Trump Selects Lt. General H.R. McMaster To Be National Security Adviser

President Trump has actually made a good pick for National Security Adviser. As with the rest of his foreign policy team, though, the question is if he'll listen to him.

Trump McMaster

President Trump announced late yesterday that he has chosen Lt. General H.R. McMaster to be his new National Security Adviser:

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump appointed Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster as his new national security adviser on Monday, picking a widely respected military strategist known for challenging conventional thinking and helping to turn around the Iraq war in its darkest days.

Mr. Trump made the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he interviewed candidates over the holiday weekend to replace Michael T. Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Vice President Mike Pence about a call with Russia’s ambassador.

Unlike Mr. Flynn, who served as a campaign adviser last year, General McMaster has no links to Mr. Trump and is not thought of as being as ideological as the man he will replace. A battle-tested veteran of both the Persian Gulf war and the second Iraq war, General McMaster is considered one of the military’s most independent-minded officers, sometimes at a cost to his own career.

The selection encouraged Republicans who admire General McMaster and waged a behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade Mr. Trump to select him. Key to the choice was Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Army veteran who once served under General McMaster and suggested him to the White House. A coterie of other national security conservatives, including a top aide to Senator John McCain of Arizona, also lobbied for him, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has worked with General McMaster, encouraged him to take the job.

“He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” Mr. Trump told reporters as General McMaster, wearing his uniform, sat next to him. “I watched and read a lot over the last two days. He is highly respected by everyone in the military, and we’re very honored to have him.”

The choice continued Mr. Trump’s reliance on high-ranking military officers to advise him on national security. Mr. Flynn is a retired three-star general and Mr. Mattis a retired four-star general. John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, is a retired Marine general. Mr. Trump’s first choice to replace Mr. Flynn, Robert S. Harward, who turned down the job, and two other finalists were current or former senior officers as well. General McMaster will remain on active duty.

General McMaster had the aura of disruption that Mr. Trump has valued in several cabinet secretaries, said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to describe internal deliberations. Another candidate, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, the superintendent of West Point, impressed Mr. Trump as being “from central casting,” the official said. But the president wanted him to stay at West Point, which he reveres.

General McMaster, 54, made a name for himself as a young officer with a searing critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their performance during the Vietnam War and later criticized the way President George W. Bush’s administration went to war in Iraq.

As a commander, he was credited with demonstrating how a counterinsurgency strategy could defeat militants in Iraq, demonstrating the promise of an approach that Gen. David H. Petraeus adopted to shift momentum in a war the United States was on the verge of losing.

The reaction to the selection of Lt. General McMaster is receiving generally positive reviews from both sides of the political aisle, as well as many expert voices in the foreign policy field who had previously been concerned about whom Trump might select as parts of his foreign policy team. As it turns out, though, Trump has made some fairly decent choices in this area, included General Mattis at the Defense Department, General Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Pompeo at the Central Intelligence Agency, and Rex Tillerson at the State Department. Given many of the names that had initially been mentioned as possible choices for these positions, this seems like a fairly decent foreign policy team that will both bring the President good, and sober, advice on whatever problems the United States might encounter going forward and help to steer a foreign policy establishment that can often be unwieldy and slow to respond. They will also likely prove to be a strong team for a President who, on his own, is clearly not entirely well-informed about foreign affairs beyond whatever talking points, often based on false, misleading, or incomplete information, that he may have picked up from watching cable news.

The open question, of course, is how much freedom of action McMaster will have in his new position. Will he be able to pick his own staff, for example, and override decisions made by his short-tenured predecessor regarding membership on the National Security Council? How will he handle the fact that Trump’s close adviser Steve Bannon, who has seemingly no real foreign policy experience, is a member of the NSC or at least has the right to sit in on NSC meetings? Most important, of course, is how much Trump will actually listen to him and the other members of the foreign policy team, or whether he’ll listen to the other voices whispering in his ear when it comes to issues such as the war against ISIS and how to handle challenges from nations such as Russia, China, and North Korea. Only time will tell with respect to these questions, of course. At least initially, though, it seems as though Trump has a good foreign policy team assembled. The only question is whether he’ll listen to them.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Lit3Bolt says:

    After some thought and observing recent media stories, I’ve come to a new conclusion.

    While there may be an Congressional and/or independent investigation of the Russian influence in the election, Trump is not going to be brought down by it.

    The leaks and headlines in the past few weeks were aimed at purging Flynn, and also proved to Trump that the IC has his balls in a vise, and could squeeze anytime they wanted. However, I doubt the IC is sad about a generic Republican administration. Enter McMaster, to steer American FP back on course. Also, the IC may have concluded that pushing the Russian story to its logical conclusion (Russia helped Republicans win an election in return for sanctions being lifted) would destabilize the US either through a civil or Constitutional crisis, pleasing Putin. Remember Russia still has blackmail and hacking access on Trump and other US politicians, and still have influence over the US media, so any “normal” crisis could possibly be goosed into full blown civil unrest if Russia wanted to do so.

    So a middle of the road approach was taken to thwart Putin. Once noises were made about McMaster being NSA, the Russian-Trump headlines dried up. My conclusion: The IC was happy to get someone they could trust on the inside. The MSM, without the IC’s assistance, cannot push the story further because it’s too byzantine and polarizing to sustain itself on its own.

    But the IC has stopped what it saw as the greatest threat: the actual lifting of sanctions on Russia via Flynn. Putin has been thwarted for the moment, and McMaster now has eyes on Trump. If Trump steps out of line, McMaster can leak to the press or resign in dramatic fashion, which could further cripple the Trump administration and Republican agenda.

  2. CSK says:

    The final paragraph of Doug’s piece says it all: If McMaster finds himself reporting to Steve Bannon, standing on the sidelines while Ivanka picks his staff, and asking Jared for permission to make an appointment to see the president, he’s not going to last long. That’s why Harward refused the job, calling it a “sh!t sandwich.”

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Lit3Bolt: I’m never sure how pessimistic to be. I do have a rule that no matter how bad you think Republicans are, you’ll eventually find out they were worse. This has always been a good guide, but I’m not sure how it applies here. However, a Pence regency, with an ongoing dribble of scandal around Trump, might be about as good as it gets from where we are now.

  4. Barry says:


    Rex Tillerson has a half-trillion dollar deal with Putin resting on letting Putin have his way. This is not a good pick.

    Kelly went along with the Muslim ban-that-was-not-a-ban. I would say that he sold his would, but that’s assuming that he ever had one. He’ll last a long time under Trump, and earn an evil rep.

  5. Slugger says:

    The general has written a book on Vietnam that has lots of positive reviews on Amazon. Has anyone read it? The reviews of the book make it seem that he would be very conscious of the shortcomings of our civic leaders and the military’s failure to forthrightly address these problems.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    @Slugger: I haven’t read his book, but I have met the man and heard him speak. He’s very very smart, and focused.

  7. CSK says:


    Which means he’s unlikely to take orders from Bannon and the Trump spawn.

  8. Mr. Bluster says:

    Just had to renew my Sleepytown Senior Citizen Parking Permit ($8/yr) so I won’t be penetrating the NYT Paywall anytime soon. I’m sure the paragraph in this post gets to the heart of the matter

    …reaction to the selection of Lt. General McMaster is receiving generally positive reviews…
    Trump has made some fairly decent choices…
    fairly decent foreign policy team…

    Some how I am not getting the message that I should be dancing in the street over this situation. You wouldn’t be holding back on your assessment of the situation would you Doug?

    “General McMaster had the aura of disruption that Mr. Trump has valued in several cabinet secretaries,” said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

    Isn’t this the type of thing that President Pud has called an illegal leak?

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @Slugger: Read it. Spent years in serious study and reading to come to grips with my VietNam experience: “How did the country that the BoyScouts and Methodist Youth Fellowship and public schooling had told me was the best country ever — do something so evil and horrible?”

    My answer, very briefly: The inertia of a huge foreign policy apparatus that was set in motion by the Dulles brothers and their kith-n-kin combined with moral cowardice on the part of people who could have done better but were concerned with their careers. The ‘moral cowardice’ part was a major part of ‘Dereliction of Duty’. Sec McNamara’s self-pitying memoir had the same message.

    Hope that’s not a $50.00 answer to a rhetorical question. (I have that tendency.)

    If you want some insight into the whole ‘rush to war’ phenomenon which is of course not purely American but we’re the main practitioners of the art in my lifetime, highly recommended (if you find books with lots of footnotes & etc palatable — it was his PhD thesis.)

  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    There was a news article today that reported that while Pence was in Europe trying to reassure NATO on the US commitment to the organization, Bannon was on the phone with the German foreign minister saying how the US was going to downplay multilateral alliances for bilateral.

    There is no indication that this will end well despite the choice of competent professionals.

  11. Mr. Bluster says:

    @Sleeper:..It always helps to provide a source when you relay these bulletins.

  12. JDM says:

    @Mr. Bluster: Here is a trick to bypass the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other news sites that have paywalls.

    Using the Chrome browser, go to this Google website and download an extension that will allow you access. It tricks the website into thinking your computer is part of the Google web crawler, and allows access.

    It’s easy to install. You might have to restart the browser and your computer to get it to work. It works on my old iMac. I’m not very computer savvy, but I was able to do it. If you need help, find a teenager.

  13. Mr. Bluster says:

    @JDM:..bypass the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other news sites that have paywalls.

    Here’s another trick.
    Give me your bank account number so I can steal from you!

  14. JohnMcC says:

    @Mr. Bluster: You mean…taking stuff for free that was offered for sale is…like…stealing?!

  15. Jake says:

    I served with HR McMaster in 2/2 ACR in the first gulf war. He was the E Troop commander; I was a F Troop platoon leader. For your readers who may not know him very well, I would like them to know that this long time Instapundit reader thinks this might be President Trump’s best appointment yet.

    HR is is highly intelligent, courageous, and one of the best human beings I have ever known. His integrity, wide-ranging knowledge, and willingness to take the fight to the enemy will dove-tail perfectly with GEN Mattis, IMHO.

    Our old, famed unit, the 2d Cavalry (known as the Ghosts of Patton’s Army in WWII), has produced several USA leaders recently, including Mike Powell (Colin Powell’s son and ex-FCC chairman), Doug Lute, US Rep to NATO, and Mike Pompeo, current CIA Director. All were Lieutenants, Captains or Majors in 2CAV in the late 80s and early 90s.

    Plus, from another reader:

    With President Trump selecting LTG HR McMaster to be the next National Security Advisor, we will no doubt be hearing a lot about the Battle of 73 Easting in the Gulf War. Captain McMaster was in the middle of what may be “the last great tank battle” when his Troop and one other destroyed a brigade of Iraqi tanks. History channel featured it in their series “Greatest Tank Battles” and it is a must watch; I imagine they will replay it soon because of this appointment.

    I wanted to add a couple thoughts as I served under him and while I didn’t interact much with him personally, it was clear that McMaster may be the smartest man I have ever met – I went to an “elite” northeast academy and an Ivy – and nobody I know can hold a candle to his ability to learn every side and nuance of almost every conflict around the globe. While at Fort Benning, I was selected by my commander to head up the International Military Student Office where roughly 1000 foreign officers and non-commissioned officers from nearly 100 allied nations attend US Army courses. McMaster was the commanding general at the time of the Maneuver Center of Excellence (combined Infantry and Armor schools) and since it was a somewhat sensitive posting, I had to meet him personally. He was very knowledgeable of what my job would entail and made sure I understood, but he also knew about my entire career up to that point; this is impressive as he had hundreds of captains under him, but not exactly rare as it is a common characteristic of leaders effective enough to make flag rank.

    What impressed me the most about him was his interaction with the international students. One of the courses that the international students attended was the captains’ career course and I had 7 cycles of 25-30 students in each ranging in rank from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel. At the end of each class, MG McMaster would have a lunch with them where he would open the floor to any and all questions. These students came from every part of the world, and McMaster was able to answer nearly every question with stunning detail and understanding of the entire geopolitical ramifications behind each situation. In fact, only once did I every hear him say “I am not entirely familiar with that situation…” if I remember correctly, it revolved around a (relatively) new narcotics conflict in Suriname, but he then still answered the question by being able to draw upon knowledge he had in narcotics trafficking conflicts in other parts of South America, and the overall political climate in Suriname. The most challenging questions came from the Pakistanis of the class and while they sometimes became heated, he would approach the student after and speak personally to ensure that while they may not like what he said, they understood that he felt he had to answer them honestly – there was never hard feelings and always mutual respect from both him and the student. Every single student I spoke to afterward was blown away by how McMaster addressed their question and appreciated how much he understood about the problems in their home countries.

    These Q&A sessions were scheduled for an hour and almost always went much longer as he was willing and eager to interact with those students whom he told would be “the future leaders of our allies” Imagine being a Lieutenant from a small nation being given this kid of respect and deference by a 2-star general of the US Army! These lunches were not mandatory but he did them anyway because the foreign students sent to study in the US are those officers whose nations predict will be their future senior leaders, quite possibly even some heads of state; McMaster understood to his core that the impressions he made then would affect US foreign relations 10, 20, 30 years into the future.

    McMaster is a speed reader and I believe he also has a photographic memory. He was able to have an expansive grasp of the political ramifications on almost every live conflict in the world and it wasn’t even his job at the time to know them – his job was to train Infantry and Armor officers, but he knew that adding this aspect to his own education and the educations of those studying under him would make them better. This man is a perfect fit for the job of NSA and hopefully he will not meet the same resistance that so many current appointees encounter.

    TJ Buttrick, CPT, US Army (retired)

  16. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jake: I have no objection to McMaster, but based on what you have been trolling here so far, “one of the best human beings that I have ever known” would not seem to be a high bar to jump. I may need to watch him more closely based on your endorsement.

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