Friday, March 03, 2017

H.R. McMaster: Trump's Chance For A Mulligan

We talked extensively in class after the firing of brief former NSA Mike Flynn, at the time Trump had not named his replacement.  His second choice, H.R. McMaster, has been met with a much different tone and reaction by Trump's detractors.  Many have said, to paraphrase, that this is the first decision they agree with President Trump on.  So the questions for this post include, what will McMaster bring to the Defense apparatus?, what does his personal background tell us about his worldview and approach to defense/intelligence?, and what should the appropriate role be for the National Security Advisor as a member of the NSC?  

The 54 year old, three star General graduated from West Point in 1984, and went on to gain his PhD from UNC Chapel Hill in military history.  His doctoral thesis was on political and military leadership during the Vietnam war, which became a rather famous book titled "Dereliction of Duty".  This could be useful in predicting his interactions with Trump, because in his book he says that military officials were too afraid of LBJ to tell him what he really needed to hear when it came to the dire situation in Vietnam.  Will he be as forthright with Trump?  He has said that he does not find the term, radical Islam, very useful, and that all it does is incite Muslims against the U.S.  That is in stark contrast to Mike Flynn, who emphasized that we were at a war with "radical Islam".

The position he is in has an enormous amount of fluidity, its role and duties vary greatly between the different NSA appointees, who include such notable alumni as Susan Rice, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and Sandy Berger.  Therefore the definition of the job is hard to come by, for some advisors have limited themselves to just parroting what the joint chiefs or the NSC have already said.  On the other hand, while Henry Kissinger held the position, he made an indelible impression on Nixon and the future of American foreign policy for the next 40 years.  We talked in class about the debate among academia and military historians about the appropriate role the NSA should have with regards to the entire Pentagon.  Some think that it has too much authority in having direct access to the President's ear, while others think the position can be useful in communicating Defense policy articulately and immeadiatly to the White House.

As for what he will bring to the NSC and the Defense apparatus at large, National Review writer David French says that, " McMaster is the Neil Gorsuch of Generals".  He means that favorably, due to the fact that both men are concerned with the non-stop growth of Executive power, and can act as good buffers or critiques if Trump tries to centralize power in the White House too much.  It was McMaster who became famous for among other things, banning the use of power points in his ranks, calling out the their banality and the"illusion of understanding" they created.  Such concern for learning are why he has been called a " warrior-scholar".

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