LONDON — Mark Esper and Ben Wallace, two new kids on the block as defense leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively, said Friday that they can look to the freshness they bring to their jobs to generate some new wind in dealing with persistent, challenging storms of conflict.
The two former soldiers from the field — promoted this summer to defense chiefs — met for the first time Friday and tried to start chipping away at a menu of maelstrom ranging from China and Russia to Iran and ISIS.
“We’ll take them at their actions rather than their words,” Wallace said, referring to Iran, at a press conference held by the two men after their meeting in Horse Guards, the original entrance of Buckingham Palace that is now is the UK’s equivalent of the Pentagon.
Esper said he and Wallace “bring a new energy, a fresh outlook and different perspectives.
“Whether it is advising or helping the prime minister or the president…(we) help our chief executives make the best decisions for our countries,” he said.
Both men cited the long-standing bromide of a “special relationship” of several decades between the once mother country and her colonies. The term originated in the aftermath of World War II and is a long way from the initial disdain of the British toward U.S. forces for being “overpaid, oversexed and over here.”
“Whether it is soldiers sharing tactical developments, whether it is politicians sharing conversations together… it is very important between friends,” Wallace said.
Yet in the almost six decades since the end of World War II, it is rare that both nations’ militaries would be headed by leaders who were appointed to their posts almost simultaneously.
Esper was confirmed as defense secretary on July 23. Wallace became defense minister on July 24.
It is also unusual to have both posts filled at the same time by former soldiers who were once in the infantry, as well as who both lived in Pennsylvania at one point.
Part of the turbulence both men must navigate is caused from within. Each has unpredictable bosses in Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, with the political promenades in Washington and London becoming increasingly fractured.
“We both are living in politically uncertain times,” Wallace said, as Esper smiled.
As representatives of two countries once described by George Bernard Shaw as “separated by a common language,” Esper and Wallace were in sync with responses to questions posed by six reporters.
On a question regarding Afghanistan and a possible U.S. troop drawdown, both secretaries said any reduction in respective forces would be proportional. Their statements may assuage some public British concerns that Washington would pull out and leave the smaller U.K. force behind.
“We went in together and we will leave together,” Esper said. He was referring to Afghanistan — and not, for the moment, the timetable for their tenures.