On December 23rd at 8:46 AM EST the President of the United States tweeted out a surprising decision regarding the recent resignation of Secretary of Defense General Mattis. President Trump announces that despite the stated decision by General Mattis to stay on as the Secretary of Defense until February 28th so as to avoid the need for any acting Secretary of Defense and enable a swift transition from one Defense Secretary to another, the President is effectively firing the General and not allowing him to officially aid in the transition by making his departure take effect before his true replacement could be nominated and confirmed in the Senate. This is a truly dangerous decision by the President that reportedly comes following the coverage given to the resignation letter and reportedly following the President expressing anger at the letter itself which outlined differences between General Mattis and the President.
The person who will be the acting Secretary of Defense is Patrick Shanahan, who has served as the Deputy Secretary of Defense and whose focus has been building relationships between the military and defense contractors, a focus which the President himself reportedly shares. Patrick Shanahan despite his work in defense contracting as the senior vice president of Supply Chain & Operations for Boeing, has not served in the military and was criticized by John McCain during his Senate confirmation hearing and has reportedly been said to not be a “strategic thinker” or have any policy or strategy background.
The decision by the President to elevate someone like Mr. Shanahan to the extremely influential position of Secretary of Defense, even temporarily, is significant and deserves to be taken seriously. It also deserves condemnation, not only because of the startling general context in which it’s taking place but also because of its specific details including the means through which it was announced, Twitter. Twitter should not be where American citizens have to hear and learn of such news, especially when news comes from elected officials like the President.
The purpose of General Mattis wanting to continue working as the Secretary of Defense until the end of February was to enable as smooth a transition as possible. The decision to in effect fire General Mattis is a cruel decision that comes right at the onset of a partial government shutdown which is the government version of a small town getting hit by a tornado at the same time as a tsunami comes crashing into it. The work done by General Mattis, not only as a Defense Secretary but also as a mature voice that could calm allies and commanded respect from adversarial foreign leaders. Mr. Shanahan does neither of those things and will need serious training and resume building to be able to do even 1/100th of the job General Mattis could do.
This is a tragic mistake that emboldens enemies of the United States because it truly plays into the hyper-emotional governing style of the President and removes one of the few people in the White-House who was truly qualified for their job and was capable of executing it in rational and cautious ways.