Esper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump

Esper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump
© Greg Nash

Defense Secretary nominee Mark Esper on Tuesday declined to say whether he more closely aligns with President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE or former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisUS leaves dozens of 'high value' ISIS detainees behind amid Syria retreat: report White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions MORE, although he said he “clearly” shares Mattis’s views on the international order.

“I don’t know where to pick between the two,” Esper replied to a question from Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersRepublican challenger to Gary Peters in Michigan raises over million Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood charges into 2020 | PhRMA CEO warns against Pelosi drug pricing bill | Medicaid work requirements costing states millions Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats MORE (D-Mich.) during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “But I clearly share Mattis’s views, and I’ve expressed that publicly.”

Mattis resigned in protest in December after Trump announced a full U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, a plan that has since been reversed.

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In his resignation letter, Mattis made clear he was leaving because his views did not “align” with Trump’s on the value of alliances such as NATO and the anti-ISIS coalition and standing firm against adversaries such as Russia and China.

Mattis was highly respected by lawmakers in both parties for the perception he stood up to Trump, and his departure left some fretting his replacement would be too deferential to the president.

Reading from Mattis’s resignation letter, Peters asked Esper about his view on the U.S.-led international order and alliances.

“On my first day as acting secretary, the note I sent to the field said that I fully support the National Defense Strategy, to include, explicitly, line of effort two, which talks about building alliances and strengthening our partnerships,” Esper replied. “So I’m fully committed to that. I realize the importance of it.”

Esper also said the post-World War II international order has “ensured prosperity and security,” but is now under threat from Russia and China.

Pressed by Peters if he would resign in the way Mattis did if he is asked to do something that contradicts his values, Esper said he would “absolutely” be willing to resign if he is asked to do something illegal or immoral. 

“My time in the Army, I grew up with this view that if you’re asked to do anything illegal or immoral or unethical, then that would be the point at which you have to consider resignation,” Esper said.