Trump picks ex-Boeing executive Shanahan as defense secretary

May 10, 2019 08:08
Patrick Shanahan has been acting defense secretary since January, the longest in Pentagon history. Photo: Reuters

US President Donald Trump plans to nominate Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing Co. executive, as his defense secretary, breaking with tradition by choosing someone who made a career at a top defense company as Pentagon chief, Reuters reports.

Shanahan had been under investigation by the Pentagon inspector general for allegedly seeking preferential treatment of Boeing while at the Defense Department but he was cleared of wrongdoing in April. He has been acting defense secretary since January, the longest in Pentagon history.

“Based upon his outstanding service to the country and his demonstrated ability to lead, President Trump intends to nominate Patrick M. Shanahan to be the secretary of defense,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Thursday.

Early tests for Shanahan will include handling growing tensions with Iran, renewed missile tests by North Korea and questions about how the United States should handle the political and economic crisis in Venezuela.

Shanahan said in a statement that he was committed to modernizing US military forces and if confirmed would aggressively implement Trump’s national defense strategy which prioritizes competition with China and Russia over the counterinsurgency wars that have consumed the Pentagon for much of the past two decades.

Shanahan, 56, was thrust into the role in an acting capacity in January, after Jim Mattis abruptly resigned over policy differences with Trump.

On his first day as acting Pentagon chief in January, Shanahan told civilian leaders of the US military to focus on “China, China, China”.

The Trump administration has announced its intention to withdraw most US troops from Syria and diplomatic efforts are underway to bring an end to the 17-year-old war Afghanistan.

But the most pressing short-term issue is likely to be Iran. Earlier this week the Pentagon said it was sending a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East after US intelligence signaled possible preparations by Tehran to stage attacks against US forces or interests.

Shanahan is expected to be confirmed by senators, though he could face a tough confirmation process because of his tenure at Boeing.

Lawmakers have previously expressed concern about undue influence on the Pentagon from defense companies.

Ties between Boeing and the Trump administration run deep, with Trump using the company’s products and sites as a backdrop for major announcements.

Boeing, the world’s largest planemaker, is facing one of the biggest crises in its 103-year history following the disasters on Lion Air in Indonesia last year and another on Ethiopian Airlines in March, which together killed all 346 on board.

The Pentagon inspector general started the investigation of Shanahan in March for allegedly promoting Boeing in Pentagon meetings and disparaging competitors. But a report published on April 25 said none of the allegations were substantiated.

Defense secretaries have traditionally come from a political or policy background, serving as a counterweight to the military brass in decision making. Mattis, a retired Marine general, was one of the few former military leaders to become secretary.

Mattis implicitly criticized Trump in his resignation letter for failing to value allies who fight alongside the US, including in places like Syria.

Shanahan is unlikely to be an effective counterweight to Trump’s often impulsive decision making. He toured the US border with Mexico in February in what was seen as a show of support for Trump’s planned border wall.

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