Monday, February 20, 2017

Credit where it's due

It's no secret that many of the appointments in the new Administration have ranged from risible to disastrous. But in appointing LTG H.R. McMaster to the post of National Security Advisor the new President lay just, possibly, have gotten one right.

McMaster is a genuine rarity among U.S. Army general officers; a leader who actually thinks about and studies his craft. His reputation among his peers was as something of an iconoclast dating back to the 1990s when he wrote a dissertation (and then publishing in book form) that broke with the Army's conceit that the Vietnam War was "lost" through civilian mismanagement and popular demoralization to point out that the then-leaders of the Army knew that their means and methods were not solving the problem that was the RVN's shambolic government. In the Oughts McMaster was part of a group of senior field-grade officers that made a similar point about the occupation of Iraq.

Obviously - since this is always the question about Trump - the real problem is that we don't know yet what the constraints on McMaster will be and how effective he can and will be in pounding geopolitical sense into the granny's attic that is the Tangerine Toddler's head. The candidate before him 86ed the offer because of too many strings Trump attached to the post, including, supposedly, retaining political oxygen-thieves like K.T. McFarland.

Trump's boast is that he's assembling the "best people" for his administration.

Betsy DeVos is a walking refutation to that nonsense.

Still. In tapping LTG McMaster for NSA even a skeptic like me has to admit; he has, indeed, got one of the best people for this job.


  1. I agree on McMaster. Hopefully he can keep the ship of state from sinking. On the other hand he will have to deal with some nutjobs on his NSC staff. I wonder if we would be better served by McMaster on the Joint Chiefs or as Army C/S?

    For Trump who said: ‘I Know More About ISIS than the Generals Do, Believe Me’, he sure appoints a lot of generals.

    And they all seem to contradict him. Mattis has, Kelly has, I suspect McMaster is next. I look forward to McMaster's next book: "Dereliction of Duty Part II".

    1. I think McFarland will be the canary in that mine. She's a nutjob who thinks that the U.S. needs to be part of a huge West-versus-Islam "clash of civilizations" but, worse, she's really useless, a former FOX talking head who can no more contribute anything to a serious discussion of "national security" than I could about polyphonic music. I think her original job was to be Flynn's office wife so the two could mingle over a laptop open to "InfoWars". Without Flynn she's a complete waste of the deputy position and should already be gone but, hey, Trump.

      If I had to have a problem with this it would be your observation that Trump tends to appoint either plutocratic chiselers or serving officers. I'd like to see some genuine civilian geopolitical knowledge and experience but, again...Trump.

  2. I never quite understood why so many people were impressed by McMaster. What presentations and writing s I saw of him was underwhelming. Then again, I never quite understood the hype around MacGregor or Boyd either.
    McMaster is no doubt competent in military affairs (except maybe some purely naval matters). I'm not sure he's as useful an advisor in regard to the diplomatic and strategy side of national security policy.

    I think Bacevich would have been the best possible national security advisor, regardless of who's president.

    1. I understand your skepticism on McMaster, SO. The reason for the adulation, earned or otherwise, is that ANY sort of non-political strategic thinking is ground almost always out of the officers by the time they reach Colonel.

      It started getting bad during the Kennedy administration and has become catastrophic. The sole reason most Generals exist these days is to win more dollars for the Pentagon and assign blame to somebody else for lack of leadership.

      Add in the fact that a lot of Generals get their world view from Fox News, and that they seek primarily to ensure that they personally are financially successful, and you've got a disaster waiting to happen and anybody who retains any sort of competence in thinking strategically is a rarity who receives far more accolades than they have earned.

      Bacevich might have been a better choice as an individual but he has made too many enemies in Washington to have been an effective choice.

  3. If you recall, I advocated for Bacevich in the comments on the earlier Flynn post. I agree; he'd be an excellent choice. I also agree with Pluto that he would be impossible given the accepted "wisdom" in D.C.

    I do wonder about this president's odd fascination with uniformed officers. It seems like Trump appointees come in only two flavors; unhinged wingnut plutocrats...and flag officers.

    Given that we started with the former the latter is an improvement. And, if Trump was gonna pick a flag officer, McMaster is as good as it gets. He doesn't think hammer-nail use of force, he's got a great deal of foreign policy and strategic planning experience, and he has a rep for speaking his mind and letting the heavens fall.

    So...since Bachevich was never really an option...I still consider this perhaps the best appointment Trump has made.

    Low bar. But, still...

  4. To all.
    we used to run a thing called the =HEY YOU roster.
    when trump introduced his new race horse it seemed hey you to me.
    it appeared that they did the recruitment, vetting etc in a 2 day window.trump was ALMOST tongue tied, and rattled out all the correct words, but his words indicated a jump thru your butt mode of operation..
    i agree with SO on this.what did Mc do? wasn't he a coinista?
    so what? iraq is a piece of garbage and the coinistas didn't accomplish squat. it's been a total loss.
    if trump didn't think that Mc Cain wasn't a hero then what makes him believe that Mc Masters is? i don't see any victory medals on his chest, unless the liberation of kuwait counts.
    to chief,
    i can tell that you're a closet supporter of trump, but you're too bashful to admit it.
    jim hruska

    1. Kuwait was never liberated. It was handed back to a clan of cleptocratic tyrants.

    2. I'd call McM less of a COIN True Believer than not, Jim.v He seems to lean that way but was smart enough to realize in a way the hardcore COINdinistas never did that the single biggest problem in Iraq was that we were there.

      His record says that he's a guy that if his best available information says "The War on Terror is an unending shitshow" will say so and lay his stars on the line; that's his stated position on the Army brass' greatest failure in Vietnam.

      Will he live up to his convictions? I hope so. We won't know until the first time Il Douche goes off the rails geopolitically...

    3. Jim,

      McMaster is not a COIN kool-aid drinker - never was. Here's an op-ed he wrote three years ago which I think is pretty good. I agree with Chief that he's an excellent choice.

    4. Jim -

      Regarding your coinista and medal comments:

      McMaster was a damn fine tank commander at 73 Easting. As a young Captain with just nine tanks at his command he pulled off Patton's wet dream by destroying a major chunk of a Republican Guard Armored Division. Doesn't sound like a coinista to me.

      Thirteen years later as commander of the 3rd ACR his only option was COIN. It was not a mission of his choosing.

      McMaster usually does not wear all his decorations while in dress uniform, preferring the more modest choice of wearing just his six personal decorations: PH, BS, LM, DSSM, SS, and DSM. He leaves the other 18 ribbons at home. Those six were the ones he wore when he went for the presser with Trump. He is definitely not a showboat or grandstander like his new boss.

  5. To all,
    according to wiki LTG M is gonna stay on active duty while serving as NSA.
    isn't this kinda weird?
    whose gonna do his oer?
    if its the political chain then he might as well start figuring out how to kiss a duck on the ass without getting feathers on his lips.
    wearing a uniform in a top level political job is a no go imo.
    jim hruska

    1. Actually, the German national security advisor to Chancellor Merkel was for many years a guy who was Oberst (Col.), recently promoted to 1-star.

      It's not weird if you interpret the job as an actual consulting job regarding military affairs instead of as a para-cabinet political office for warmongering as Rice interpreted it.

    2. But the U.S. makes a fetish of "civilian control of the military", Sven. Not so sure about the BRD. I agree w Jim that the optics look odd on that.

      Other thing I wonder is...why bother, unless he's dreaming of a final stop as Chair of the Joint Chiefs. If not...where can he go from here? What CJCS will happily employ a four-star MACOM commander who was once the NSA..?

    3. The National Security Advisor isn't in control of the military.

    4. The NSA heads the National Security Council of which the CJCS is only a member. The NSA is PART of the whole "civilian control of the military"; he or she is (or is supposed to be) the President's primary counsel on issues relating to "national security" which, surprise, often involve armed force. Having a uniformed officer as NSA whispering in the President's ear about armed force makes the whole "civilian control" thing look very sketchy.

      C'mon, man. I'm open to argument, but don't be deliberately obtuse.

    5. Counsel isn't control.
      Trust me, we in Germany are extremely sensitive on the civilian control of military issue (the roots of this are in pre-1914 scandals) and we are fine with an officer being the chancellor's military advisor on all things military and war.
      As mentioned before, the problem arises if one interprets such a position as a political office for warmongers, not when you interpret it as actual counsel on military affairs and war.

      I'd rather choose a general by lottery for the job than to have someone deliberately chosen from the pool of arms industry-financed think tankers.

    6. Jim -

      McMaster may need Senate approval to retain his active duty status and rank.

    7. Poindexter and Powell were both national security advisors while still serving officers, so it's not unprecedented. There may be other examples.

  6. An advisor is as good and useful as the person seeking the advice.
    All in all, I think Herr's Mattis und McMaster will be "those guys over there" and the real advisor will be Mr. Bannon.


  8. To all,
    the more i think of MCM the more pops to mind.
    he was passed over 2 xs to BG/o7. to my memory the 2nd pass over meant that it's stage left.2 tries was all u got. how did mcm get 3? maybe that's the west point bonus round. they pull in wp DP and slap a star on a fellow society member.
    the fact is that he's in the tradoc side of the house, and usually forscom and macom cdrs get the big dog what i'm saying is that he just a flash in the pan, but trump doesn't know that b/c he's appointing folks recommended by the think tanks who support his program.
    jim hruska

  9. Jim -

    With regards to McM being passed over twice. The reason he was passed over was because of his public criticism of Westmoreland and the Joint Chiefs and McNamara and others in DoD in his 1997 book: 'Dereliction of Duty'. He denounced them for arrogance, lies, pursuit of self-interest, and for evading responsibility for their actions. Their friends got even and took their revenge. He never should have been passed over in the first place. His record should have out him at the top of the list.

    Much later many others recognized the truths of what he had written in that book. His promotion followed. He was never a Petraeus disciple.

    The McM recommendation did not come from a think tank. GOP Congressman Tom Cotton from Arkansas, an Iraq and Afghan veteran, recommended McM to VP Pence who passed it on to dipsh!t Donald.

  10. mike,
    i may be mistaken, but wasn't DP called in especially for McM's promo board.Hand washes hand.
    it doesn't matter why he was passed over-isn't the rule 2 passovers and you're gone.?
    promotion boards are not about truth.
    jim hruska

  11. Jim -

    My understanding was that the Secretary of the Army requested that DP return from Iraq to take charge of the promotion board as a way to ensure that the best performers in combat received every consideration for advancement. Other innovative thinkers and combat leaders were selected on that board. I do not believe it was a special deal for McMaster.

    I am ignorant about Army passover rules. If they are anything like the Marine Corps' then those rules are sometimes changed ad hoc. McMaster and the others selected from that board were outstanding combat leaders.

    I do not believe the Secretary of the Army convened a special board just to get McM promoted. He, SECARMY, was concerned that political hacks were getting promoted over more deserving men who had proved themselves leading troops in battle.

    The pushback against McMaster and the fable of the DP/McM connection is being spread by some Trump supporters. Perhaps even by some in the White House, who fear that as National Security Advisor McM would not go along with the Russia and Iran angles they are promoting? Or maybe they are afraid that he will not put up with the BS of Bannon and Miller? Or if and when he leaves the WH he will write another barnburning expose like his 97 book?

  12. Mike, do u ever wonder why LTC Nagl didn't get promoted?
    what about Petraeus getting laterally transferred and then being side tracked by giving him the CIA job?why would that strangeness happen?
    what about Schwartzkopf not being promoted up to the D/C/S job?
    what about Keanes hand in all this?
    why did boykin/mc chyrstal/and for that matter DP get their stars?
    it wasn't about competance- it was about right wing craziness, and now you're crowing about how cool MCM is.
    have u ever thought that MCM is a smoke screen? his book was about DEMOCRAT lack of leadership, which puts him properly in the GWB mindset.Keane is still pulling strings behind the curtain.
    jest sayin'.
    time will tell, and i predict ?????.
    jim hruska

  13. Jim -

    I would be interested on your opinions on Nagl, Schwarzkopf, and Keane.

    I don't think McMaster is cool. I do think he was a good pick for the NSC. Not only for his background. But also for his statement that the so-called radical Islamic terrorists are un-Islamic