The slew of criticisms which have been leveled against Donald Trump and his decision-making capabilities must now be tempered by his choice in National Security Advisor.
Bringing Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster on board in an administration already being characterized for insular thinking through an ‘inner circle’ shows that Trump has some appreciation for a man who has a track record of speaking truth to power.
McMaster is a legend in the U.S. Army. As a troop commander in the First Gulf War, he earned a Silver Star for actions at the Battle of 73 Easting, where his troop of nine M1 Abrams tanks and handful of Bradleys engaged and destroyed over 80 Iraqi tanks and vehicles without any friendly losses. The battle has been widely studied in the Army, and was featured in Tom Clancy’s book Armored Cav.
But his battlefield accomplishments have since been overshadowed with a career marked by intellectual vigor and keen insight usually reserved for scholars. After teaching military history at West Point, McMaster published his PhD dissertation as a book, titled Dereliction of Duty, where he meticulously made the case that the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed miserably by quietly condoning the disastrous policies of the Johnson administration in Vietnam.
His book was widely praised for the depth and breadth of his assessments, and for unflinchingly calling out the most senior military leaders for their failures.
Once in command of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 2004, he spearheaded the style of counterinsurgency in Tal Afar, Iraq, which would eventually be adopted by General David Petraeus and widely regarded as the key to turning the war in America’s favor.
But his outspoken manner and thoughtful critiques of American military policy has been attributed by some to McMaster’s selection as the commander of the Army’s Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC); a role seemingly unfitting for his intellectual reputation—he still used his position to think deeply and critically about the future of the Army and the wars it will fight—and one that would keep him away from the uppermost echelon of Army leadership.
Bringing McMaster out of ARCIC and into a role with such prominent influence over the National Security Council and the President is a great sign that the administration is serious about bringing the most talented people on board to lead the nation through an increasingly complex and dangerous security environment.
If you’ve ever seen or heard McMaster speak, you can tell immediately that he is the guy who can bring order to a room of insular bureaucrats, as the President’s team of advisors are frequently described. Despite being a relatively small man, he has the kind of commanding presence that can dominate a room, but also possesses the intellectual wherewithal to go toe to toe with anyone over policy. A rugby player at West Point, he carries himself with the sort of physicality that says “I’m happy to be here and talk to you, but I could also knock you the fuck out.”
In short, if you’re a commander, this is the guy you want on your team who will have no qualms with telling you that your plan sucks, but can back it up with a doctorate level of analysis to support his position. As John McCain said over McMaster’s appointment: “I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now.”