Is National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster The Anti-Trump As A Leader?
On Monday, President Donald Trump named Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster to be national security adviser, replacing Michael Flynn, who served in the post for less than a month. McMaster is an extremely well respected military leader, and his appointment has been received with unanimous applause. But a look at his record shows a management approach that contrasts especially sharply with Trump’s.
McMaster has a record of being a disrupter, yet he appears to take a much more studious, thoughtful approach than the president, who signed his sweeping travel ban just seven days after taking office without even coordinating with other officials in his administration. (The executive order was later blocked by a federal district judge.) Trump seems to see the world in extremes of good and evil, and he disdains such nuanced sources of information as the daily intelligence briefings that other presidents have found valuable.
After graduating from West Point in 1984, McMaster received a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina. His record as an intellectual change agent starts with his 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty, a thoroughly researched account of how the U.S. became involved in the Vietnam War. The book criticized senior military leaders for failing to push back against Lyndon B. Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and was widely praised.
Less than a decade later, McMaster banned the use of PowerPoint presentations in his ranks. “It can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control … Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable,” he explained in 2010. In 2012 the Wall Street Journal called the general “arguably the Pentagon’s foremost warrior-scholar.”
He became famous for his military strategy in the early 2000s, during the war in Iraq. In Tal Afar, a city of 200,000, insurgents had been reportedly employing barbaric fighting methods like using corpses as booby traps. McMaster’s troops, instead of following the Pentagon’s earlier “kill-capture” strategy, centered on hunting and killing, focused on making life safe for the local population, isolating civilians from rebels and fostering political and economic development. Years later, in a New York Times op-ed, he wrote, “Over time, American forces learned that an appreciation of the fears, interests and sense of honor among Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s citizens was critical to breaking cycles of violence.”
Although the general and his team didn’t get it right immediately in Tal Afar, they adapted by studying the situation. “You gotta come in with your ears open. You can’t come in and start talking. You have to really listen to people,” he said at the time. President George W. Bush soon began referring to McMaster’s approach in Tal Afar as a model.
As national security adviser, a post formerly held by Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, McMaster will have only as much power as Trump allows him. Some have suggested that he may have the insistence on independence and the strength of mind and character to become the administration insider most likely able to boldly stand up to the president. Two key factors to watch will be how much autonomy the president gives McMaster, and how the general gets along with Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, who is also a member of the National Security Council.
This article was written by Jeff Kauflin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.