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    Patrick Shanahan

    Professor: Acting Defence Secretary Shanahan Seems to Be Well-Liked by President

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    US President Donald Trump said that US Deputy Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan will become acting Secretary of Defence starting from 1 January 2019. Sputnik discussed this decision with Daniel P. Franklin, Associate Professor of Political Science at the Georgia State University.

    Sputnik: In your view, what were the main reasons that Shanahan was selected for this job?

    Daniel P. Franklin: He hasn't technically been selected for the job yet. Because Secretary Mattis was fired before there was time for an orderly transition, Shanahan who was the Deputy Secretary moved into the Secretary's place. But I should add that Shanahan is a strong candidate for the appointment. Shanahan has not pushed back on one of the President's more far-out ideas, a US Space Force. Instead, Shanahan has tried to implement the decision. Trump appreciates that.

    Sputnik: According to reports, Patrick Shanahan will step up as the Defence Secretary of State with no foreign policy and military experience. What changes can we expect in the country's foreign policy with him in position?

    Daniel P. Franklin: It's hard to say because, as you have noted, Shanahan has no record to go by. Traditionally, the Secretary of Defence comes out of the political realm. Dick Cheney, for instance, had served in Congress as had Les Aspin and several others.

    In the United States, up to now, we have a tradition of civilian control over the military. Mattis was an unusual appointment because he came out of the military. The fear is that if a military man (or woman) is appointed to Secretary of Defense, they will be influenced in their decisions by their military perspective and even by the branch of the military of which they were a part.

    Similarly, the appointment of a man like Shanahan who came out of the defence contracting industry, might steer decision making to the benefit of defence contractors such as Boeing. Shanahan was a high-level executive at Boeing, a big defence contractor with the Government, before he came to the Defense Department.

    Sputnik: So far Shanahan has been assigned to take over as the acting head of the department. How likely is he to remain in this post?

    Daniel P. Franklin: I think the chances are good for two reasons; Shanahan seems to be well-liked by the President and Trump is so busy with other matters, he may not have the time nor the staff to make another major appointment. Furthermore, there will be some pushback from Democrats in the Senate, should Shanahan be nominated because of his defence contractor background and lack of experience. Trump may decide to leave well enough alone.

    However, there are two problems for the President in leaving Shanahan as Acting Secretary. According to the Law (the Vacancies Act) if Shanahan is appointed to the job, he cannot serve as Secretary of Defence while his appointment is pending and there is a time limit on the length of time Shanahan can serve as Acting Secretary. That limit is, I believe, 210 days from the date of the vacancy. After that, any decision that Shanahan makes may well be subject to a court challenge.

    READ MORE: What You Need to Know About US Secretary of Defence Mattis' Replacement Shanahan

    Sputnik: Who are the potential candidates that can take this position?

    Daniel P. Franklin: The most logical choice would be Rep. Mac Thornberry who is the outgoing Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Because the Democrats are taking over the House in January, Thornberry has lost his Chairmanship. He might be willing to take the appointment rather than serve in the minority. Senator James Inhofe on the Senate side would be another choice, but it is not clear that he would want to give up a safe Senate seat to serve in the Trump Administration. Maybe Senator Joni Ernst for Iowa would be a good choice. She's a military (and combat) veteran and is up for reelection in 2020. That could be a tough year for Republicans and particularly in a State like Iowa.

    But the problem that Trump has is that due to his unpopularity and erratic behaviour it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to find persons of stature to serve in his administration.

    READ MORE: Shanahan to Become Acting US Defence Secretary After Mattis Resignation — Trump

    Sputnik: In his resignation letter Jim Mattis has made it clear that he did not agree with the President's announcement on pulling American troops out of Syria. With a new head leading the Pentagon do you think the US will commit to the withdrawal process?

    Daniel P. Franklin: The President is Commander-in-Chief. If he orders US Troops out of Syria, they will obey their orders. However, due to the uproar over the decision, I expect Trump to "slow walk" the decision. Then we will see what happens in two years and whether he is reelected. The new Secretary of Defense will have to agree with Trump on this decision or he/she won't get the appointment. That really narrows the field.

    Sputnik: Many analysts have stated that President Trump was surrounding himself with ‘yes men'. In your view, is placing Shanahan as the head of the Pentagon part of that as well?

    Daniel P. Franklin: Yes, and that's bad for the administration. Any President needs to get and listen to the honest and expert opinions of his advisors. Trump doesn't do that very well. If the President doesn't allow dissension in his administration, he will not hear the entire range of options when he asks for advice. That is a bad model for decision making in the White House.

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, General James Mattis, Donald Trump, United States
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