Two battle hardened ‘soldier-scholars’ - James Mattis and Herbert Raymond McMaster - who’ve earned their stripes in lethal war zones before rising to the top of the Trump administration are the men Ajit Doval will meet this week during India’s most high level huddle with the US after Donald Trump took charge.
America’s Defense Secretary James Mattis, 66, reads books, writes, he’s no fan of the Kremlin, they say he carries a copy of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ and does not rubbish traditional allies.
Mattis does not limit his cerebral exertions to himself and is known for issuing reading lists at work.
Famed for his belligerent mottos, he never tires of telling staffers that the most important territory is the space "between your ears.” "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet” is another Mattis favourite.
A good 10 years younger than Mattis is McMaster, 54 - a Pentagon star who sees the world through the prism of a dangerous flashpoint between China, Russia and the United States which "has elevated the risk of a major international military crisis to maybe the highest level in the last 70 years.”
India’s National security adviser Ajit Doval meets Mattis on March 24 - a man quite unlike his boss in the White House and who has drawn widespread praise for his potential to be a legitimate bulwark against wild policy deviations.
American foreign policy’s leading lights who campaigned openly against Trump said they were relieved that Mattis “…would be a stabilising and moderating force, preventing wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening, and over time, helping to steer American foreign and security policy in a sound and sensible direction”.
Although the moniker ‘Mad dog Mattis’ stayed firmly in the headlines before his confirmation, Mattis has drawn bipartisan praise from within the US and also from across the pond in Britain.
US lawmakers passed a special waiver allowing Mattis, who retired in 2013, to serve before a customary seven-year limit on former military personnel taking over Pentagon's top post.
The Mattis-Doval meeting will be one of the highest-level US -India huddles after Trump took power this January. Doval is also tipped to meet his American counterpart Lt Gen H R McMaster at the White House, the first between the two national security advisors.
Decorated for his battlefield prowess in the first Iraq war, McMaster will be exactly a month into his new job as America’s NSA when Doval meets him. McMaster’s appointment came after his predecessor Micheal Flynn was abruptly sacked after lying about a private conversation with a Russian diplomat.
In McMaster, Doval will find a straight talker who has distinguished himself as a counter insurgency specialist in two wars.McMaster shot to fame in 1991 when his outnumbered unit of nine tanks demolished dozens of Iraqi Republican Guard tanks and armored vehicles in the Battle of 73 Easting in the Gulf War - all this without taking a single casualty.
"Shoot first," "fight through the fog of battle" and "take risk to win,” McMaster wrote in a summary of the battle last year. He made the cut for Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in 2014.
By America’s experts in Afghanistan, McMaster has been called “the 21st-century army’s pre-eminent warrior-thinker” and Doval’s conversations about Pakistan or Islamic State with McMaster will most likely not be unburdened by detail.
Both Mattis and McMaster are widely believed to be anti-Stephen Bannon -- the dishevelled, “right wing nutty” chief strategist for Trump.
When Doval sits down with McMaster and Mattis, he will be meeting intellectuals burnished by war whose views may not sit well with those holed up high in Trump Tower. “The new normal is that we’re negotiating in a room full of people where there may be no common ground to start with but we may end up finding something we can work with,” India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar said at the Raisina Dialogue earlier this year.
That’s how pretty much all engagement on Planet Trump will begin and end, unless it’s an issue that won Trump the White House. In those special cases, there's no grey, the matter is closed Bannon-style.
Published Date: Mar 21, 2017 13:46 PM | Updated Date: Mar 21, 2017 13:49 PM