News-Record & Sentinel, January 2020

In the days leading up to his resignation in 1974, Richard Nixon was a mental mess.   He wasn’t sleeping.  He was drinking heavily.  He made unintelligible calls late at night.  His son-in-law reported that Nixon was talking to portraits of presidents.  He hinted at suicide.

Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger heard the rumors and worried that Nixon might call in the military to rescue his presidency.  Schlesinger notified the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military commanders near D.C. to obey no order from the White House that did not have his signature.  The chain of command would not be short-circuited.

James Schlesinger saw his duty as Secretary of Defense to defend the country, not to defend his boss.

Our current Secretary of Defense is an ex-military (West Point), ex-lobbyist (Raytheon) intellectual named Dr. Mark Esper.

I saw him for the first time on TV after the Turks invaded Syria.  He said, more or less, “The Turks were coming.  We had to get our troops out of harm’s way.”  His undulating body language said, “Give me some slack, guys.  I just work here.”  My exact first thought was, “Oh no.  We don’t have a James Schlesinger.  We’ve got Caspar Milquetoast.” 

He got the same “Please take me to the library” look when reporters asked why we had killed the Iranian general.  Esper said the general was planning an imminent attack on the U.S.  How imminent?  “I think it’s more fair to say days, for sure,” Esper responded.  The wheel desperately spinning in his head could just as easily have landed on “Next Tuesday.”  White House talking points didn’t cover that detail.

A very unfunny political cartoon, by Michael Ramirez, came to my computer after that.  It showed President Trump standing with a squatting dog on his left and a man wearing glasses on his right, squatting exactly like the dog.  Trump’s speech bubble says, “Secretary Esper, I was talking to the dog.”  We’re to understand that Trump gave the command, “Sit!”  Mark’s a good doggy.

In the end, Nixon honored the Constitution.  Trump?  His Nixon-like frenzies come and go like indigestion.  How sure are we that he will vacate the White House peacefully next year?          

Schlesinger was ready to defy his commander-in-chief if he attempted a coup d’état.  So far, Esper has shown himself more likely to direct traffic when the tanks encircle the White House.