Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan discusses U.S. military strategy in the Middle East going forward and more in an interview with FOX News' Bret Baier.
PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: This is the hardest part of my job. I send my condolences to the families and the friends of those service members who lost their life they gave the ultimate sacrifice for which we can never repay. Let’s talk about the situation Afghanistan. We are executing the South Asia Strategy. And the South Asia Strategy really speaks to reconciliation with the Taliban and reconciliation comes about with putting pressure on them. We’re at war, what you see are the casualties of war. in parallel there is a peace negotiation process. And probably the best possibility for peace in 40 years is at hand.
BRET BAIER, 'SPECIAL REPORT' HOST: 14,000 U.S. troops. Is your mandate to cut troop levels there?
SHANAHAN: our mandate is to execute the South Asia Strategy. Pure and simple.
BAIER: So is 14,000 a good number for the president?
SHANAHAN: We don’t talk troop movements and we don’t talk troop levels.
BAIER: Is there hope that this is going to come to some resolution soon?
SHANAHAN: I’m hopeful. I mean this is a real possibility for peace. But as I mentioned earlier, we are driving down two tracks.
BAIER: We’re here at the Space Symposium--
SHANAHAN: Exciting --
BAIER: --Space is really a big part of what you’re doing now.
SHANAHAN: Right. Right.
SHANAHAN: we have a $19 trillion economy that runs on space. Our military runs on space. It is vitally important. And it’s a critical domain just like air, land, and sea. The expectation is over the next 20 years it will become -- the industry -- space industry will become a trillion dollar a year business. But there’s risk and danger in space. And that’s really the creation of the space force. Chinese and Russians are deploying capability to put our economy and our military at risk in the time of crisis.
BAIER: critics would say that you’re just giving the U.S. Air Force different uniforms.
SHANAHAN 20:43:44 we’re consolidating across 10 different organizations into a single structure so we can move more quickly in this very complex domain.
BAIER: What’s the thing you spend the most time on as defense secretary -- acting defense secretary I should say?
SHANAHAN: The future.
BAIER: How so?
SHANAHAN: The ongoing operations are enormously complex. /20:44:47 It’s been over 30 years since we’ve modernized. China is modernizing. We need to as a country modernize our military. I spend more and more time really laying the foundation and putting that capability in place //
BAIER: Did Jim Mattis give you any advice?
SHANAHAN: Jim Mattis’ advice was always steady as she goes, eyes on the boat.
BAIER: Has it been hard taking over for Jim Mattis?
SHANAHAN: Those are big shoes to fill, but we put in place the right plan. We have the right resources. We’re in a period of execution.
BAIER: Does the acting affect your job at all, the fact that you’re acting defense secretary?
SHANAHAN: My mother asked me this question all the time. You know when are you going to be nominated. And what I tell her is it’s an honor and a privilege to serve our country, and I will serve in any capacity the president sees fit. I don’t wake up in the morning and think about whether I’m going to be nominated. I do the job.
BAIER: Do you think your time at Boeing is the reason that you -- this has been slowed up?
SHANAHAN: I’m glad you brought that up. It allows me to address it. When Congress asked me would I be open to an investigation, without hesitation I said absolutely. I’m fully cooperating with the IG. 20:46:57 First of all, when I joined the administration I sold every financial interest I had with Boeing company. I went a step further. Every interest in the defense sector -- and this is a point I want to make very clear. I am not biased towards Boeing. I’m biased towards performance. I’m biased towards performance for the U.S. government, for the tax payer, and most importantly the war fighter. 20:47:26
I’m an equal opportunity critic. If I see underperformance I call it the way I see it. That’s what the war fighter expects, and that’s what they deserve.
BAIER: So you’ve never favored Boeing in your current job?
SHANAHAN: I have never favored Boeing in my current job, and I never will.
BAIER: About the IG report, just to be clear. Do you think that the IG report and reaction to it on Capitol Hill has been politically motivated?
SHANAHAN: We’ll see. I know I’ve not made any decisions in favor of Boeing and the work I’ve done is to drive waste out of the F-35 program so we can deliver the capability our men and women deserve. And at a savings that the taxpayers expect.
BAIER: Is Russia or China a bigger threat to the United States?
SHANAHAN: China. China is a threat economically and diplomatically I think it’s time we -- we address some of these issues. Militarization of the South China Sea. The communist Chinese party launching cyber attacks against the U.S., theft of intellectual property, and a significant expansion of military capability. This is war (ph) we need to confront.
BAIER: Will America ever be able to truly protect Americans from cyber threats from countries, from individuals?
SHANAHAN: We will. I mean it’s not tomorrow. And if you ask me what keeps me up at night, which I’m sure you’re going to ask me, it’s cyber. What I would tell you is the department is aggressively addressing that threat and across not just the Department of Defense but working on critical infrastructure and working with our suppliers, allies, and partners.
BAIER: Should the U.S. military be deployed at the U.S. southern border?
SHANAHAN: the mission down at the border, this isn’t a new one for the department. We supported the Bush administration, the Obama administration. I think in the Bush administration we had over 6,000 troops deployed.
BAIER: The president obviously is focused on the border pretty extensively.
SHANAHAN: And because it’s degrading, the situation there is deteriorating.
BAIER: Over the weekend the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned. Different stories behind the scenes about that. But there was reported tension between president and the secretary. Did you see that first hand?
SHANAHAN: I saw a lot of intensity to solve a problem. That’s not tension. This very focused effort. The border’s a serious situation. We’re all feeling the pressure to solve the situation down on the border. It’s an emergency.
We have lots of intense discussions at the White House, because these are serious issues and they require serious attention.
BAIER: Do you feel that the policy is going to change now that there’s a change in leadership at the Department of Homeland Security,
SHANAHAN: We’ve worked with the acting secretary -- the new acting secretary. I’m confident // we’ll continue to be able to support the department, and we’ll continue to solve problems.
BAIER: this decision about Iran and the revolutionary guard. Designating the revolutionary guard in Iran a terrorist organization.
BAIER: Does that create problems for you and U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq?
SHANAHAN: The IRGC is responsible for the death of U.S. service members. This is a policy decision to have non-military effects, put pressure on the Iranian economy. We’re going to continue to work in Iraq to strengthen security forces. We recognize Iraq’s sovereignty. It’s our role in country to build security and continue to do that.
BAIER: So now that Qasem Soleimani is essentially a terrorist. Will you be targeting him?
SHANAHAN: We use sanctions and the appropriate mechanisms that come along with the designation as appropriate.
BAIER: Which includes targeting someone (CROSSTALK) that's a leader of a terrorist organization.
SHANAHAN: We’ll use -- we’ll use them as appropriate.
BAIER: What’s your relationship with President Trump?
SHANAHAN: I have a good relationship with him. He’s very demanding as you know and he’s very engaging.
BAIER: When you hear critics on TV and elsewhere say, he’s disconnected. He’s snapped. He’s losing his marbles. I mean they say all kinds of things on different cable channels. What’s your reaction to that? You sit in those meetings. How’s your reaction and interaction with the president?
SHANAHAN: He’s engaged. He gives us the resources we need to do our job and he supports us in what we need to defend America.
We have extraordinary bipartisan support from Congress. We have strong, strong leadership from the White House. We’re making the changes necessary to compete and win. You should have high confidence in your military.
BAIER: Mr. Secretary, we appreciate the time.
SHANAHAN: Good. Thank you.