Trump Chooses H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser

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The New York Times, By Peter Baker, February 20 2017

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump picked Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a widely respected military strategist, as his new national security adviser on Monday, calling him “a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.”

Mr. Trump made the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago getaway in Palm Beach, Fla., where he has been interviewing candidates to replace Michael T. Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Vice President Mike Pence about a call with Russia’s ambassador.

The choice continued Mr. Trump’s reliance on high-ranking military officers to advise him on national security. Mr. Flynn was a retired three-star general and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is a retired four-star general. His first choice to replace Mr. Flynn, who turned the job down, and two other finalists were current or former senior officers as well.

Shortly before announcing his appointment, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter: “Meeting with Generals at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Very interesting!”

General McMaster is seen as one of the Army’s leading intellectuals, first making a name for himself with a searing critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their performance during the Vietnam War and later criticizing the way President George W. Bush’s administration went to war in Iraq.

General McMaster’s challenge now will be to take over a rattled and demoralized National Security Council apparatus that bristled at Mr. Flynn’s leadership and remains uncertain about its place in the White House given the foreign policy interests of Stephen K. Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman who is the president’s chief strategist.

Most of the N.S.C. staff is composed of career professionals, often on loan from military or civilian agencies, and they have complained privately about being shut out of their areas of expertise and kept in the dark about important decisions. Mr. Trump’s aides look on many of those holdovers from the last administration with suspicion, blaming them for leaks. The atmosphere has grown so toxic that some N.S.C. staff members have said they feared they were being surveilled.

In addition to reassuring and reassembling the staff, General McMaster will have to figure out his own role in the month-old administration. Other candidates for the job reportedly harbored concern about how much authority they would have, although the White House has said whoever had the job would have the right to assemble his or her own staff.

Mr. Trump announced that Keith Kellogg, another retired lieutenant general, will remain as the N.S.C. chief of staff. Mr. Kellogg has been acting national security adviser since Mr. Flynn’s resignation a week ago and one of the four candidates interviewed by Mr. Trump on Sunday for the permanent job. Mr. Trump made no mention of K.T. McFarland, the top deputy national security adviser, and whether she would stay.

Mr. Trump praised General McMaster in a brief appearance before reporters on Monday. “I watched and read a lot over the last two days,” he said. “He is highly respected by everyone in the military and we’re very honored to have him.”

General McMaster, wearing his uniform, responded in kind. “I’m grateful to you for that opportunity,” he said, “and I look forward to joining the national security team and doing everything that I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people.”

The other two candidates interviewed on Sunday were John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, and Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

This was the second time Mr. Bolton, an outspoken conservative skeptic of international organizations and treaties, has been considered and rejected for a high-level post in Mr. Trump’s administration. Mr. Trump made a point on Monday of praising Mr. Bolton and saying that he would find a position for him in his administration eventually.

“We had some really good meetings with him. Knows a lot. He had a good number of ideas that I must tell you I agree very much with,” the president said. “So we’ll be talking with John Bolton in a different capacity.”

He made no specific mention of General Caslen, but added that “we’ll be talking to some of the other generals that I’ve met.”

The national security adviser is charged with coordinating the departments and agencies to counsel the president on foreign policy and military operations. Mr. Flynn, who had directed the Defense Intelligence Agency and, after retiring, was a strategist for Mr. Trump during last year’s campaign, resigned after not telling Mr. Pence and others that sanctions against Russia came up in his postelection call with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington.

Most presidents have picked civilians to run the National Security Council but there have been military officers in the role before. Brent Scowcroft, who held the post under both Presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush, and Colin L. Powell, held it under President Ronald Reagan, were well regarded in the role. Others, however, have not been.

General McMaster, 54, has served as director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Fort Eustis in Virginia since 2014. But he is best known as one of the leading thinkers inside the armed forces.

A West Point graduate with a doctorate in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he made a name for himself with his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” which critiqued the Joint Chiefs for not standing up to President Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War. He served in the Persian Gulf war and later led a successful counterinsurgency effort in 2005 to secure the city of Tal Afar in northern Iraq that drew praise from President George W. Bush.

With that in mind, General Petraeus took a similar approach when he took overall command in Iraq in 2007 with a surge of troops authorized by Mr. Bush, making it a priority to protect the civilian population and station American troops in forward posts.

2 responses to “Trump Chooses H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser

  1. Sounds like the type of guy Trump would choose. I do wonder about whether or not the military as a whole respect Trump. I know he is the President and that US armed forces personnel are not allowed to take part in politics but they aren’t robots.

    • That’s an interesting point. James Mattis seems to be smoothing some ruffled feathers in Brussels, but I can’t gauge whether this is a clever ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine that he and President Trump are playing in order to lever the European powers into action, or whether there is a disconnect between them.

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