Something was missing from this year’s Aspen Security Forum: the people who are in charge of America’s security.
It’s not the fault of the 10-year-old forum, which filled in the blanks with a cast of stars from past administrations, including Madeline Albright and Susan Rice, during its run this month.
Instead, several insiders said, it represents a shift in Washington culture that has accompanied the Trump administration’s rise to power. One source familiar with the situation explained that public speaking engagements are a great way for leaders within Donald Trump’s White House and in Cabinet posts to learn they have “resigned on Twitter.”
It wasn’t a total administration blackout. The commandant of the Coast Guard and the head of U.S. Pacific Command highlighted the military offerings. Some lesser luminaries from the State Department and the FBI were also in attendance.
But the heavy hitters who rolled in in past years representing the Obama and Bush administrations were scarce.
That’s not a good thing for America on a few levels.
It’s important for an administration at war to at some point tell the American people what the plan looks like going into the future. That kind of clear direction has not been forthcoming for fights in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
And the silence isn’t limited to forums like the annual Aspen confab. The Pentagon has virtually cut ties with the media, going months between formal press briefings. The same is true at the White House, where the once-daily press briefing has become a less-than-monthly occurrence.
But at least for the military, the tide seems to be turning.
The Pentagon was the only agency that sent several representatives to Aspen. And new Defense Secretary Mark Esper kicked off his tenure atop the agency by calling for more openness with the press, telling reporters that he wants more engagement with the media “given the very important role of the media, the press in our society and in terms of communicating what we are doing and then answering your questions.”
Esper has always been one of the most press-friendly members of the Trump administration.
As Army secretary, he took the time to meet the Colorado Springs press after a tour of Fort Carson last year and took the time to answer every question.
Esper is also interested in matters that are important here.
His first move atop the Pentagon was to establish a task force to deal with the perfluorinated compounds that have fouled drinking water around the nation. The contamination, tied to the military’s use of a chemical-laden firefighting foam, impacted local wells in Security, Widefield and Fountain.
Esper said last week that he wants “to make sure that we go after this problem very aggressively.”
It’s good for the Trump White House to have more voices discussing the road ahead.
There are simply too many issues on the table for the method we have seen this summer, which had President Donald Trump taking on the full communication duties for the executive branch.
Yes, Trump needs to keep talking. But he has too many irons in the fire to adequately speak for each of his Cabinet officers.