Is new acting Pentagon boss a ‘fox in henhouse’ or easily bullied yes-man?
Patrick Shanahan will become acting defense secretary as of January 1, after President Donald Trump hastened the departure of Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis over the Syria withdrawal. But who is the former Boeing executive?
Mattis offered his resignation last week after Trump ordered the withdrawal of all US troops from Syria and a significant drawdown in Afghanistan. In his resignation letter, the retired Marine general wrote that Trump deserves to have a secretary of defense “whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects.”
After two days of media hand-wringing over Mattis’s heralded departure at the end of February – even raising the spectre of a military coup – Trump announced he would move up the general’s departure from the Pentagon to January 1, appointing Shanahan as the acting replacement.Also on rt.com Mattis to leave on Jan 1, deputy Shanahan to replace him as acting defense secretary – Trump
Little is know about Shanahan. He was nominated in March 2017 to be the deputy secretary, the post that largely deals with the Pentagon’s vast bureaucracy. Prior to that, he was an executive at Boeing, managing the aerospace giant’s missile defense projects as well as Rotorcraft Systems, the division responsible for military transport and combat helicopters such as the V-22 Osprey, the CH-47 Chinook, and the AH-64D Apache.
Upon the news of his promotion, US media outlets quickly dug up the video of a June 2017 exchange between Shanahan and Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), the hawkish chair of the Armed Services Committee, who browbeat the executive into changing his cautious “I’ll look into it” answer on the question of selling weapons to Ukraine to “yes,” by threatening to block his nomination.
“I have to have confidence that the fox is not going to be put back into the henhouse,” McCain said at one point in his diatribe. While some outlets have speculated that this was an expression of discomfort with Shanahan’s affiliation with one of the top weapons-makers, the exchange makes it perfectly clear that the senator from Arizona only cared about getting everyone on board with his pet cause of arming the regime in Kiev.
Shanahan was confirmed on July 18, with a vote of 92-7. McCain was the sole abstention: two days after the vote, he revealed he was suffering from brain cancer. The Pentagon announced in December 2017 it would sell anti-tank missiles to Kiev. The sale went through in March this year.
Shanahan has made few headlines since, most notably back in November when he tried to sell the media on the Pentagon “successfully” failing its first-ever audit. As a manager, Shanahan has advocated a focus on “outcomes and outputs” over process, budget, or levels of effort, according to a recent interview with Defense News.
“It's all about the system and then the reinforcing mechanisms to make that change enduring. Without a system, things fall apart when the leader moves on,” Shanahan noted.
The system or the environment shouldn't be dependent on the leader's presence.
“It is also natural that people are defensive when leaders begin focusing on performance rather than process,” he told the outlet in an email, when asked about his conflicts with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and the ousted Chief Management Officer Jay Gibson.
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