Before President Trump unceremoniously fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper via tweet on Monday, Esper sat down with The Military Times on Nov. 4 for what turned out to be a sort of exit interview, published Monday afternoon. Esper said the nickname used by Trump and others, "Yesper," was unfair. "My frustration is I sit here and say, 'Hmm, 18 Cabinet members. Who's pushed back more than anybody?' Name another Cabinet secretary that's pushed back," he said. "Have you seen me on a stage saying, 'Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?'" (Yes, The Washington Post's Aaron Blake responded, with video evidence.)
Esper told the Times he never had any intention of quitting but thought he might be fired at some point soon. He recounted some things he was proud to have accomplished, some times he tried to "make the best out of" Trump orders he disagreed with, and when asked if any other defense secretaries had to spend as much time balancing a president's demands with very real consequences for national security, he answered, "Probably not."
And he had a warning of sorts for America. "At the end of the day, it's as I said — you've got to pick your fights," Esper said. "I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that — why? Who's going to come in behind me? It's going to be a real 'yes man.' And then God help us."
That's a "very real and grim" warning for the last 10 weeks of Trump's presidency, even if it ends up being unfair to Esper's acting successor, Christopher Miller, Blake writes in the Post. "That one of Trump's Cabinet officials would literally say 'God help us' about a situation in which we now find ourselves should send shock waves through our body politic," and a second consecutive defense secretary suggesting "Trump is dangerous" is "a big deal, which should escape nobody's notice." But "Esper overstated his true history of standing up to Trump," he added. And that more "obsequious" part of Esper's legacy shouldn't be forgotten, either.