Defense

Former Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper will be joining the McCain Institute for International Leadership as its first John S. McCain Distinguished Fellow, the institute announced Thursday. 

The Washington, D.C.-based institute, which works in partnership with Arizona State University, said in a press release that Esper "will lead a bipartisan team to assess, discuss and promote policy solutions to the challenges facing U.S. national security decision-makers in the Executive Branch and Congress." 

The foreign policy-centered think tank added that Esper, who was fired by former President Trump in the days following the 2020 presidential election, has "dealt with the unique challenges posed by the rising economic, military and technological capabilities of the People's Republic of China and the People's Liberation Army." 

Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and chairwoman of the McCain Institute Board of Trustees, said in a statement Thursday that she was "pleased to welcome" Esper to the team. 

"Mark's deep knowledge and expertise partnered with the convening power of the McCain Institute will produce valuable insights for policy makers on both sides of the aisle and throughout our government," she added. 

In a statement from Esper included in the press release, the former Trump administration official said, "Any effective approach to the rise of China will need to reflect American values, be bipartisan and have the weight of the entire U.S. government and our allies behind it." 

"These are hallmark characteristics of Senator McCain, and I look forward to tackling this important work at the McCain Institute," Esper said. 

The institute said that Esper's team will lead discussions centered around four main topics: "Modernizing our armed forces, strengthening and expanding our alliances and regional relationships, reinvigorating America's soft power globally by supporting our diplomatic and development assistance initiatives, and utilizing a whole-of-government approach alongside our allies to counter China."

The Trump administration engaged in a years-long trade war of tariffs with China over Trump's claims that the country was engaging in unfair trading practices and intellectual property theft. 

Esper's firing in the final months of the Trump administration marked the end of a strained relationship between the the former Pentagon chief and Trump. A wedge was lodged in their relationship after Esper came out against a suggestion made by the former president to use active-duty troops to quell social justice protests last summer. 

Esper also advised Trump against pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. The former Defense secretary's ouster prompted a series of resignations among other top Pentagon officials, and Trump a week after firing Esper ordered the Pentagon to pull 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by mid-January.

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