Amid reports he was angry with the abrupt resignation from Defense Secretary James Mattis last week, President Donald Trump announced Sunday via Twitter that he would be forcing Mattis out two months early on January 1, elevating Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan as acting secretary of defense.
In his resignation letter, Mattis said he would serve through the end of February in order to “ensure stability within the Department” and a “smooth transition.”
“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 said.
Mattis’s sudden resignation was, in part, driven by the president’s surprise decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a move condemned by both Republican allies and Democrats. The military decision was also not supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to a conversation GOP Senator Lindsey Graham described with Pompeo.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects,” Mattis said in his resignation letter, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Newsweek contacted Mattis, but no reply was returned before publication.
Shanahan was a Boeing executive for decades before joining DoD in July 2017.
Defense Department officials that Newsweek spoke with on condition of anonymity, due to Pentagon media restrictions, said that Shanahan will be great for the military industrial complex, especially as a former Boeing executive, but that he is not a strategic thinker.
“While no one person is irreplaceable, this feels more like a case of who is going to have the last word rather than anything else,” the official said.
A second DoD source told Newsweek, “The removal of Defense Secretary Mattis well ahead of his exit date doesn’t come as a surprise.”
The official said that Shanahan, despite a career at Boeing since 1986, “has no policy or strategic background.”
“I expect 2019 will be a very good year for Boeing. Fifteen-plus years of Iraq and Afghanistan has left the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy frustrated, and now we’re having a 1976 moment where we turn away from messy irregular wars and focus on the ‘big’ enemy. It was USSR and now it’s China, hence the new orders for aircraft carriers and F-35s.”
“[Shanahan’s mindset is] technology is supposed to save the day,” the official added. “But the problem is that war is no longer fought this way.”
The official suggested the Pentagon was entering a “strategic lacuna,” a void created by having a ‘strategist’ like Shanahan.
In a statement, DoD spokesman Rob Manning said, “The secretary of defense serves at the pleasure of the president” and that DoD remains “focused on national security.”