Donald Trump finished out the year by doubling down on what many in Washington saw is his most unsettling act of 2018: a break with Secretary of Defense James Mattis that led to the general's December 20 announcement that he would leave his post on February 28, 2019. After the wide circulation of a letter of resignation from Mattis that Newsweek aptly described as "a rebuke of Donald Trump and 'America First'" thinking, the president sped up the timeline to push Mattis out by the end of the year.
That required Trump to name an acting Secretary of Defense, and he chose Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. It was a surprise move made on the weekend before Christmas; so surprising that Shanahan had to fly back to Washington from a Holiday travel schedule he had already begun.
Shanahan takes charge of the Pentagon -- for how long we do not know -- as an unfamiliar name for the vast majority of Americans, as well as for many in Washington. His main claim to fame in the deputy post was his ardent advocacy for Trump's "space force" scheme. CNN noted in a headline reviewing the president's decision that: "Trump's acting secretary of defense will step into the role with no foreign policy, military experience."
So what experience does Shanahan have? He is, literally and figuratively, the embodiment of the military-industrial complex about which former President Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans at the close of his presidency in 1961. Shanahan was not the man Mattis wanted in the No. 2 job at the Department of Defense. In fact, Mattis did not want a man. During the transition period, he signaled that he preferred Michèle Flournoy, the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy who served as a principal adviser to Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta during President Obama's first term.