President Donald Trump’s new defense secretary signaled to the military in a late Friday message that he may be there to carry out one of the president’s early campaign promises, an overseas drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role,” acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said in a memo obtained by McClatchy. “We are not a people of perpetual war — it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end.”
Trump in a tweet Monday had announced Miller as the replacement for fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
In the memo to the Defense Department workforce, Miller described at length the respect he has for the institution and the sacrifices made by thousands of men and women who have deployed to the Middle East since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He said, “ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”
It was the first indication of what direction the Pentagon may take in Trump’s final weeks in office, the uncertainty of which has raised concerns among career defense officials and the incoming Biden administration about what the changes mean — whether he is rewarding loyalists or trying to force through policies the department has resisted over the last four years.
Top Biden transition officials said that postelection upheaval at the Defense Department, Trump’s firing of Esper and the resignations of top defense policy and intelligence chiefs that followed, amount to a final push to politicize the military.
The firings and resignations come amid Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his electoral defeat and authorize the federal government to begin preparing for a transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden. The defense officials and Biden’s team said that gap could increase security risks for the country.
“In the 9-11 Commission report, one of the things they talked about was the impact of the delay of the transition period on our national security,” Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Biden transition team, told reporters on a call Friday.
“Of course it’s of concern to see the upheaval. It should be of concern to anybody because there shouldn’t be a politicization of the military,” said Psaki, who previously served in the Obama administration.
The firing and quick replacement of Esper had worried longtime defense civilian staffers, who wondered if there are major policy changes — such as a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan or new counterterrorism action in the Middle East or the Sahel, or even a potential use of military forces on U.S. soil to contest the election results — on the horizon before the president departs.
“I don’t know what the end game is,” said one current defense official who worked with policy staff members at the Office of the Secretary of Defense during Trump’s time in office. “For me that’s probably the most difficult thing to try and figure out. The instability and uncertainty complicates things.”