| WEST PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON Feb 20 U.S.
President Donald Trump on Monday named Lieutenant General
Herbert Raymond McMaster as his new national security adviser,
choosing a military officer known for speaking his mind and
challenging his superiors.
McMaster is a highly regarded military tactician and
strategic thinker, but his selection surprised some observers
who wondered how the officer, whose Army career stalled at times
for his questioning of authority, would deal with a White House
that has not welcomed criticism.
"He is highly respected by everybody in the military and
we're very honored to have him," Trump told reporters in West
Palm Beach where he spent the weekend. "He's a man of tremendous
talent and tremendous experience."
One subject on which Trump and McMaster could soon differ is
Russia. McMaster shares the consensus view among the U.S.
national security establishment that Russia is a threat and an
antagonist to the United States, while the man whom McMaster is
replacing, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, appeared to
view it more as a potential geopolitical partner.
Flynn was fired as national security adviser on Feb. 13
after reports emerged he had misled Vice President Mike Pence
about speaking to Russia's ambassador to the United States about
U.S. sanctions before Trump's inauguration.
The ouster, coming so early in Trump's administration, was
another upset for a White House that has been hit by miscues,
including the controversial rollout of a travel ban on people
from seven Muslim-majority countries, since the Republican
president took office on Jan. 20.
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee and a frequent Trump critic, praised McMaster as an
"I give President Trump great credit for this decision,"
McCain said in a statement.
Trump also named Keith Kellogg, a retired U.S. Army general
who has been serving as the acting national security adviser, as
chief of staff to the National Security Council. John Bolton, a
former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will serve the
administration in another capacity, Trump said.
Kellogg and Bolton were among those in contention as Trump
spent the long Presidents Day weekend considering his options
for replacing Flynn. His first choice, retired Vice Admiral
Robert Harward, turned down the job last week.
The national security adviser is an independent aide to the
president and does not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
The role has varied from administration to administration, but
the adviser attends National Security Council meetings along
with the heads of the State Department, the Department of
Defense and key security agencies.
McMaster, 54, is a West Point graduate known as "H.R.," with
a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. He was listed as one of Time magazine's 100 most
influential people in 2014, partly because of his willingness to
buck the system.
A combat veteran, he gained renown in the first Gulf War -
and was awarded a Silver Star - after he commanded a small troop
of the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment that destroyed a much
larger Iraqi Republican Guard force in 1991 in a place called 73
Easting, for its map coordinates, in what many consider the
biggest tank battle since World War Two.
As one fellow officer put it, referring to Trump's inner
circle of aides and speaking on condition of anonymity, the
Trump White House "has its own Republican Guard, which may be
harder for him to deal with than the Iraqis were." The Iraqi
Republican Guard was the elite military force of ousted dictator
Trump relies on a tight, insular group of advisers, many of
whom zealously guard access to the president, at times appear to
have competing political agendas, and who, in the case of senior
adviser Steve Bannon, involve themselves in national security
McMaster's fame grew after his 1997 book "Dereliction of
Duty" criticized the country's military and political leadership
for poor leadership during the Vietnam War.
Trump's pick was praised by one of the president's strongest
backers in the U.S. Congress, Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who
called McMaster "one of the finest combat leaders of our
generation and also a great strategic mind. He is a true warrior
scholar, and I'm confident he will serve both the president and
the country well."
Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House
Intelligence Committee, also backed the choice, noting
McMaster's "history of questioning the status quo."
'CRITICISM AND FEEDBACK'
In a July 14, 2014, interview with the Columbus
Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia, where Fort Benning is
located, McMaster, then the base commander, said: "Some people
have a misunderstanding about the Army.
"Some people think, hey, you’re in the military and
everything is super-hierarchical and you’re in an environment
that is intolerable of criticism and people don’t want frank
"I think the opposite is the case. ... And the commanders
that I’ve worked for, they want frank assessments, they want
criticism and feedback."
That attitude was not always shared by his superiors, and it
led to his being passed over for promotion to brigadier general
twice, in 2006 and 2007.
On McMaster's third and last try, General David Petraeus –
who took himself off the list last week for Trump's national
security adviser – returned from Iraq to head the promotion
board that finally gave McMaster his first general's star.
Then a colonel, McMaster was commander of the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment that in the spring of 2005 captured, held and
began to stabilize Tal Afar on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
The city was held by Sunni extremists, a crossing point
between Syria and Iraq for jihadists who started as al-Qaeda in
Mesopotamia under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and morphed into Islamic
State after he was killed.
McMaster's preparation of the regiment is legendary: He
trained his soldiers in Iraqi culture, the differences among
Sunnis, Shiites and Turkomen, and had them read books on the
history of the region and counterinsurgency strategy.
It was a sharp change from the "kill and capture" tactics
the United States had used in Iraq since the invasion in March
2003, and to which the Obama administration returned in
Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The strategy was largely a success, although McMaster's use
of it and especially his willingness to acknowledge that Iraqis
had some legitimate grievances against one another and the
occupying coalition forces, did not endear him to his superiors
and helped delay his promotion to brigadier general.
The strategy did not survive the departure of McMaster's
troops, with Tal Afar falling into the hands of Sunni militants.
Along with the west part of Mosul, it is now a key objective in
the battle to rid Iraq of Islamic State.
(Additional reporting by John Walcott and Sarah Lynch in
Washington; Writing by Patricia Zengerle, Frances Kerry, and
James Oliphant; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)