On New Year’s Day, a new man steps into the role of Secretary of Defense, replacing General James Mattis, who resigned in protest last week over President Trump’s decision to remove all American troops from Syria.
Patrick Shanahan will be the acting head of the Defense Department. He’s been serving as Mattis’s deputy, and before that was a top executive with Boeing.
And it turns out that Shanahan, much like the president he’ll be serving, is a big fan of appeasing Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During his confirmation hearings 17 months ago, Shanahan was asked by the late Arizona Senator John McCain about his thoughts on arming the nation of Ukraine so they could defend against Russian aggression, such as the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea. Shanahan said he would “review” the matter and get back to McCain. Shanahan later amended his response to say that he would support arming Ukraine.
But as The Washington Post reports, McCain lit into Shanahan, telling him:
“That’s not good enough, Mr. Shanahan. I’m glad to hear you changed your opinion from what was submitted, but it’s still disturbing to me. It’s still disturbing to me after all these years that you would say that you would have to look at the issue. Have you not been aware of the issue? Have you not been aware of the actions of the Senate Armed Services Committee? Have you not been aware of the thousands of people that have been killed by [Russian President] Vladimir Putin?”
Shanahan’s comments are in stark contrast to those from General Mattis, who has repeatedly been critical of Russia, going so far as to say:
“This is a very complex situation because clearly Mr. Putin is a slow learner. He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating the animosity against his people.
“We’re dealing with someone we simply cannot trust.”
The decision by Trump to pull out of Syria was a dream come true for Putin, who is now free to shape Syria (and potentially other areas of the Middle East) in a manner that’s beneficial to Russia and detrimental to the U.S. and its allies.
But there’s a larger question in play here: Why would Trump choose a man to replace Mattis who has made it clear he thinks we should appease Vladimir Putin? Or is that the very reason he was picked?
Congress will have to keep a close eye on Secretary Shanahan. Based on his past comments, it’s not clear that he can be trusted to do what’s in the national security interest of the United States.