Saagar Enjeti, DCNF
President Donald Trump’s new pick for national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, rose in the Army as a prominent Vietnam war critic and served multiple tours in the Iraq war.
McMaster will replace former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who resigned Feb 13.
McMaster previously served as the head of the U.S. Army’s capabilities center as a chief strategist in charge of doctrine for the force. McMaster is a prominent soldier-scholar with the U.S. military who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the missteps of U.S. military commanders in Vietnam, and employed a visionary strategy in the war in Iraq.
McMaster’s 1997 Ph.D. thesis titled “Dereliction of Duty” delivered a scathing indictment of former President Lyndon Johnson and his military advisors. The book criticizes Johnson’s Joint Chiefs of Staff for not providing proper unvarnished military advice to the president, and describes them as “accomplices” in the Johnson administration’s decision making.
McMaster’s indictment of these generals could indicate he will not take kindly to political machinations within the National Security Council. White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon currently serves as a fellow principal on the NSC principles committee, and White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller has reportedly chaired a deputy meeting. These roles have been roundly criticized by former national security advisors, who say it undermines the apolitical role of the council.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus said Sunday that whoever Trump picked to fill the post would have full autonomy over his staff. Prebius’s comments came after reports indicated that Retired Adm. Robert Harward turned down Trump’s offer to replace Flynn over concerns that he would not get to staff his own office.
McMaster also has extensive experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. McMaster was one of the first commanders in Iraq to independently employ counter-insurgency tactics in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, which later became the bedrock of U.S. strategy in Iraq in 2007.
McMaster’s counter-insurgency strategy and repeated criticism of U.S. military tactics in the early days of the Iraq war put him squarely at odds with a powerful contingent within the Pentagon bureaucracy. McMaster wrote in 2007 that military should end its “self delusion” that increased technology can substitute for lower numbers of forces on the ground in Iraq. He was passed over for brigadier general twice, until then-Gen. David Petraeus personally flew back to Washington from Iraq to chair the Army’s promotion board in 2008.
Trump specified at the announcement that McMaster would be “working closely” with retired Army Lt. Gen Keith Kellogg. Kellogg served as the interim national security advisor, and was an early supporter of Trump in the 2016 campaign. Trump also noted that former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. would have a national security role, but did not specify.
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