President Donald Trump announced Sunday that Defense Secretary James Mattis will step down at the Pentagon on Jan. 1 instead of at the end of February, and that Patrick Shanahan will take over for Mattis as acting defense chief.
“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!” said Trump on Twitter.
Shanahan, who moved into the deputy defense secretary post in July 2017, worked for years at US aviation multinational Boeing.
According to The New York Times, citing administration officials, Trump feels frustrated by the media coverage Mattis’s resignation letter has received and therefore he decided to remove him before Feb. 28, the date on which Mattis had said he would depart.
In his resignation letter, Mattis staunchly defended Washington’s system of alliances around the world and said that the US must treat its allies with “respect” and be “resolute and unambiguous” in its approach toward countries that are adversaries, among whom he mentioned China and Russia.
On Saturday night, Trump once again took to Twitter to comment on that letter, saying “Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S.”
Mattis resigned on Thursday, just after the White House announced the withdrawal of 2,000 US soldiers deployed in Syria as part of an international coalition and, in addition, the withdrawal of 7,000 of the 14,000 US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan.
After the defense chief’s resignation, Brett McGurk, the special US envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State, also announced he would be leaving the administration.
McGurk had been scheduled to step down in February, but on Friday he informed the State Department that he wanted to accelerate his departure from the administration in protest over the White House decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
Thus, Shanahan will take over - temporarily, at least - at the Defense Department at a critical moment for US strategy in the Middle East, a region where other powers, including Russia and China, are vying for hegemony.
Shanahan’s apppointment will be provisional, given that the post of defense secretary requires Senate confirmation.