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Trump Picks Shanahan To Permanently Replace Mattis As Defense Secretary


Patrick Shanahan is poised to move from acting defense secretary to the permanent role. President Trump announced that he plans to nominate Shanahan to be the Pentagon's chief. This is after months of uncertainty following Jim Mattis' sudden resignation. Shanahan came from Boeing. He had no government experience, and he has admitted that he's learned on the job. NPR's Tom Bowman has been following all of this. And he's with us on the line now.

Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So Patrick Shanahan has had a trial run. How has he performed?

BOWMAN: You know, I think he's done OK. He's not well-versed in policy. And initially, he was clearly uncomfortable in his testimony in the Hill. When he came in, Shanahan said Mattis would focus on policy, and his strengths were in the business area, having spent, of course, most of his adult life at Boeing. Again, his background is that of an engineer - little experience in government or military or foreign policy. But he is becoming a little more comfortable in the role, I would say. He's a quick study, but there's a lot to learn. The sense is he'll focus on Pentagon programs and weapons systems, help shift the Pentagon to focus more on countering Russia and China and probably not dig too deeply into the policy issues. He'll leave those up to others, like national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

KING: Well, at the time, as you said, when he was put in this role, some lawmakers, some defense officials were really skeptical of his lack of experience, especially when they compared him to Mattis, who he replaced, who had so much respect. How does Shanahan fit in with the rest of the national security team in this administration?

BOWMAN: Well, there's no question his lack of experience will come up. And again, he's not Mattis. He's not likely to question Trump like Mattis did on, let's say, cuts to troops in Syria or Afghanistan. Mattis was also wary of saber rattling over North Korea and others - areas. Now it seems the hawks, like Bolton and Pompeo, are in the ascendancy. And some worry about where all this is going, especially with Iran.

It seems like some, like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, are trying to calm things down on Iran, asking everyone to consider the implications of military action, what it could mean, how disruptive it could be. In the military sense - is you're boxing in Iran with - leaving the nuclear deal, more sanctions, declaring the Iranian Republican Guard a terrorist organization.

It's like the White House is spoiling for a fight for regime change. And frankly, the military don't - they think the White House doesn't see how bad it could be. That's what I'm hearing now. You know, again, Shanahan - again, I think he'll be kind of pushed around a bit by Bolton and Pompeo, frankly.

KING: Does he bring anything special to the White House?

BOWMAN: You know, he - again, he's an engineer by training. He's - he keeps an eye on weapons systems and programs. He's very good at that. And I think that's what he brings and that's where he'll be in this administration - focusing on those programs.

KING: NPR's Tom Bowman.

Tom, thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.