[Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis] sought to focus on the merits and substance of issues the way a wonk or military officer would. Often, that meant ignoring the wishes of the president or the political feasibility of his proposals.
[Defense Secretary Mark Esper's] job is a lot tougher than Mattis’s was in the first two years. He’s gotten a generous budget from the Congress and . . . now has to turn this vision on paper into reality.
The NDS has two pieces to it: it says you have to compete with China and Russia and prepare for conflict with China and Russia. Those are different. The way you would manage and develop your force is different depending on which one you are biasing towards.
Gaylord National Convention Center, National Harbor, MD
The challenge of course with an acting [defense secretary] is no one knows how long they will actually be around. A confirmed [defense secretary] just has more clout, period. More clout within the Pentagon, more clout on the Hill, more clout on the National Security Council, and with the American public.
At the end of the day, as we all know thorny national security issues don’t just involve the military; political-military considerations invariably bleed into them. If the senior military’s leadership views are going to be just constrained to military advice … who is thinking about issues from that broader perspective?