President Donald Trump, who aides said has been frustrated by news coverage of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s scathing resignation letter, abruptly announced Sunday that he was removing Mattis two months before his planned departure and installing Patrick Shanahan as acting defense secretary.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who has been Mattis’ deputy at the Pentagon, will assume the top job on an acting capacity beginning Jan. 1, Trump said.
Mattis resigned in protest last week after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria over the strong objections of Mattis and others on the national security team. Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group, also resigned in protect over Trump’s Syria decision.
“I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019,” Trump wrote. “Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!”
Then the president took a shot directly at Mattis, with a bit of revisionist history. When he picked Mattis to be defense secretary before the start of his presidency, Trump showered praise on him, reveling in the general’s battlefield valor, calling him by his nickname “Mad Dog” and comparing him to the decorated World War II Army general George Patton.
“He is one of the most effective generals that we’ve had in many, many decades, an extraordinary leader of our time who has committed his life to his love for our country,” Trump said in a Dec. 6, 2016, speech announcing the nomination. “General Mattis is the living embodiment of the Marine Corps motto, ‘semper fidelis,’ always faithful. And the American people are fortunate that man of this character and integrity will now be the civilian leader atop the Department of Defense under his leadership.”
But on Saturday night, Trump wrote on Twitter, “When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should. Interesting relationship-but I also gave all of the resources that he never really had. Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S.”
In replacing Mattis, at least temporarily, Trump has picked Shanahan, who made his name as an executive at Boeing, where he worked for decades, dealing at times with the aviation behemoth’s commercial aircraft and missile defense programs.
Since his arrival at the Pentagon, Shanahan has emphasized making the department more efficient and business-friendly and has won plaudits at the White House by pushing through Trump’s vision for a space force, against the wishes of many of the building’s leaders and uniformed brass.
Shanahan also has overseen the Pentagon’s audit, its development of a new missile defense policy that still hasn’t been released and a fledgling effort to reduce waste in military expenditures.
Shanahan lacks the kind of foreign policy experience that has become customary among defense secretaries, putting someone atop the Pentagon who lacks the deeply seated views on matters such as withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan that Mattis held.
If Shanahan stays on as a permanent defense secretary, he is unlikely to push strongly held views on those conflict – and, when paired with the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, could usher in a shift in power further toward the military brass.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Philip Rucker, Dan Lamothe