Trump Chooses H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump appointed Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster as his new national security adviser on Monday, picking a widely respected military strategist known for challenging conventional thinking and helping to turn around the Iraq war in its darkest days.

Mr. Trump made the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he interviewed candidates over the holiday weekend to replace Michael T. Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Vice President Mike Pence about a call with Russia’s ambassador.

Unlike Mr. Flynn, who served as a campaign adviser last year, General McMaster has no links to Mr. Trump and is not thought of as being as ideological as the man he will replace. A battle-tested veteran of both the Persian Gulf war and the second Iraq war, General McMaster is considered one of the military’s most independent-minded officers, sometimes at a cost to his own career.

The selection encouraged Republicans who admire General McMaster and waged a behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade Mr. Trump to select him. Key to the choice was Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Army veteran who once served under General McMaster and suggested him to the White House. A coterie of other national security conservatives, including a top aide to Senator John McCain of Arizona, also lobbied for him, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has worked with General McMaster, encouraged him to take the job.

“He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” Mr. Trump told reporters as General McMaster, wearing his uniform, sat next to him. “I watched and read a lot over the last two days. He is highly respected by everyone in the military, and we’re very honored to have him.”

The choice continued Mr. Trump’s reliance on high-ranking military officers to advise him on national security. Mr. Flynn is a retired three-star general and Mr. Mattis a retired four-star general. John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, is a retired Marine general. Mr. Trump’s first choice to replace Mr. Flynn, Robert S. Harward, who turned down the job, and two other finalists were current or former senior officers as well. General McMaster will remain on active duty.

General McMaster had the aura of disruption that Mr. Trump has valued in several cabinet secretaries, said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to describe internal deliberations. Another candidate, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, the superintendent of West Point, impressed Mr. Trump as being “from central casting,” the official said. But the president wanted him to stay at West Point, which he reveres.

General McMaster, 54, made a name for himself as a young officer with a searing critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their performance during the Vietnam War and later criticized the way President George W. Bush’s administration went to war in Iraq.

As a commander, he was credited with demonstrating how a counterinsurgency strategy could defeat militants in Iraq, demonstrating the promise of an approach that Gen. David H. Petraeus adopted to shift momentum in a war the United States was on the verge of losing.

Stocky, smart and soft-spoken with a sense of humor, General McMaster, for all his war-making experience, has little background in navigating Washington politics, which could be a challenge for him in his new role with a fractious national security team to corral.

His task 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 National Security Council 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 council staff members have said they feared they were being surveilled.

Several security council aides said Monday that they learned about General McMaster’s selection the same way the public did and expressed concern that Mr. Flynn’s associates, derisively called the Flynnstones, would stick around. But General McMaster has the advantage of having served in Iraq with some officials currently on the staff, including aides like Derek Harvey and Joel Rayburn.

Mr. Trump said Keith Kellogg, another retired lieutenant general, would remain as the council’s chief of staff. Mr. Kellogg has been acting national security adviser since Mr. Flynn’s resignation a week ago and was 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.

General McMaster thanked Mr. Trump but gave no insight into his plans. “I’m grateful to you for that opportunity,” he told the president, “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 finalist was John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Bush. This was the second time Mr. Bolton, an outspoken conservative, had been considered for a high-level post in Mr. Trump’s administration. Mr. Trump praised Mr. Bolton on Monday and said he would find a position for him.

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

General McMaster has served as director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Fort Eustis in Virginia since 2014. A West Point graduate with a doctorate in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he commanded a unit that clashed with Iraq’s Republican Guard in one of the biggest tank battles of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, earning him the Silver Star.

But he came to prominence 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 cemented his reputation in 2005 during the second Iraq war when he led the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in regaining control of Tal Afar.

The operation was cited as a textbook example in a manual on counterinsurgency doctrine prepared by General Petraeus. Another commander who had a role in drafting that manual was Mr. Mattis, then a Marine general. General Petraeus took a similar approach when he assumed command in Iraq in 2007 with a surge of troops authorized by Mr. Bush.

Yet General McMaster was passed over for the rank of general until General Petraeus and Robert M. Gates, then the defense secretary, rallied support for him.

One protégé from that time was Mr. Cotton, who nearly resigned from the Army in 2007 when it looked as though General McMaster might be forced out.

After Mr. Flynn’s resignation, Mr. Cotton reached out to Mr. Pence, Mr. Bannon and Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, about General McMaster and forwarded his résumé and personal phone number, according to several officials involved in the process. Another advocate for the general was Chris Brose, the staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose chairman is Mr. McCain.

Mr. McCain, who has been sharply critical of Mr. Trump in recent days, praised the appointment and said, “I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now.”

PHOTO: General HR McMaster listening in as US President Donald Trump made the announcement. (Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)

General McMaster — who has called the appointment a "privilege" — follows the departure of the embattled Michael Flynn who resigned from the position after reports he misled the White House about his contacts with Russian officials.

But the choice of 54-year-old General McMaster — who is known as the Iconoclast General — has surprised some observers who are wondering how the Trump administration would deal with a military strongman known for questioning authority.

Here are four important points to know about the US' new national security adviser:

1. 'Dereliction of Duty'

In 1997, General McMaster rose to prominence after writing the book Dereliction of Duty, which criticised the country's military and political leadership for poor leadership during the Vietnam War.

The book maintained that senior officers should have challenged former president Lyndon B Johnson's and defence secretary Robert McNamara's lack of a strategy to handle the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

Despite its iconoclastic nature, Dereliction of Duty remains highly influential in the US military community and is suggested reading for the Marine Corps and Pentagon.

2. Iconoclasm cost McMaster promotions

Despite his renowned reputation as a top officer in the Iraq War, General McMaster was twice passed over for promotion to Brigadier General in 2006 and 2007.

No official reasoning was given for passing over General McMaster, but it was generally accepted within the military community that his iconoclasm and questioning of the status quo cost him the role.

General McMaster was eventually promoted to the position in 2008 — by General David Petraeus, who took himself off the list last week for national security adviser — but his iconoclastic nature has remained a significant point of consideration.

3. He knows the US military's history... well

General McMaster's Dereliction of Duty book began as part of a PhD thesis in American history at the University of North Carolina.

As a student of the US military, he has often maintained that despite immense technological advancements, the human aspects of war remain and are unavoidable on the field.

In the same interview, General McMaster also maintained that despite his forward-thinking approach, his understanding of the history of the military continued to remain a huge influence on how he makes future decisions.

General McMaster posited early on that a lack of planning for a sustainable political outcome in both Iraq and Afghanistan was a failure that unnecessarily complicated both of those wars.

4. 100 most influential people in the world

In 2014 General McMaster made Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In an accompanying piece written by Lieutenant General Dave Barno, who commanded US forces in Afghanistan, General McMaster is hailed as "the architect of the future US Army".

General McMaster's feature on Time's 2014 list followed years of recognition in Iraq as "one of the most celebrated soldiers" and appraisal as an "unconventional" yet "impressive" military officer.

In Iraq, General McMaster's approaches to battles were considered legendary.

He trained his soldiers in Iraqi culture, detailed the differences between Sunnis, Shiites and Turkmen, and had soldiers read books on the history of the region and counterinsurgency strategy.

It was a sharp change from the "kill and capture" tactics the United States had used in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003, and to which the Obama administration returned in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Months after featuring in Time Magazine's list, General McMaster was officially promoted to Lieutenant General.

Trump picks Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as new national security adviser

President Donald Trump announced Monday that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will serve as his next national security adviser, filling the void left last week by the sudden dismissal of Michael Flynn.

McMaster, the head of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, will become one of Trump's top national security and foreign policy advisers, taking the helm of the White House's National Security Council, which was left rudderless after Flynn was forced to resign after just 24 days on the job.

Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who had been serving as the acting national security adviser since Flynn's exit, will return to his role as chief of staff of the National Security Council.

Trump announced his decision Monday seated alongside McMaster and Kellogg at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, where a day earlier he interviewed McMaster and several other candidates for the national security adviser post.

"He is a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience," Trump said of McMaster. "I watched and read a lot over the last two days. He is highly respected by everybody in the military, and we're very honored to have him."
McMaster called the appointment a privilege and said he looks forward to doing "everything I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people."

Not first choice
McMaster was not Trump's first choice to assume the role of national security adviser. Trump initially offered the position last week to retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, who turned it down amid concerns about how the White House was being run, sources told CNN last week.

The search for a new national security adviser was sparked by a report that revealed Flynn had discussed sanctions with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, before the Trump administration came into office and did not disclose that detail of the conversation to Vice President Mike Pence. Trump said he fired Flynn because of his failure to disclose those details to Pence, but not because of the conversation itself with the Russian ambassador.

McMaster will take on the role after having served several tours of duty in Germany, Southwest Asia and Iraq, including a stint as special assistant to Gen. David Petraeus when he was commander of the US-led coalition forces in Iraq during the 2007 troop surge.

McMaster has a PhD in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was tapped for national security adviser over several other finalists for the position, including John Bolton, the hawkish ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush who also served in senior positions in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

Trump signaled Monday that Bolton would soon get a role in his administration "in a somewhat different capacity" despite having been passed over for the national security adviser spot. The President noted that Bolton has "a good number of ideas that, I must tell you, I agree with."

Trump's pick earned quick praise from a contingent of Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress.
California Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, called McMaster "a fine addition" to Trump's national security team and pointed in particular to McMaster's "history of questioning the status quo and infusing fresh thinking and new approaches into military affairs."
Sen. John McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman who has been among Trump's chief Republican critics on Capitol Hill, called McMaster "an outstanding choice."

"I have had the honor of knowing him for many years, and he is a man of genuine intellect, character, and ability," the Arizona senator said in a statement. "He knows how to succeed. 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."

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