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McMaster: Will He Speak Truth To Power?

Posted by Colin Clark on

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster

UPDATED: Adds Who Recommended McMaster (Bannon’s daughter); Stavridis Comments

WASHINGTON: H.R. as President Trump’s new National Security Advisor is known, is best known for a book in which he criticized the top ranks of America’s military for not standing up to the country’s political leadership and speaking truth to power during the Vietnam War.

McMaster is “brilliant, creative.. the complete package,” retired Adm. James Stavridis, told the audience at today’s AFCEA West conference in San Diego. “He wrote a book, Dereliction of Duty, specifically about the need to speak truth to power. I think he’s going to have a chance to put that one into practice.”

Dereliction_of_Duty_(McMaster_book)Now McMaster will work for Donald Trump, a president who sometimes does not seem to like it when people speak truth to him if it contradicts his views — at least in public. Of course, a National Security Advisor rarely needs to speak his views in public, but Trump and McMaster may well clash on an issue that is central to America’s national security: Russia. McMaster has long been skeptical of Russian intentions and views them as a serious threat to US interests. He’s pushed hard for the Army to boost its capabilities to cope with a possible Russian threat.

On China, his views seems to align much more closely with the Trump White House. China is “building land… to project power outward from land into the maritime and aerospace domains,” the   Army’s chief futurist, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, said in a May 2016 appearance at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. He said the US Army needs to act much as the Chinese are, using island bases as a means to dominate the seas and airspace around them, allowing them to sink ships and down aircraft — a central component of the Army’s new Multi-Domain Battle concept.

In one of his more notable public utterances, McMaster told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April last year that the US Army is “outranged and outgunned by many potential adversaries.” He took quite a bit of heat for those comments — even his friend and Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, felt compelled to qualify them — but the logical conclusion of his thoughts would seem to put him squarely in line with the Trump Administration’s plans to boost the Army’s size and increase the military’s readiness and lethality.

But what is McMaster like? I spoke with a former classmate of H.R.’s to find out. “He is not your standard ticket-punching careerist,” this person said. “He can be politically savvy, but not correct — ever. He’s put his balls on the line several times,” pointing to how much he roiled the waters with his comments about the Army being outranged and outgunned.

And as our deputy editor, Sydney Freedberg, noted in his excellent piece about McMaster’s promotion to three star, McMaster wouldn’t be in his current position without the explicit support of former CIA Director David Petraeus. In fact, the then-colonel had been turned down twice for promotion to brigadier, normally a career-ending action. But Petraeus flew to Washington for McMaster’s promotion board and fought hard for him. And H.R. got his first star. (A source familiar with the deliberations of the Trump Administration says presidential strategist Steve Bannon’s daughter, Maureen Bannon, recommended H.R. Maureen graduated from West Point.) We have a sneaking suspicion, but no evidence, that Petraeus suggested H.R. to Trump. How else does a relatively obscure Army three-star shoot up to the White House slot?) He became one of four horsemen to successfully challenge Big Army’s entrenched opposition to counter-insurgency warfare. “Without H.R. McMaster there was no COIN in Iraq and there was no victory,” his classmate says.

His greatest strength as the National Security Advisor to Trump, the man charged with coordinating national security policy across the federal government and helping to craft our national strategy, will be his strategic sense. “I think strategy is probably his strength. He looks at the deep problem and doesn’t buy in to the groupthink,” our source believes. Personally, H.R. “is a really sincere genuine guy; a bit boring, a bit earnest.”

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. photo

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster signs his book “Dereliction of Duty” for a fan at CSIS

Words From the Troops

When McMaster was promoted three years ago to lieutenant general — three stars in six years — a number of our readers commented on the man they had served with.

A reader called Bill D. said McMaster was the executive officer in his first unit, the 1-66 Armor.

“He was patient but firm, and showed signs of leadership beyond his years even then. An example of this was our unit’s annual football game played before the Army-Navy game, the ‘Toilet Bowl’. The game was played between the junior officers and the O-3’s and above of the battalion. HR was of course the quarterback, and any notion that this was a fun game was lost right away with the first nasty hits. I will never forget the chaplin (sic)d swearing and getting in a full fledged fist fight with the mortar platoon leader. That was a great unit! Anyway, a senior NCO had the thankless job of reffing the game. The battalion commander, who was a turd, was pulling rank and intimidating this poor guy. Most of the LT’s were pissed, but what are you going to do, tell the battalion commander he is cheating b–tard? Well McMaster did, he told the guy he was a cheat and a disgrace and we were going to beat them no matter how much the Colonel cheated. You could hear a pin drop on that field, but McMaster did not care, he stood up for what was right. The battalion commander yelled at him and told him to watch it (cause he was a turd), but McMaster did not care. That always impressed me and was an important lesson to me in leadership. When I heard many years later that he told Rumsfeld basically the same thing that he told the battalion commander at Fort Hood in 1986, I was not surprised.”

A regular commenter on Breaking D, Cincinattus (who appears to be a retired Army cavalry scout named Patrick Shrier who has a deep interest in military history) offered this:

“H.R. was my Squadron CO in 1/4 Cav in the early 2000’s. I can think of no one better suited to think realistically about future threats and advocate for the force structure changes the army so desperately needs going forward. I will never forget him POing everybody in the 1ID staff when he finagled the dollars for realistic training out of them for out Troop Challenge exercises in Germany. The bean counters were upset because he was using all of our Squadron STRAC allocation and borrowing ammo from other units who were not using theirs to get us fully trained. The only time I ever remember getting so much range time in my 23 year career was getting ready for the 1994 III Corps Cav Cup at Fort Bliss.

“H.R. has his detractors but at heart he is a soldier’s soldier like Omar Bradley and his first priority is making sure Joe is properly trained, equipped, and organized to defeat the enemy.”

While he won’t be running the military, H.R. will certainly help decide how and why and when and where it is used. Since strategy drives policy, which drives money, McMaster will have a key role in shaping his well-loved Army, as well as the rest of the services and the apparatus that works with them, from the CIA to Treasury to State. Wish him well.


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