalist. And Lord knows what would've happened then," he told CBS's Norah O'Donnell in response to a question about why he remained in service to a president he describes as patently unfit to lead.
In an excerpt from his upcoming book published this morning at Politico, Esper describes an August 2019 meeting about the proposed pullout from Afghanistan. Naturally the meeting took place in a "security tent" erected in an unused banquet hall at the president's New Jersey golf club. Sec. State Mike Pompeo, NSA John Bolton, VP Mike Pence, CIA Director Gina Haspel, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Esper all tried to persuade Trump that it was a terrible idea. But Trump figured if he could just get the Taliban and then-Afghan president Ashraf Ghani together in a room with him, his magnetic statesmanship and the orange glow of his spray tan would convince them to work something out. Trump's grand plan involved inviting the parties to Camp David, on the anniversary of September 11.
Eventually the slumber party fell through after the Taliban and the Ghani government asked for guarantees before coming to the table. But Trump's erratic behavior at the meeting was a big wakeup call for Esper.
"I knew right then and there that this job would be far more challenging than I had anticipated, to say the least," he writes about his realization in 2019, after years of insane shit tweets and "very fine people" and "Russia if you're listening" and windmill cancer and playing footsie with every dictator from Putin to Duterte, that maybe this Trump guy wasn't really on the up and up.
Esper praises his own dogged effort to get congressionally allocated defense funds for Ukraine released, and claims no knowledge that the president was withholding them as part of an effort to extort President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for dirt on Joe Biden. He also claims to have been shocked at Trump's obsession with LTC Alexander Vindman, who raised hell about the blackmail effort, writing, "It was surprising how animated one Army lieutenant colonel was able to make the leader of the free world. I never understood it.”
The Vindman family is extremely not here for Esper's version of events, wherein he doggedly protected Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny Vindman, then a member of the National Security Council.
"Unfortunately by not supporting @AVindman (and me), Esper allowed our actions to be politicized, ensuring that our prospects in the @DeptofDefense were meager. That’s why almost 2 years to the day from when Alex retired I will also retire this summer," Yevgeny tweeted this morning.
Rachel Vindman, Alexander's wife, was less restrained.
Somehow @MarkTEsper is both the hero and the victim of the story that completely upended and changed our lives. \n\n@AVindman was not taken care of and we were not okay. No one checked in on him regularly or told him what was going on.pic.twitter.com/mUt1r6fLCh— Rachel Vindman \ud83c\udf3b (@Rachel Vindman \ud83c\udf3b) 1652200182
But Mark Esper didn't come here to criticize his own conduct. He came to tell you how much the Republic owes to this former Raytheon lobbyist and Heritage Foundation chief of staff.
"I come up with this idea," he told O'Donnell. "Actually, Mark Milley and I discuss it-- what we call the 'Four No's'. The four things we had to prevent from happening between then and the election. And one was no strategic retreats, no unnecessary wars, no politi-- politicization of the military, and no misuse of the military. And so, as we went through the next five to six months, that became the metric by which we would measure things."
And by his own metric, he has measured himself, and found that he is a hero.
Oh, sure, there was that little ethical hiccup when he and Milley allowed themselves to be used for a photo op after Trump tear-gassed peaceful protestors so he could molest a Bible while trespassing at a church. But Esper more than made up for it — at least according to his own calculations — by saying that there was no justification to invoke the Insurrection Act.
"The Republic felt wobbly," he told O'Donnell, "and that's what prompted me to decide to-- to go before the podium at the Pentagon on June 3rd and say what I said."
Yes, it did feel "wobbly." In fact it felt more than wobbly, for four straight years, and it almost toppled on January 6, 2021. And Esper assuring Fox's Bret Baier that he won't vote for Trump again, although he refused to vote for Joe Biden, is many dollars short and days late.
Esper could have quit. He could have told the American people what he knew before the election. Instead he stayed and lent his skills and gravitas to a patently corrupt and dangerous man, and now he'd like to be rewarded with a payout for writing a tell-all book.
We're not buying it! And neither should you.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.