Politico reports that top military leaders are "pressuring" Defense Secretary Mark Esper to ban Confederate flags on military bases, and that those officials discussed such a ban at a top-level meeting yesterday. The premise here is that the Pentagon wants Mark Esper to go directly against Dear Dumb Leader, Donald Trump, who most specifically has been campaigning against Confederate flag bans, against renaming military bases to strip the names of Confederate leaders, and against removing statutes of Confederate-traitors-and-the-horses-they-rode-in-on.
Let's all put on our pundit hats and take a guess where Mark Esper is going to come down on this, shall we?
The facts are these: Mark Esper has supported Trump through every rotten thing Trump has done to the military. He stood by while Trump pardoned war criminals and removed top brass who opposed it. He enabled Trump's reach-down to punish a military official who provided damning testimony during the congressional impeachment investigation against Trump. He followed orders to dispatch troops in preparation to sweep Black Lives Matters demonstrators from Washington, D.C. streets by force, if necessary. Mark Esper remains defense secretary right now because he has methodically made sure to keep on Donald Trump's good side, even if keeping on Trump's good side means standing aside while Trump does grotesquely corrupt or anti-American things.
So if the joint chiefs and other top officials are requesting Esper do the obviously decent thing here, but Donald Trump's ever-frothing Twitter feed is absolutely purple-faced with rage against anyone who would dare do such a thing, one would have to be a bit dense to presume Esper was suddenly going to decide the nationwide symbol of slack-jawed white supremacy needed to be given the boot.
Oh, and while the Marine Corps, for example, tried to ban Confederate flags on their own authority, Esper put those policies on hold, ostensibly in preparation for a "department-wide" policy on the matter.
Politico's report also suggests a potential dodge for Esper. Esper could unveil a new policy prohibiting "racially or socially divisive symbols" in general, and the Confederate flag might be counted as one of those "divisive" symbols, perhaps without mentioning it (thus leading individual commands to make the decision without Esper having to do something brave) or perhaps mentioning it in a long list of other "divisive" symbols (in an attempt to water down the impression that the flag was specifically targeted).
Both of those might be plausible evasions in normal bureaucratic times, but Trump is single-minded about the things he chooses to be single-minded about. Any policy—any policy—that Fox News reports has the effect of banning the Confederate flag will send him into fits, and Esper will be blamed.
So this seems to be yet another situation, as in Trump's pardoning of war criminals or Trump's retaliations against military officers, in which Esper must choose between doing the obviously right and decent thing, and chucking that thing in order to polish Trump's boots. The odds that Esper would have stood by while Trump was a rat bastard all the other times, but this issue is the one he'll break from Dear Leader on, seem kind of low.