Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan assumed his new role on Tuesday and held his first meeting to clarify his priorities.
Shanahan reportedly said he wanted to continue the previous defense strategy that emphasized Russia and China, and told military leaders to remember “China, China, China,” an anonymous source told CNN.
A U.S. defense official tells @AP that acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan is emphasizing that China should be the Pentagon’s main focus. Shanahan is leading the Pentagon after the departure of Jim Mattis. https://t.co/ZIsEvnwerS
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) January 2, 2019
The focus on China aligns with that of the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy, which outlined China and Russia as top threats facing the U.S. It also reflects the shifting views of President Trump, who is reducing the emphasis on the Middle East after announcing troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan.
In September, Shanahan called for the execution of the National Defense Strategy, noting that China and Russia have built strategies based on analyzing the fighting tactics of the U.S. and could now thwart U.S. operations.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis also emphasized the Defense Department’s focus on China in numerous remarks made over his term. In January 2018, he declared “Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”
At the time, Mattis also said the U.S. military’s advantage on foreign adversaries like China and Russia was dwindling along with the U.S. military’s leadership in air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace powers.
“We have no room for complacency and history makes clear that America has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield,” Mattis said.
Shanahan, the former Deputy Defense Secretary, came to be Acting Defense Secretary on Jan. 1, 2019 per an announcement made by President Trump.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
The transition meant pushing the retiring Mattis out nearly two months ahead of his intended departure date.
In stark contrast to Mattis, Shanahan has an engineering background, not a military background. Prior to his appointment to Deputy Defense Secretary in Mar. 2017, he spent over three decades in various leadership and executive roles at Boeing, according to his DoD biography. He oversaw various aviation programs, including U.S. Army programs involving the Osprey, Chinook, and Apache helicopters.
He has since recused himself from making decisions on matters involving Boeing.
A senior official said that the naming of the new defense secretary took place swiftly in order to facilitate a “smooth transition” between secretaries.
“It is just untenable to have someone stretch out over a long period of time when everyone knows they are a lame duck,” the official said. “There shouldn’t be any ambiguity that the person in charge is following the president’s policies.”