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21 February 2017 · 3 min read

Trump soldiers on

General H.R McMaster is appointed as US National Security Advisor

There is a certain irony that the US host of the Apprentice was left scrabbling around for someone to fill the post of US National Security Advisor (NSA). However, after what appears to have been a fraught week of negotiating, President Trump has appointed General H.R.McMaster, a current Army Officer, who gained notoriety for his criticism of military leadership during the Vietnam War.

General McMaster’s appointment continues President Trump’s predilection for having high ranking military officers as his key advisors on defence. Gen McMaster has been warmly welcomed by many Republicans because he is not from President Trump’s ‘inner circle’ (in fact prior to last week the two men had never met) and has a reputation in the military for being outspoken against conventional military leadership. Notably, US Senator John McCain (Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee), who has been openly critical of President Trump praised the appointment saying “I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now.”

It is widely acknowledged however that Gen McMaster was not the first choice for the role. Vice Admiral (Rtd.) Robert Harward reportedly turned down the job because he wouldn’t be able to make his own personnel selections and General David Petraeus felt snubbed at originally losing out to General Flynn so was not willing to take on the position now.

So what can we expect from General McMaster? The man known amongst friends as HR has a PhD in US military history and in 1997 wrote ‘Deriliction of Duty’ which criticised the US Joint Chiefs of Staff for not standing up to President Lyndon B Johnson during the Vietnam War. That alone gives me some confidence that this is a man who will not be afraid to stand up to his new Commander-in-Chief. He is another of the so called ‘thinking generals’; his leadership of the Third Armoured Cavalry regiment during the battle of Tal Afar during the second Iraq War was cited as a textbook example in General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency manual written some years later. His most recent post has been Director of the Army Capabilities Integration Centre so he is likely to have some interesting ideas on what equipment the military needs (although this is not technically in his remit as NSA).

General McMaster will need to call on every ounce of his West Point military academy leadership training because his biggest challenge initially will be to unite a National Security Council which has reportedly fractured since General Flynn’s departure. The US media has derisively referred to General Flynn’s associates who remain in the NSC as ‘Flynnstones’. A united front is crucial to restoring national and international confidence in US Foreign Policy.

I am encouraged that President Trump has made another military appointment to lead his national security team. I stand by my assertion in December’s blog that having Generals at the helm means the US will be less willing to use military force when diplomacy would be the more appropriate weapon, even if this idea is counter-intuitive. My main concern is that this fiasco has caused fissures in the fragile architecture of Washington politics and General McMaster has no background in the processes of Capitol Hill. The big question over the next few months will be whether he can lead civil servants as well as soldiers in tanks?

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