Kashyap Patel, Anthony J. Tata and Ezra Cohen-Watnick — three aides whose promotions were announced in a Pentagon statement on Tuesday — are viewed as highly ideological Trump foot soldiers. Mr. Patel has a long history of trying to discredit the investigations into Russian interference, Mr. Tata’s nomination was withdrawn over the summer in part because he had called President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader,” and Mr. Cohen-Watnick was quietly eased out of the National Security Council in 2017 after clashes with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, then the national security adviser.
The three are not believed to have the stature to bully Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the military’s Central Command, into initiating operations, whether overt or secret, against Iran or other adversaries during the final days of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
And a senior official close to Christopher C. Miller, the new acting defense secretary appointed on Monday, said that it was clear from Mr. Miller’s meetings with Mr. Trump that the president has deep reluctance in launching offensive military operations as his time in office nears an end. That is not what his political base seeks, and it runs counter to Mr. Trump’s calls to get troops out of so-called forever wars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
During a meeting at the White House, Mr. Trump’s message to Mr. Miller, the official said, was to do nothing new or provocative.
When jobs open in the last days of an administration, they are usually filled by deputies, whose only charge is to keep the wheels of government turning at least until Inauguration Day.
It was a sign of the changed atmosphere that when James H. Anderson, an expert on military strategy and missile defense, left the Pentagon after being fired from the No. 3 position — acting under secretary for policy — he was “clapped out,” or applauded by officials lining the halls. A report on Twitter by William Kristol, the conservative commentator who has opposed Mr. Trump, said the White House sought the “names of any political appointees who joined in so they could be fired.”
It is possible, some officials say, that what is happening is no more than résumé padding, allowing some of Mr. Trump’s loyalists to claim they held top posts, albeit briefly, or to cement some policy changes before Mr. Biden can take office and seek to reverse them.