Guest Opinion: A wise national security adviser pick
President Donald Trump took an important step Monday toward restoring a semblance of order and competence to his national security team, selecting a highly regarded, deeply learned strategic thinker and Army general to serve as national security adviser.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, 54, is a seasoned battlefield commander. As a captain during the Persian Gulf War, he commanded 140 soldiers in nine tanks and 12 Bradley fighting vehicles in a nighttime battle against a much larger Iraqi force, with 30 tanks, 20 personnel carriers and 30 other trucks. By morning, every enemy vehicle had been destroyed and McMaster’s armored troop had not suffered a single loss.
More recently, it was his early demonstration of counter-insurgency techniques in the Iraq War that Gen. David Petraeus later adopted as a central plank of what would be known as “the surge.”
McMaster holds a Ph.D. in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is an author of a widely cited critique of the military command structure’s refusal to push back against President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam called Dereliction of Duty.
McMaster wasn’t Trump’s first choice to replace retired three-star general Mike Flynn as his national security adviser. Whether he can provide the leadership needed to coordinate the many energies loose in the Trump White House remains to be seen. How much influence he can have in a White House where Steve Bannon retains the ear of the president as chief strategist remains unclear.
Still, this move is a positive. In picking McMaster, Trump has shown himself capable, as he did with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, of rising above the self-created chaos of his administration to hire a smart, exceptionally competent individual.
It’s encouraging, too, that some of the top voices pushing Trump to choose McMaster were figures who have been critical of Trump’s foreign policy decisions to date. That list includes Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has clashed with Trump repeatedly. That he was such a strong proponent for McMaster speaks well of the general. It also speaks well of the president, who heeded that advice.
McMaster’s appointment deepens the president’s reliance on active-duty and recently retired military offices in roles that have traditionally, though not exclusively, been held by civilians. Time could prove that to be a mistake. But that discomfort aside, we look on the selection of McMaster with relief and hope.
Coordinating America’s national security at this moment is no small challenge. Our allies are rattled. Our strategic rivals and foes alike have grown bolder, in some cases because of strategic errors many years in the making and in some cases because of reckless and poorly planned decisions made since January.
Into this mix, now steps an adviser who is both scholar and doer, a man of action and reflection. We suspect all those capacities will be tested, and soon.