SecDef Mattis and India's Sitharaman Conduct Meaningful Public Diplomacy

By Austin Bay

December 12, 2018 5 min read

The SecDef's crafted statement was simultaneously a nuanced appeal to an ally and a harsh siren warning to China's ruling Communist dictators.

The siren warned aimed at Beijing — the emerging India and the U.S. alliance — has long-term implications for Asia's threatened peace.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis made his telling statement earlier this month after meeting in Washington with Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Sitharaman (India's first female defense chief) was on a five-day trek through the U.S.

While in Washington, Sitharaman visited Arlington National Cemetery, where she placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Mattis thanked her for the gesture.

For a century, India and the U.S. have spilled blood in common causes against authoritarian regimes. India, as a member of the British Commonwealth, was a very active ally in WWI and WWII.

India's contribution to WWII was enormous. Indian Army units fought and helped defeat Germany's Afrika Korps. They bled their way up the Italian peninsula. The Indian Army also beat the Japanese in the critical (but unknown to most mainstream media talking heads) Battle of Kohima and Imphal. In that horror fought in eastern India, Indian and British units destroyed the best military forces Japan deployed in Burma. Some Japanese historians regard "The Battle of Imphal" as the greatest defeat Japan suffered — ever.

Sitharaman's U.S. trip went west and culminated in Hawaii. The Hawaiian finale made tourist sense (she's heading home) but also sent global diplomatic signals. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command's (USINDOPACOM) headquarters is located in Hawaii. The recent addition of "Indo" to what was U.S. Pacific Command is savvy American narrative warfare directed at Beijing — and deservedly so.

If your media sources missed Mattis' nuanced statement — did the rascals miss the high-level U.S.-India defense meeting entirely? — I recommend you switch to more astute sources.

That noted, I guarantee the Communist dictatorship ruling China didn't miss Mattis' statement, the meeting and their implications for China's expansionist territorial ambitions.

Here's the SecDef's statement, as quoted by The Press Trust of India: "The United States and India, in Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi's work, have overcome hesitations of history, carrying forward the legacy of friendship and making clear there is no contradiction between strategic autonomy and strategic partnership."

I'll translate that below. But trust Mattis knows how to speak to an audience in terms the audience understands. Remember, when he was U.S. Marine Corps General Mattis, he told several thousand young Marines that he was going to make "killing fun again." They yelled, applauded, stamped the ground with their boots.

Stupid people condemned the general — how non-safe-space-Facebook horrid! — but the young Marines knew their gritty commander was engaging in gallows humor. Simultaneously laughing and crying, his cheeky quip was a morale boost by a Marine leader who had faced, done his duty and survived.

In contrast, as a secretary of defense engaged in high stakes Asian and global diplomacy, in his recent statement regarding U.S.-India cooperation Mattis employed delicate diplo-speak.

Diplo-speak is slang for diplomatic language. It can indicate obscure bureaucratese, but not always and definitely not in this case.

Here's my translation: When it comes to China's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and the Himalayas, India and the U.S. are on the same page. India, a nuclear-armed regional power, and the U.S., a global hyperpower, despite their political disagreements, oppose Communist Chinese imperialism.

India will not be anyone's lackey. Hence Mattis' recognition of India's "strategic autonomy." But "strategic partnership" enhances India's and America's ability to deter a nuclear-armed global powerhouse (China).

Congrats to Mattis and Sitharaman for engaging in meaningful public diplomacy.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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