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Trump’s defense secretary nominee faces India’s Mattis matrix

Mattis emerged as the key figure in Trump administration for India ties after his appeal to US congress at a hearing to exempt some countries from US sanctions for buying Russian defense equipment.

world Updated: May 11, 2019 10:07 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
James Mattis quit as defense secretary in December protesting Trump’s decision to withdraw troops completely from Syria.
James Mattis quit as defense secretary in December protesting Trump’s decision to withdraw troops completely from Syria.(REUTERS)
         

US President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense Patrick M Shanahan, which was announced Thursday, will have really big shoes to fill in New Delhi’s estimation as he succeeds James Mattis, who had emerged as this administration’s most fervent supporter of ties with India.

Shanahan has been acting secretary of defense since December, when Mattis quit protesting Trump’s decision to withdraw troops completely from Syria. His nomination will need to be confirmed by US senate, which is not expected to be a problem as it is controlled by Republicans, the same party as the president, and Shanahan has been largely uncontroversial and unproblematic so far.

Since being designated acting secretary of defense, he has kept a low profile and focused on delivering — not shaping — White House directives and initiatives such as the Space Force and diversion of appropriated defense funds towards the president’s border wall.

Critics have said he is unlikely to steer president away from his instinct-driven decisions as did Mattis.

Also read:India may adopt new payment formula to avoid US sanctions

For India, Shanahan remains an untested entity. “Shanahan has not shown much interest in ties with India,” said a US defense industry official who did not want to be identified by name or company affiliation.

But shoes that he seeks to fill are large, too large in fact, for Indians. Mattis has emerged as the key figure in the Trump administration for ties with India after his path-breaking pubic appeal to US congress at a hearing to exempt some countries from US sanctions for buying Russian defense equipment. He had named India and Vietnam as among them, though not specifically asking for them to be exempted.

India remains in talks with Russia for the S-400s and though no transactions have taken place yet, sanctions under US law Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions (better known by the acronym CAATSA) continue to cast a shadow over the proposed purchase and ties.

For the Trump administration, Shanahan has been a good bet. “Based upon his outstanding service to the country and his demonstrated ability to lead, President Trump intends to nominate Patrick M. Shanahan to be the Secretary of Defense,” White house press secretary Sarah Sander Huckabee said in a statement.

Unlike his predecessor Mattis, who was a celebrated Marine Corps general, Shanahan is a civilian with no prior military or foreign policy experience. He is a former executive of Boeing, a major aircraft manufacturer and defense contractor, makers of F/A-18E/F — the F-18 Super Hornet But first, he has to be confirmed by the Republican-led US senate, which is likely to vote him through. He has not been controversial, not challenged the president like this predecessor, which could cause concerns in some quarters, and has generally put his head down and worked.

First Published: May 10, 2019 09:39 IST

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