White House: New National Security Adviser Can Run His Own Show

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on Feb. 20, 2017, where he announced that McMaster will be the new national security adviser. Susan Walsh/AP
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on Feb. 20, 2017, where he announced that McMaster will be the new national security adviser. Susan Walsh/AP

Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is taking his go-against-the-grain reputation as an independent thinker to the White House as President Donald Trump's second choice as replacement to run the currently rudderless National Security Council.

The 54-year-old West Point graduate and Silver Star recipient from the Gulf War accepted Trump's offer of the post Monday after retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward turned down the job.

McMaster flew back to Washington aboard Air Force One with Trump from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Monday night to prepare for a position in which he will be a gatekeeper for the uniformed and civilian leadership of government on national security issues despite his long track record of criticism of the leadership -- past and present.

As he stepped down from the aircraft, McMaster politely declined a White House pool reporter's request for comment on when and why Trump gave him the job offer.

Harward, now a Lockheed Martin executive, cited family reasons for staying in the private sector, but he reportedly had concerns about having to clean up after retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser after less than a month in the post over misleading Vice President Mike Pence on his contacts with Russian officials.

Those same concerns were voiced in public last week by Army Gen. Raymond "Tony" Thomas, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. "Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil," Thomas said. "I hope they sort it out soon because we're a nation at war."

In rejecting Trump's job offer, Harward also reportedly felt he would not have complete control over hiring and firing at the NSC. Shortly after the choice of McMaster was announced, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that McMaster would have "total and complete say" on the functioning of the agency and the hiring of personnel.

In going to the White House, McMaster, who reportedly was considering retirement this summer, will be able to remain on active duty while wearing a suit. The arrangement is not unusual. Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell remained on active duty while also serving as national security adviser.

Top-Priority Issues

Once he is sworn in, McMaster, currently the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, will find his desk piled high with a range of top-priority issues that will require immediate attention.

Trump is expected later this week to issue another executive order on immigration, to include a revamped travel restriction on seven predominantly Muslim countries to replace the previous order that is tied up in the courts.

In response to another Trump executive order, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is to present to the White House at the end of this month a plan for speeding up the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

There is also the issue of the U.S. commitment to NATO. Mattis and Pence are returning to Washington this week after giving NATO allies assurances of U.S. resolve against Russian aggression while repeatedly calling on them to spend more on defense. "Get it done," Pence told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

McMaster will bring a maverick's style to a national security adviser's post that demands a compromiser's touch in taking input from the intelligence community, the Defense Department and the State Department on national security issues to present a coherent framework to the president for decision making.

His iconoclast's instincts gained notoriety in 1997 with the publication of his book, "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam."

The book was an expansion of his Ph.D. thesis for the University of North Carolina and was meticulously argued. The 446-page book had more than 100 pages of bibliography.

The case against Johnson and former Defense Secretary McNamara for deception in micromanaging the war had been made many times before, but McMaster's take was unique in leveling scathing criticism at the Joint Chiefs for being complicit and shunning their duty, as McMaster saw it, to dissent.

McMaster wrote, "The relationship between the president, the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs led to the curious situation in which the nation went to war without the benefit of effective military advice from the organization having the statutory responsibility to be the nation's 'principal military advisers.' "

"When it became clear to the Chiefs that they were to have little influence on the policy-making process, they failed to confront the president with their objections to McNamara's approach to the war," McMaster's book said.

In articles and think-tank forums, McMaster has kept up his criticism of the military's leadership on a range of issues, from counter-insurgency and the use of conventional forces, to ground tactics and weapons procurement.

The 'Four Fallacies'

In a 2014 article, "Thinking Clearly About War and the Future of Warfare -- The U.S. Army Operating Concept," McMaster cited what he called the "four fallacies" that dominate the mindsets of the nation's military leadership.

He said that the difficulties faced by U.S. troops in recent conflicts "stemmed, at least in part, from a tendency to neglect both history and continuities in the nature of war, especially its political and human dimensions."

The nation's military leaders were working under the false assumption that, "Technology would make the next war fundamentally different from all that had come before it, because information and communication technologies had shifted war from the realm of uncertainty to that of certainty."

The first of the four fallacies was what McMaster called the "vampire fallacy," which "promises victory based on even better surveillance, information, communications and precision-strike technologies."

Next came what he called the "Zero-Dark-Thirty fallacy," or an over-reliance on special operations. "Like the vampire fallacy, it elevates an important military capability, raiding, to the level of a defense strategy," McMaster said.

Third on the list was the "Marlin Perkins fallacy," a reference to the old "Wild Kingdom" TV show in which host Marlin Perkins sat in a studio describing what was going on while others worked closely with dangerous animals.

McMaster was being critical of the tendency of "Western armed forces to assume the role of Marlin Perkins and rely on proxy forces."

"Finally, the 'RSVP fallacy' solves the problem of future war by opting out of armed conflict, or at least certain forms of it," McMaster said. "The problem with this fallacy lies in its failure to give due consideration to enemies in wars or adversaries between wars. As Leon Trotsky said, 'You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.' "

The overriding question among McMaster's supporters is how his facts-based arguments will mesh with a president who prides himself on unpredictability and has shown a tendency to form opinions from the last thing he heard on a cable TV debate.

"My first duty as president is to keep the American people safe. General McMaster has the knowledge and foresight necessary to provide me with expert advice as we work to protect America's interests at home and abroad," Trump said in a statement.

In praising McMaster's selection, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that McMaster "knows how to succeed."

McCain, who has ridiculed what he called "dysfunction" at the White House, said, "I give President Trump great credit for this decision, as well as his national security cabinet choices. I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now."

McMaster's friends had a warning. Writing in "The Atlantic," Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger officer, said, "I have known McMaster for over a decade and cannot imagine a more decent man in his position today.

"This job is going to drive him crazy, because he does not suffer fools gladly," said Exum, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy in the Obama administration.

"Unless he has been given some assurances about both staffing and process, he will struggle in a competition to influence the president -- to be the last man in the room when the president makes a key decision," Exum said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Story Continues
Army Donald Trump