Trump announced Shanahan's departure and Esper's selection in a pair of tweets, thanking the outgoing Pentagon chief "for his outstanding service" and saying he's "done a wonderful job." According to Trump, Shanahan chose not move forward with the confirmation process to "devote more time to his family."
....I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defense. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019
Shanahan's long-awaited confirmation as secretary of defence following Jim Mattis' departure from the post earlier this year was long delayed and then apparently halted amid a protracted FBI investigation into a domestic dispute involving his ex-wife.
Trump chose Mark Esper to replace Shanahan. But just who is he, and what's his background?
Proponent of Futuristic Weapons
During his time as secretary of the army between late 2017 and now, Esper proved to be a major proponent of futuristic combat systems, including everything from semi-autonomous killer robots, to anti-aircraft lasers, to long-range superguns, advanced camouflage, hypersonic missile systems and more, all of which he said would allow the United States to compete with potential great power adversaries Russia and China.
Last summer, at a security forum in Switzerland, Esper announced that the US Army would be shifting focus from lower-tech counter-insurgency campaigns to high-tech weaponry designed to give the US an "advantage on a modern battlefield" and prepare the country "for the fight 10 or 15 years from now." According to Esper, the reorganization he was charged with was "the biggest organizational change" in the army "since 1973," when the US began a major reform after its loss in Vietnam.
Before his selection as secretary of the army, Esper served as vice president for government relations at Raytheon, the aerospace and defence giant known for advanced weapons systems including the Patriot, Tomahawk, Sidewinder, TOW and AMRAAM missiles, early warning radar, as well as a variety of advanced products for civilian use.
In the position, which he held from 2010 to 2017, Esper successfully lobbied Congress and the Pentagon to support the company's programs and products. The Hill recognised Esper in its list of "Top Lobbyists" for the years 2015 and 2016, citing the "former Pentagon official, Senate staffer and Army colonel" for his efforts on the weapons giant's behalf.
Heritage Foundation Egghead
Between 1996 and 1999, Esper served as chief of staff to Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner. Founded in 1973, the influential conservative think tank has worked extensively to try to influence US domestic and foreign policy, advocating the fight against the Soviet Union and its allies during the Cold War and promoting the securing of US preeminence in the post-Cold War 'New World Order'.
In 2017, following his nomination as chief of the army, Feulner described Esper as having been his "indispensable right hand, both at Heritage, and as Heritage's Board travelled internationally promoting freedom in post-communist Eastern Europe and throughout Asia."
Prior to his career as a think tank secretary, lobbyist and government official, Esper served in the military for 21 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Between 1990 and 1991, he served with the 101st Airborne Division during its deployment against Iraqi forces in the Gulf War. He was later deployed in Europe, before returning to the US to serve in the National Guard and Army Reserve, and as an army research fellow at the Pentagon.