Who Is Mattis' Replacement, Patrick Shanahan?
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump liked to call them my generals, the group of military men who once dominated his national security team. By the new year, all will be gone. The last of them, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, resigned last week. He had planned to stay until February. Then yesterday, Trump tweeted that Mattis' deputy, Patrick Shanahan, will take over as acting secretary on January 1. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now in the studio to tell us more about the man soon to be in charge. Hi, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So Patrick Shanahan's been deputy defense secretary for about a year and a half. What do people at the Pentagon think of him?
BOWMAN: Well, I'm told he's having a hard time getting his footing. At this point, he doesn't have a lot to show for his service. But as you say, he hasn't been all that long. He's working on business practices, cyber warfare, cyber defenses, managing large programs like warplanes and aircraft carriers. Now, that's the job of the deputy defense secretary. And he made that clear in his Senate confirmation hearing last year that his skill set was far different than that of Secretary Mattis.
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PATRICK SHANAHAN: I believe my skill set strongly complements that of Secretary Mattis. He's a master strategist with deep military and foreign policy experience. As deputy secretary of defense and Secretary Mattis's chief operating officer, I bring strong execution skills with a background in technology, development and business management.
BOWMAN: So business management. The sense is, I'm told, also, he needs a lot of direction from Secretary Mattis. I hear he can be somewhat micromanaging on weapons systems and projects, almost like a project manager, as opposed to stepping back and looking at the big picture. But in his defense, the Pentagon is a really, really hard place to run.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. He had a long career at Boeing, not a lot of government or military experience. Do military experts think Shanahan is ready to run the Defense Department?
BOWMAN: Well, maybe ready to work on weapons programs and business practices, as he's been doing. But he's not well versed on issues like military policy, foreign policy, as he himself said. Now, Ari, I went through the bios of all 26 defense secretaries dating from 1947. Shanahan has less experience in government and the military than almost all the previous defense secretaries. You'd have to go back 60 years to one of Eisenhower's defense secretaries, Neil McElroy, to find someone with less experience. McElroy worked as an ad man for Procter & Gamble, and he served in the White House Education Commission.
SHAPIRO: One big reason for Mattis's departure was the president's order that U.S. troops should come out of Syria. What role is Shanahan likely to play in making that happen?
BOWMAN: You know, it's hard to say. He will be, in the next week, the top adviser to the president on defense matters. But Shanahan hasn't had much to say at all on Syria or Afghanistan, by the way, where the president wants to cut in half the 14,000 troops there. And from what I've gathered, there are other people trying to moderate those decisions made by President Trump. Of course, he has the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joe Dunford, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, who's been nominated as Dunford's successor. They can obviously advise him on these issues. And the president also listens to retired generals. The most prominent is Jack Keane, who is former vice chief of staff of the Army.
SHAPIRO: So on January 1, Shanahan becomes acting secretary of defense. Any idea who the president might nominate to take the post permanently?
BOWMAN: You know, we don't know right yet. But some of the names I'm hearing come from Capitol Hill - Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Both serve on the Armed Services Committee. Both are veterans. And also, I'm hearing Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas. He chairs the House Armed Services Committee. He's been mentioned. But here's the thing, would any of those guys want to give up their day jobs on Capitol Hill to become defense secretary? At this point, we just don't know.
SHAPIRO: Such a quick reversal with Mattis announcing his surprise resignation, then the surprise moving up by two months the departure. What's the tone at the Pentagon like right now?
BOWMAN: I think people are shell shocked. They don't know what's coming next. There's rumors that others could be leaving the Pentagon, resigning in protest, but at this point, we haven't heard anything firm.
SHAPIRO: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
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