ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia — On his first international trip since being confirmed as defense secretary, Mark T. Esper has tried to affirm the United States’ commitment to its Asia-Pacific allies by sitting down with government leaders, taking in national landmarks and holding forth about “enduring bonds” and “deep friendship.”
In Mongolia on Thursday, he named a horse.
The 7-year-old brown horse was a gift from his Mongolian counterpart, bestowed as Mr. Esper briefly visited a country that is a fortuitous arena where the United States can assert itself in its effort to beat back what the defense secretary earlier called Chinese “tentacles” and Russian influence.
The visit was the third to Mongolia by an American defense secretary. It was also the third time a defense secretary has named a horse in this landlocked country of nomadic plains.
If Mongolian horse-naming is a barometer for anything, then maybe Mr. Esper’s decision to call his horse Marshall, after Gen. George C. Marshall, reflects Washington’s renewed focus on projecting more influence — both militarily and diplomatically — on the borders of both China and Russia, which Mongolia is wedged between.
Or maybe Marshall was just a good name.
As Mr. Esper told it, Marshall was a good fit for the horse — which seemed amiable enough about this new diplomatic role — because the legendary Army officer once sought famed Mongolian steeds for his troops stationed in China. Mr. Esper also noted that Marshall (the general) was both a renowned soldier and a diplomat.
Mr. Esper seemed to give a little more thought to his horse’s name than his predecessors had. In 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel named his horse after his high school mascot, Shamrock, and in 2005, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld picked Montana because the Mongolian landscape reminded him of the state where his wife was born.
“He’s happy,” Mr. Esper said, smiling as he put a hand on Marshall’s ceremonially kept mane. “He likes his name.”
Mr. Esper’s trip to Mongolia was one of the last stops on his weeklong Pacific tour. He has spent much of the time meeting with allies in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and affirming that confronting China and Russia will be the primary pillars during his tenure at the Pentagon.
Mongolia has long referred to the United States as its “third neighbor” — a nod to the country’s desire to wean itself from its dependence on China. Mr. Esper’s visit came roughly a week after Mongolia’s president, Battulga Khaltmaa, visited the White House to discuss trade and other issues.
“It’s my deep privilege to be here, to be with you and to have the opportunity to look at different ways we can further strengthen the ties between our two countries,” Mr. Esper told his counterpart, Nyamaagiin Enkhbold, before the start of their meeting on Thursday.
Mr. Esper departed the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, soon afterward. And although his horse was to stay behind, the defense secretary left with a framed picture of Marshall standing in a green field.
In turn, Mr. Esper gave Marshall’s handler a horse blanket from the Army’s Old Guard, neatly wrapped in a ribbon of red, white and blue.
SOURCE : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/08/world/asia/esper-horse-mongolia.html