Esper’s comments to the governors in Monday afternoon’s conference call seemed almost as inflammatory as Trump’s. After Trump had said of the protesters and looters, “These are terrorists. And they’re looking to do bad things to our country,” Esper said: “We need to dominate the battlespace.”
You could almost hear the groans of dismay from the corridors of the Pentagon. People in uniform want the defense secretary to protect the military from being drawn into political free-fire zones, not encourage it.
A senior Pentagon official said that Esper, like Milley, hopes to avoid calling out the troops. “We have the resources — local and national law enforcement and National Guard — to restore peace in these communities, without having to use active-duty forces. At this time, it’s not necessary,” the official said.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) is a close confidant of Trump’s, but he’s also a longtime lawyer in the Air Force Reserves who understands the military’s skittishness about domestic conflict. He explained in an interview Tuesday: “It’s in our DNA as a nation not to use the military for domestic purposes until we absolutely have to. . . . Countries that use their militaries for domestic law and order, those militaries are seen by the public as more an enemy than a friend.”