After Jim Mattis, Patrick Shanahan takes Pentagon helm at critical time
Patrick Shanahan, who on Tuesday becomes the acting US secretary of defense, takes the helm of America’s massive military machine at a critical time.
Shanahan is moving up from his position as deputy defense secretary to the top spot following the resignation of Jim Mattis, who quit over long-running – and ultimately irreconcilable – disagreements with President Donald Trump.
Little known outside business and Washington circles, Shanahan will be thrust onto the world stage at a time of tumultuous changes and unpredictable foreign policy moves under Trump.
The president this month ordered the withdrawal of all US forces from Syria and, according to US officials, a 50 percent draw down in Afghanistan — momentous decisions that have left lawmakers and international allies fearing for what comes next.
Shanahan must now oversee the US withdrawal from Syria and play a key role in helping Trump decide the pace of the pull out.
Another consideration he must weigh is what, if any, protections should go to Kurdish forces that the US military had been backing to fight Islamic State jihadists.
Turkey views the Kurdish YPG fighters as “terrorists” and has vowed to attack them in northern Syria.
While Shanahan has not always had day-to-day involvement in thorny geopolitical issues like this, Pentagon officials say he is ready to tackle them.