National security adviser H.R. McMaster's exit has been the subject of rumors, and officials say he could leave within weeks, possibly within a month or so.
After one year in his job, national security adviser H.R. McMaster is expected to depart his White House position soon, U.S. officials tell NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Despite a denial from the Trump administration, the only thing that is reportedly holding up McMaster's departure is a transition plan.
McMaster's exit has been the subject of rumors, in a similar way that outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been viewed as not long for life under President Trump. Officials say McMaster, 55, could leave within weeks, possibly within a month or so.
"We don't get a sense of when this will happen," Tom says, "but we're told it will likely happen."
Information about Trump's desire to replace McMaster has been solidified by sources, despite a denial from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who tweeted Thursday night that she had just spoken to Trump and McMaster and that "contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC [National Security Council]."
Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster - contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.
"Trump has publicly said that he respects H.R. McMaster, but their relationship has not been an easy one," Tom tells NPR's Rachel Martin on Morning Edition. "There were some policy differences: H.R. favored an enduring commitment in Afghanistan, he served there for a time and actually wanted more troops sent over there. Others in the White House disagreed with that."
As for any possible personal rift between Trump and McMaster, Tom says, "People in the Army say he's 'all transmit,' as they would put it: He likes to lecture. That rubs some people the wrong way — and the sense is, that rubs Trump the wrong way."
Some of McMaster's friends had reportedly advised him not to work for the new president — Tom cites some of their warnings: "The president is mercurial, he has no background in military policy, foreign policy — so it was a tough job for him to take. But ... [McMaster] is very aggressive, has a big ego. I'm sure he thought that he could do a pretty good job here. But clearly, he's on his way out."
Trump publicly chastised McMaster last month, after the national security adviser said that "the evidence is now really incontrovertible" that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election that put Trump in the Oval Office.
That statement spurred Trump to tweet, "General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians" and to deny any collusion.
When McMaster accepted the national security adviser job in the Trump administration one year ago, he was stepping into a post that had been vacated by the firing of Michael Flynn, who is also a figure in the Russian investigation. In early 2017, reports cited McMaster's reluctance to take the position — and when he finally did take the job, McMaster retained his active-duty status as a lieutenant general in the Army.
Tom says that he was told that while McMaster's departure is definite, the timing is uncertain — possibly within a month or two, officials said. But as Tom adds, "With this White House, with the president tweeting, it could happen today. We have really no sense when it could happen."
John Nichols in Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to The Most Dangerous People In America (2017) holds with my theory that "writers are prophets. In Horsemen, Nichols names the people that Trumps fills his cabinet with and then disposes of one by one. National Security Adviser General H. R. McMaster is about to bite the dust and mossy-off into the sunset along with Bannon, Tillerson, and (??), soon leaving Mr. Trump himself to one-man rule.
Nichols writes that the one constant is Trump's adoration of generals. The New York Military Academy cadet captain cannot get enough of them, especially the ones who want to wage overwhelming, no-holds-barred wars. It is true that Trump studiously avoided actually military service during the Vietnam War. And it is true that he said during the 2016 campaign that "I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me." But after his election, Trump assembled what Politico called "the most military-heavy White House and civilian administration since at least World War II." As retired U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, the great historian of American diplomatic and military history, says: "Suddenly we have a romance, an infatuation, with generals."
"Trump has a particular fascination with swashbuckling World War II Generals. Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. Four sources close to Trump said that 'Patton,' the 1970 film starring George C. Scott that depicted Gen. Patton, is among the president-elect's favorite films--one he has watched repeatedly over the years. 'Trump,' one of the people close to him said, 'loves this movie.'" wrote veteran DC reporter Shane Goldmarcher in an essay titled "Why Trump Is So Obsessed with Generals."
"Frankly, he's way too impressed in the generals," a Trump confidante told Goldmarcher. "The more braid you have on our shoulders and the more laurels that you have on your visor, the more impressed he is."
Nichols quotes David Graham of the Atlantic: "Democrats, a beleaguered minority, have little means to slow the White House down. With some notable exceptions, most Republicans in Congress are unwilling or unable to mount any serious opposition to Trump's policies, both because they have other areas where they hope to work with Trump and also because the White House is reportedly drafting congressional staffers into service without their bosses' knowledge." He wrote this as the new administration entered its second crazy week.
"That leaves few people in a better position to push back than Trump's generals. They're within the administration, and they were chosen in part to give the president some credibility: Their military experience made them respectable, and imparted competence that Trump needed to borrow. And while Trump's critics worried that they would either lean toward an authoritarian model or else follow commands in the military manner, a series of reports suggests that they're already frustrated with the president and feuding with his aides."
The problem, of course, is summed up by the last line. As Bacevich notes, even the most sound of the generals are competing with other circles of Trump influencers inside the white House, including the one led by Bannon, who as a former surface warfare officer in the Pacific Fleet and onetime special assistant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon, is quite confident elbowing aside the generals in a White House where he is the superior officer. "Of course, with Trump, we have the additional question, and that is: Can anybody really influence him?" notes Bacevich. "To what degree is he a person who will be amenable to taking counsel of advisers? We were pretty sure previous presidents were willing to do that. We can't be certain about this president."
Quoting Fred Kaplan writing in Slate: "the few grown-ups in trump's Cabinet are getting sidelined, their expertise goes ignored, and the pledge that they could choose their own teams--an assurance they were given upon taking their jobs--lies in tatters."
But Nichols posits that there is one area where these men [Mattis, McMaster, & Kelly] and Trump can find common ground, and that is with regard to the military-industrial complex about which Dwight Eisenhower warned almost six decades ago. Trump's generals, and the civilians aligned with them, share the current president's passion for massive military spending, for a pumped-up Pentagon, for war preparation on an unprecedented level and for the waging of wars with a no-holds-barred aggressiveness that could unsettle Dick Cheney. As for diplomacy, they're barely respectful. It is perhaps true that Trump's generals are more worldly in their views than the president and Vice President Mike Pence. But you will not find the contemporary equivalent of the risk-taking yet often successful diplomats of the past, a George Kennan or even a Jim Baker, in the crowd.
This creates a dangerous calculus. Trump is surrounded by men who might actually offer him some good advice but whose vision for engaging with the world draws more from George Patton or George Bush than from John Quincy Adams or Dwight Eisenhower. "At some point," says Phillip Carter, an Iraq War veteran who is now the Director of the Military Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security, "you worry about it being an echo chamber in the situation room."
"No doubt these men bring tremendous experience. But we should be wary about an over-reliance on military figures," argues Carter. "Great generals don't always make great Cabinet officials. And if appointed in significant numbers, they could undermine another strong American tradition: civilian control of an apolitical military."
Nichols believes that General McMaster is a smart and confident man, with an independent streak. That explains why he was not Trump's first choice for the job, and why, since his selection, there have been a number of reports of clashes between the general and the president. It also explains why Trump doubters celebrated the selection of General McMaster. Arizona Senator John McCain, who had emerged as a frequently pointed critic of the president in a Republican congress where most members of the House and Senate served as little more than rubber stamps, hailed the naming of the general as "outstanding."
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, broadly (if not entirely accurately) seen as a cabinet-level check and balance on Trump, encouraged his former colleague to take the job. And former Obama Defense Department official Andrew Exum described General McMaster as "one of the most talented men I know. A great officer and thinker. Huge upgrade."
No one was going to debate that General McMaster was a huge upgrade from the scandal-plagued Michael Flynn. But that does not necessarily mean that General McMaster was the right choice for one of the most important jobs in the White House--as the general's embarrassing defense of Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey soon confirmed.
The national security adviser post, which was established during the Cold War, has traditionally been occupied by civilians, usually with military experience, as opposed to active-duty military men such as General McMaster. While generals have held the position before (including then--lieutenant general Colin Powell, who held the post during Ronald Reagan's second term), the national security advisor job is not a military posting. Rather, it is a senior slot in the executive office of the president, whose commander-in-chief status maintains civilian control over the military.
Long before President Dwight Eisenhower counseled wariness with regard to a "military-industrial complex," Elbridge Gerry, a delegate to the constitutionals convention, observed that "standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican Governments, dangerous to the liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism."
Today, the United States has a standing army. It is huge and expensive. Trump seems to be intent on making it huger, and more expensive--so big and so costly that his approach calls into question whether he even begins to comprehend what Eisenhower was talking about when he warned that "this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence--economic, political, and even spiritual--is felt in every city, every statehouse, and every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society."
Nichols declares that General McMaster understands this concept. The purpose of the military is to defend society, not to define it. While a country may have civilian control of the military without democracy it cannot have democracy without civilian control."
General McMaster's book, Dereliction of Duty, examines the challenges that arose when civilian leaders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff worked with one another during the Vietnam War. General McMaster dismisses the simplistic contentions of partisans and pundits--at the time and today. "The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of The New York Times, or on the college campuses," he explains. "It was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war." It was, he writes, "a uniquely human failure, the responsibility for which was shared by President Johnson and his principal military and civilian advisers."
General McMaster's "solution" is to argue that military commanders must be more assertive in defining strategic objections and making a case for decisive military action. That's a popular notion with military commanders. But, as Dr. Steven Metz, the Henry L. Stimson Professor of Military Studies, U.S. Army War College, noted in a 1997 review of the book, it's problematic.
One concerning aspect of General McMaster's approach, explained Metz "is what might be called an 'absolutist' perspective on the use of force which posits a clear distinction between peace and war. This too has a long and deep tradition in the American ethos. For an absolutist, the objective in war is to use overwhelming force to impose your will on the enemy."
That sort of thinking is likely to go over well in a Trump White House. But it is at odds with what Metz has described as the "realist" understanding "that in a bipolar, nuclear-armed world, force and statecraft must be inextricable."
Nichols posits that answer in the Trump era, when an ill-prepared and egotistical president is the commander-in-chief, is at once the great unknown and the great fear. There are no guarantees that Trump, or Steve Bannon, will listen to General McMaster on every issue. In fact, given the general's stated view that the label "radical Islamic terrorism" is not helpful because terrorists are "un-Islamic," it is quite likely that they will dismiss much of what their advisor say.
The likely, and troubling, prospect is that Trump and Bannon will hear what they want to hear from General McMaster. And what they will hear, in particular, are arguments for dramatically extended military-industrial complex.
Metz suggests, General McMaster is likely to counsel a "go big or stay home" approach that may be cautious about launching wars but that is committed to winning them: "no half-measures or incremental escalation designed to send subtle messages." The point is to be definitional and overwhelming. And, of course, that demands a very big, ever-at-the-ready military. Coupled with General McMaster's advocacy for dramatically expanding the size of the U.S. Army--in 2016 he told a senate Armed Services subcommittee that the army "risks being too small to secure the nation"--the "go big or stay home" strategy is a recipe for precisely the sort of dramatic increases in Pentagon spending that have been outlined in the White House budget plans advanced by OMB director Mick Mulvaney.
The wise counsel that says defense spending levels do not need to rise in order to keep America secure is not going to come from this national security advisor. It may be that Trump would never have put anyone in the position who would provide that counsel. But this does not change the fact that General McMaster seems to be determined to build up the military at the expense of every other prospect.
That's dangerous not just in this moment but for the long-term prospects of a nation that must do more than simply prepare for the next war.
Historian Andrew Bacevich argues that the national security advisor should focus on "grand strategy." "In this rarefied atmosphere, preparing for and conducting war coexists with, and arguably should even take a backseat to, other considerations. To advance the fundamental interests of the state, the successful grand strategist orchestrates all the various elements of power. While not shrinking from the use of armed force, he or she sees war as a last resort, to be undertaken only after having exhausted all other alternatives." Bacevich asks rhetorically: "Can General McMaster restore the distinction between grand strategy and military strategy and re-subordinate the latter to the former?" The historian's answer is a sad one. "Little reason exists to suggest that he will do so--indeed, whether he is even inclined to make the effort."
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE UNITED STATES UNDER THE RULE OF DONALD J. TRUMP MIRRORS THAT OF GERMANY UNDER ADOLF HITLER
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a comprehensive historical interpretation of the Nazi era, positing that German history logically proceeded from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler;[a][page needed] that Hitler’s ascension to power was an expression of German national character, not of totalitarianism as an ideology that was internationally fashionable in the 1930s. Author William L. Shirer summarised his perspective: "[T]he course of German history ... made blind obedience to temporal rulers the highest virtue of Germanic man, and put a premium on servility." This reportorial perspective[clarification needed], the Sonderweg interpretation of German history (special path or unique course), was then common in American scholarship. Yet, despite extensive footnotes and references, some academic critics consider its interpretation of Nazism to be flawed. The book also includes (identified) speculation, such as the theory that SS Chief Heinrich Müller afterward joined the NKVD of the USSR.