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Mark Esper

Esper warns of a ‘cool war’ with China and threats to world order

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned of the potential for global unrest as Russian aggression continues, China’s ambitions grow, war rages on in Gaza and Americans face a potentially turbulent election in November.

Esper was speaking at the SALT conference in New York Monday evening where Punchbowl News founder Jake Sherman interviewed him on the foreign and domestic threats to the U.S.

The China problem: Esper said there’s a “cool war brewing with China” at a time of growing economic and political competition between the major powers. Esper urged U.S. officials to step up their leadership rather than retreat.

“I think we’re finally waking up to the strategic threat that China presents us,” Esper said. “I do think you’re going to see strategic decoupling in the most high-end of items. Semiconductors comes to mind because that’s already happening.”

Biden’s Ukraine performance: Esper praised President Joe Biden’s handling of China and other Asian countries as “reasonably good” but criticized his effort with Ukraine.

“I give him credit for pulling together the allies when Ukraine was first invaded by Russia, but I think a failure of the administration has been time and time again to deny the Ukrainians what they needed when they needed it to beat back the Russians,” Esper said.

Esper also drew parallels between Russia’s and China’s quests to dismantle the current world order. Esper is concerned that Beijing could be emboldened by Russia’s action.

Israel-Hamas war: Esper criticized Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza, particularly the administration’s decision to pause the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel. That move, he said, signaled to Hamas there’s a “growing divide” between Washington and Tel Aviv.

Still, Esper called on Israel to do more to minimize civilian casualties and improve the ability to deliver humanitarian aid.

2024 elections: Asked who he’d be voting for in November, Esper said he’s not enamored by either presidential candidate. But Esper certainly won’t be voting for his former boss, Donald Trump. Esper also said he wouldn’t vote for Biden, although he left that door slightly open.

“Maybe things will change over the next six months,” Esper said. “I’m not going to pull that lever until I have to pull that lever, but I know I won’t be pulling it for Donald Trump.”

Elvina Nawaguna

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