US president Donald Trump has named Lt General H R McMaster, a widely respected military strategist and author of a searing critique of the military leadership for not standing up to the President during the Vietnam war, as his new National Security Adviser, calling him a “a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience”.
McMaster (54) succeeds Michael Flynn, a retired Lt General who was fired by Trump for lying to the vice-president Mike Pence about is dealings with Russia. The President announced his pick from his Miami resort after his first few choices turned down the offer.
“He is highly respected by everyone in the military and we’re very honoured to have him,” Trump said presenting McMaster, who, as national security adviser, doesn’t have to go through the gruelling Senate confirmation process but will face many other challenges, including aggressive claims on his turf by chief strategist Steven Bannon and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
McMaster, who probably could not say no to the president—his boss and the commander in chief—as an active duty military personnel, is expected to enjoy wide latitude in picking his team, and more importantly, for those rattled by Trump’s rocky start and seemingly ill-conceived foreign policy adventurism, stand up to the president if and when needed.
Though it did not figure in Trump’s introductory remarks, McMaster’s 1998 book ‘Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies That Led to Vietnam’ had become a top mention in every news story about him since reminding him, as it were, of the task ahead of him.
In the book, he was very critical of the failure of US military’s chiefs of staff—many of whom might have retired by then, affording him the luxury of unrestrained comment in a ranks-driven institution—to stand up to the president and the White House in regard to the conduct of a disastrous war, from the US perspective, that has had a bearing on every conflict considered or waged by America since, with “quagmire” writ large in every thought bubble at every Pentagon discussion.
Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval will be looking for an early meeting with his new counterpart to pick up from his highly successful meeting with Flynn last December that went into extra time as the two former intelligence operatives—Doval had led the Intelligence Bureau and Flynn the Defense Intelligence Agency—bonded.
Unlike Flynn, McMaster is an active duty military personnel, of which there is some precedence in recent decades—Brent Scowcroft for President Gerald Ford and Colin Powell for President Ronald Reagan. Most presidents have preferred civilians for the job, but Trump has continued to lean on the side of generals, with McMaster being his third brass in a senior position after defence secretary James Mattis and homeland defence secretary John Kelly.
Also, unlike Flynn, who had become a lightning rod for criticism from the Left, Democrats welcomed McMaster, with Steve Israel, a Congressman from New York, tweeting, “He’s a brilliant, reasoned leader who understands both hard & soft power. Good pick!”
Republicans were equally, and expectedly, effusive in their praise for the new NSA, with one of them calling him a “genuine intellect”.
McMaster is also a war hero decorated for military exploits as a young captain during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War under the then president George HW Bush, and as a colonel in the Second Persian Gulf War (aka Iraq War) a decade later under President George W Bush.