In 2016, Donald Trump called James Mattis a “true general’s general.” Now it seems that the two can’t part company fast enough. Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Mattis submitted his resignation with an effective date of Feb. 28, 2019. Apparently, that wasn’t soon enough for the president who announced that Mattis would be leaving at the end of the year.
In a tweet this morning, President Trump said, “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.”
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>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. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!</p>— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1076881816462737408?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>December 23, 2018</a></blockquote>
Patrick Shanahan is a native of Washington State who has been in the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense since his confirmation on June 20, 2017. Prior to joining the government, he was an executive at the Boeing company where he had worked since 1986. Shanahan has never served in the military but worked on several defense-related programs as vice president of Boeing Rotorcraft Systems.
Last Thursday, Secretary Mattis submitted his resignation letter in response to President Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw American soldiers from Syria where they had been deployed to fight ISIS. Trump’s move leaves the Kurds, American allies in the fight against ISIS, to the tender mercies of their ancestral enemies, the Turks and the Arabs.
Mr. Mattis’ resignation letter singled out the abandonment of America’s allies in the region as a reason for his departure. “We cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote to the president. “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis added.
President Trump places a high priority on loyalty from his subordinates – if not to his allies – and this open criticism from his “general’s general” seems to have been too close to the mark for the president to keep working with the Gen. Mattis for another two months. In addition to being already confirmed by Congress and therefore eligible to move into the Defense Secretary slot under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Shanahan also has not publicly criticized the president.
In contrast, Mattis, along with Chief of Staff John Kelly and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was rumored to have banded together to rein in the president and protect the country from Trump’s most destructive tendencies. As 2019 begins, all three of those experienced, senior advisors will be absent.