Trump taps McMaster as national security adviser
President Trump this week named the widely respected Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser, in an effort to steady a foreign policy team roiled by Michael Flynn’s ouster for lying about his conversations with Russian officials. A bluntly outspoken military tactician, McMaster, 54, accepted the post after retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward turned it down out of concern that he could not bring in his own team. In a rollout at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump praised the new hire as “a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.” McMaster holds a doctorate in military history from the University of North Carolina, and became famous within the Army for leading a nine-tank assault that destroyed more than 80 Iraqi tanks and armed vehicles in the 1991 Gulf War. His 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty, was a scathing critique of U.S. military leaders who refused to push back against President Lyndon Johnson’s disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War. During the Iraq War, McMaster’s counterinsurgency efforts secured the key city of Tal Afar and served as a template for Gen. David Petraeus’ “surge” of 2007. Known for his humane treatment of detainees, McMaster ordered soldiers never to speak of Muslims in derogatory terms. “I look forward to joining the national security team and doing everything I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people,” McMaster said.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said McMaster has “full authority to structure the national security team the way he wants.” The selection won praise from Trump’s critics on both sides of the aisle. Republican Sen. John McCain lauded McMaster’s “genuine intellect, character, and ability”; Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that the general “wrote the book on [the] importance of standing up,” and “may need to show [the] same independence here.”
What the editorials said
McMaster “is an enlightened choice” who could be a “moderating force in an administration packed with radicals and amateurs,” said The New York Times. The key to his Iraq War success “was simple, yet revolutionary”: treating Iraqis “with dignity and deference” and protecting civilians from murderous insurgents. McMaster also speaks of the terrorist threat “with nuance and restraint, careful not to brand all Muslims a menace”—a welcome contrast to “the hysteria” that fueled Trump’s travel ban.
If Trump wanted a yes-man to head the National Security Council, “he has picked the wrong general,” said The Wall Street Journal. The only question is whether McMaster “can step out of his military background to become a foreign policy strategist.” Someone in this White House—hopefully not ultranationalist Stephen Bannon—must devise a strategy for reclaiming American influence from the encroachment of China, Russia, and Iran in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. “This means turning Mr. Trump’s ‘America First’ instincts into policies that don’t merely mimic President Obama’s strategic retreat.”
What the columnists said
The new NSA chief “is no Michael Flynn, and that’s a good thing,” said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. McMaster won’t cozy up to Russia, brand NATO a burden, or “indict the entire Muslim world.” His success depends on “quarantining Stephen Bannon,” and teaming up with other adults in the administration, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security’s John Kelly. “That still leaves the problem of Trump’s judgment, conflicts of interest, honesty, and impulsivity, but at least the foreign policy apparatus won’t be the cause of his failures.”
“McMaster is widely viewed as the Army’s smartest officer,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. He becomes NSA chief with the “most rigorous judgment of anyone who’s taken the job in decades,” and is renowned for speaking truth to power.
McMaster inherits a “National Security Council in deep disarray,” said James Kitfield in Politico.com. He also enters a White House “with competing power players who have sharp elbows and closer ties to the president,” such as Bannon, who actually got himself on the NSC. At some point the forthright McMaster will “tell the president something he doesn’t want to hear,” said retired Army Maj. Mike Lyons in TheHill.com. That’s when we’ll “find out if the Trump administration confuses moral courage with loyalty.” ■