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Profile: The Pentagon’s Invisible Man Is Winning Washington’s Power Game The Pentagon’s Invisible Man Is Winning Was...
An inadvertent effect of the Trump administration’s personnel management has been to make the U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s class of 1986 among the most influential in history. Its graduates include the U.S. secretary of state (Mike Pompeo), a high-profile Washington insider and reputed “Trump whisperer” (Dave Urban, who now heads up a powerful lobbying firm), an ultraconservative Republican congressman (Mark Green, who was previously a part of the mission that captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein), and a bevy of Pompeo’s best buddies—including Brian Bulatao, the undersecretary of state for management, and Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl, the State Department’s counselor. As of this summer, it also includes President Donald Trump’s new secretary of defense: Gulf War veteran Mark Esper.
The members of this group of insiders are closely networked with one another, but the group nevertheless has its own internal hierarchy. Esper hasn’t tried to place himself at the top of this West Point network, or the network that comprises the broader Trump administration. There’s every reason to believe, however, that he’s steadily, if quietly, charting his way there.
Pompeo, who graduated first in the class, is closer to Trump than anyone in the administration. That may be why Esper, Pompeo’s former classmate, defers to him—an observation noted by a senior Defense Department civilian who’s watched the defense secretary in action. “I’ve seen this now half-a-dozen times,” the official noted. “Whenever Pompeo calls, Esper clears the room and closes the door. People have noticed. I don’t think that Pompeo runs Esper, but it’s a bad look.” The deference is unusual and, for some, disturbing. The sheer size of the Pentagon dwarfs that of the State Department, its budget dominates federal spending, and, more crucially, the secretary of defense is in the chain of command. Shouldn’t Pompeo defer to Esper?
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confers with Esper at the beginning of bilateral talks with Australian counterparts in Sydney on Aug. 4. Rick Rycroft/Getty Images
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