Patrick Shanahan at a National Space Council meeting at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Acting Defense Secretary Takes Command, Hailing Trump and Mattis

(Bloomberg) -- Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan assumed command of U.S. armed forces on Tuesday by expressing loyalty to his boss, President Donald Trump, and praise for his former boss and predecessor, Jim Mattis.

“As acting secretary of defense, I now look forward to working with President Trump to carry out his vision alongside strong leaders including the service secretaries, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the combatant commanders, and senior personnel in the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” Shanahan said in a statement released on New Year’s Day.

Acting Defense Secretary Takes Command, Hailing Trump and Mattis

“It is an honor to work with such a dedicated team committed to the greatness of our nation.”

On Dec. 20, Mattis announced his intention to step down. That was a day after Trump had abruptly called for the withdrawal of U.S. armed forces in Syria. Mattis’s two-page letter of resignation, which he made public, underscored his disagreements with the president over defense and national security policy and the U.S. role in the world.

“We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances,” Mattis wrote. “Because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”

Mattis was widely seen as a moderating force against Trump’s hostility toward traditional American alliances and overseas military commitments.

The announcement of his departure stunned congressional leaders of both parties, many of whom had openly criticized Trump’s reversal of longstanding policy on Syria.

The president had initially praised Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, as having served with “distinction,” but his view soured after reading the resignation letter, according to an administration official who described the letter as inappropriate.

In the letter, Mattis said he would stay on until Feb. 28 to help provide a transition to the next defense chief. But on Dec. 23, Trump said that the defense secretary would be leaving his administration by Jan. 1, and that Shanahan, the Pentagon’s second-ranking official, would be replacing him.

During his brief visit to Iraq last week. Trump said that Shanahan, a former Boeing Co. executive who did not serve in the military but worked closely with Mattis, might stay on as Pentagon chief “for a long time.”

“Under the direction of President Trump, the Department of Defense remains focused on safeguarding our nation. We have deep respect for Secretary Mattis’ lifetime of service, and it has been a privilege to serve as his deputy secretary,” Shanahan said in his statement on Tuesday.

In a brief farewell message on Monday, his last day in office, Mattis urged the military to “keep the faith in our country and hold fast, alongside our allies, aligned against our foes.”

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