Will Trump Take ‘Brutally Forthright’ Advice From McMaster?

By PETER BAKER, NYT

WASHINGTON — As commander of an armored cavalry troop, H. R. McMaster fought in the largest tank battle of the Persian Gulf war, earning a Silver Star in the process. Afterward, the young captain reflected on how different his experience had been from the accounts he had read about Vietnam.

So when he arrived at the University of North Carolina for graduate studies in fall 1992, questions swirled through his head: How had Vietnam become an American war? Why did American troops die without a clear idea of their mission? “I began to seek answers to those questions,” he later wrote.

The result was a dissertation that turned into a book that would become, for a whole generation of military officers, a must-read autopsy of a war gone wrong. Now, as a three-star general and President Trump’s national security adviser, General McMaster will have the opportunity to put the lessons of that book to the test inside the White House as he serves a mercurial commander in chief with neither political nor military experience.

The book, “Dereliction of Duty,” published in 1997, highlighted the consequences of the military not giving candid advice to a president. General McMaster concluded that during Vietnam, officers on the Joint Chiefs of Staff “failed to confront the president with their objections” to a strategy they thought would fail. Twenty years later, the book serves as a guidepost to how he views his role as the coordinator of the president’s foreign policy team.

“It’s a history, but he obviously draws conclusions about the need for what you might term brutally forthright assessments by military and indeed also by civilian leaders,” David H. Petraeus, the retired Army general and a patron of General McMaster, said in an interview. “That’s a hugely important takeaway. He has a record of being quite forthright.”

In his first week on the job, General McMaster has already shown an independence familiar to past colleagues. He has begun moving to revise an organizational order issued last month that seemed to downgrade the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of national intelligence, and he told an all-hands staff meeting that he did not consider the term “radical Islamic terrorism” helpful, even as the president insists on using it.

But those are relatively small matters compared to what may come. Already, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, has led the president to put aside his desire to reinstitute torture in interrogations of terrorism suspects, at least by the military. Mr. Trump places great faith in the generals he has surrounded himself with, but he and General McMaster had never met until a week ago, and the book’s reputation may set a hard-to-meet standard for the general.

“The difficulty is that Trump has a lot of crazy ideas in his head — like we should steal Iraq’s oil or we should kill the relatives of terrorists or we need to ban Muslims from coming here,” said Max Boot, a military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And I’m sure someone like McMaster, like Mattis, understands how crackpot these ideas are.

“So can you say to the president, ‘Hey, Sir, you’re full” of it? Mr. Boot continued. “Or do you have to sugarcoat it and handle him with kid gloves? I suspect it’s the latter, and that’s not been H. R.’s approach. We’ll see if Trump is man enough to take it.”

The book is central to General McMaster’s identity and career. As he embarked on graduate studies after the gulf war, he approached his adviser, Richard H. Kohn, a professor who specialized in civil-military relations, and said he wanted to explore the role of the Joint Chiefs during Vietnam.

Using newly declassified records, General McMaster came to a conclusion that upended the conventional wisdom within the military that it had been betrayed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and undercut by antiwar protesters and never given the chance to win the war.

General McMaster concluded that the chiefs had been absorbed by the parochial interests of their different services and had never adequately pressed their opposition to the gradual escalation strategy favored by Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara.

After finishing the dissertation, he published it as a book while still a major. It quickly became a sensation. Mr. Petraeus recalled bringing it to the attention of Gen. Hugh H. Shelton after the general took over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1997. General Shelton made it required reading for all of the chiefs and combatant commanders. “It is a valuable resource for leaders of any organization,” he later wrote in his memoirs.

Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who served in the Army, said officers of his age all read it. “We took the analysis to heart,” he said. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a Vietnam veteran, called it “one of the very important books that anyone aspiring to leadership should read.”

Still, while praising General McMaster, Eliot A. Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said it may not have made a difference had the Joint Chiefs been more outspoken with Johnson. “It’s not like the president didn’t know they wanted to do more and do it quickly,” he said. “And it’s not like they really had a better idea for winning the war, other than using more violence right away.”

Others said General McMaster’s book had been misread. The shorthand is that generals should have “stood up to Johnson” or even stopped him somehow. Among those who think that is a misinterpretation is Mr. Kohn, General McMaster’s graduate adviser. “McMaster’s book neither says nor implies that the chiefs should have obstructed U.S. policy in Vietnam,” other than by candidly presenting their views, he wrote in the Naval War College Review in 2002.

Peter D. Feaver, a specialist in civil-military issues at Duke University and a national security aide to President George W. Bush, even coined the term “McMasterism” to describe the common overstatement of his thesis.

“They read McMaster’s book as supporting this defend-against-the-civilians role, but his actual argument is more subtle,” Mr. Feaver said. As a result, he added, the misinterpretation may haunt General McMaster. “McMaster’s challenge is that some may hold him to this inappropriate standard, and then he will be open to even more criticism if he disappoints,” he said.

Mr. Cohen agreed that General McMaster would now be held to an impossibly high bar. “This book will hang over him being national security adviser,” he said. “He has to be very aware that he now represents integrity and a forthrightness about speaking truth to power.”

This is not the first administration to find itself absorbed by a book on Vietnam. When President Barack Obama contemplatedsending more troops to Afghanistan, he and his staff read “Lessons in Disaster,” by Gordon M. Goldstein, an account of McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser to Johnson. The book found that Johnson had failed to question the underlying domino theory that the fall of one country to communism would lead to others.

Whether Mr. Trump has read or will read “Dereliction of Duty” and, if so, what lessons he will draw remain to be seen. “This will really be a test of Trump as commander in chief,” Mr. Goldstein said in an interview. “Can he absorb and benefit from the advice of a strong adviser who probably doesn’t share many of his biases?”

He added: “This is why this movie’s going to be really fascinating to watch. I don’t think we know how that conflict is going to be resolved.”

Follow Peter Baker at @peterbakernyt

February 26, 2017 | 19 Comments » | 57 views

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19 Comments / 19 Comments

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  2. President Trump will respect General McMaster’s ideas about military tactics as applied to to the US Army.

    But Trump has strongly negative opinions about Moslems and their faith-based proclivities favoring jihadist terrorism. Moreover, if given any opening whatsoever, jihadist terrorism will be visited almost routinely against any non-Moslem target that opposes them.

    In addition, the devotees of Sun’a Islam and the devotees of Shi’s Islam are locked in a perpetual struggle that fell into place immediately following the death of their prophet Muhamad early in the 7th century.

    All things considered, Islam can be depended upon to render impossible any non-Islamic effort to make true peace with the Islamic civilizational belt.

    For those of you who live in Israel, you can forget about any negotiated permanent peace with any aspect of Islam. And that expectation cheers me, because Israel, in order to bolster its own national security, must expand geographically at the expense of the surrounding Arabs. So get used to occasional but almost certain perpetual war. And whether or not you like that situation is totally irrelevant.

    Arnold Harris, Outspeaker

  3. So…McMaster wrote a wonderful book, which, according to the article has affected officers, all thr way up to general officers profoundly in a positive way…..

    So what happened to the book or the officers during Clinton’s, Bush’s and (especially) Obama’s terms….. No “improvement” in either their goals or actionsa seems to be noticeable. They became more like politicians than military officers, it seems to me. And, as Arnold Harris says, (at least I think he does) Arabs, particularly Arab terrorists, are completely outside McMaster’s premisses, and that nothing will work with Arabs…..

    I’d like to add that I believe that Trump is on the right track, and is being derailed by advisors who themselves do not realise that they suffer from creeping Liberalism. That they are dealing with medieval barbarians, bolstered by modern weapons whch they well know how to use.

    I wonder what McMaster’s book said about that…… I’m not going to read it anyway. I don’t only judge by what books say, I judge by experience seen by my eyes accompanied (often not needed) by a rational explanation of the cause and effect. Times and mores may change, from waterboarding to McMasterism, but Allah’s commandments remain the same….slaughter or subdue all the unbelievers…..globally., Sounds more like “Obamaism”..

    So I hope that Trump is not falling into the “lull after the storm”…

  4. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    xxx

    Bull..??? more like “calf”….. “Almost” is like Sam Goldwyn’s “a definite maybe”….means nothing in the record….you just tear up your ticket as you walk away from thr racecourse, your horse beaten by a nose. And you know how politely Orientals will lie to save your face and compliment one.

    It was a very well thought out and researched, cogent article well worth reading. And it told us much about McMasters, and his blind spot in re barbarians, and his regrettable influence on the military Establishment. Trump is going to get some very poor, time-wasting advice. Unless he realises his mistake and fires him, brings back Flynn-if he’ll take the job again, and gets down to real business of getting rid of the already deeply entrenched Islamic fanatics. It will take a lot longer than Trump has, even with 2 terms, it’ll take maybe a couple of generations and may never be completely eradicated.

  5. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    xxx

    Bull..??? more like “calf”….. “Almost” is like Sam Goldwyn’s “a definite maybe”….means nothing in the record….you just tear up your ticket as you walk away from the racecourse, your horse beaten by a nose. And you know how politely Orientals will lie, to compliment and save one’s face.

    It was a very well thought out and researched, cogent article well worth reading. And it told us much about McMasters, and his blind spot in re barbarians, and his regrettable influence on the military Establishment. Trump is going to get some very poor, time-wasting advice. Unless he realises his mistake and fires him, brings back Flynn-if he’ll take the job again, and gets down to real business of getting rid of the already deeply entrenched Islamic fanatics. It will take a lot longer than Trump has, even with 2 terms, it’ll take maybe a couple of generations and may never be completely eradicated.

  6. Funny how the New York Times in this article portrays President Trump as either a nut or a
    Dimwit. I can assure you he is neither. He sees the Muslims for what they are, and he supports Jews and Christians.

  7. @ Edgar G.:

    And, as Arnold Harris says, (at least I think he does) Arabs, particularly Arab terrorists, are completely outside McMaster’s premisses, and that nothing will work with Arabs….

    You got it right, EG.

    Arnold Harris, Outspeaker

  8. Long winded speculations from a publication whose opinions and predictions have been consistently wrong wrt Trump.

    The summary of this superficial bloviation is a question not worth asking:
    Will an experienced successful achiever find a way to deal with a subordinate who might be forthright and candid when advice is sought? My answer is resoundingly “yes, duh!”

  9. LOL,the last 2 paragraphs are amusing, demonstrating that one who writes about achievers can be clueless as to what constitutes a process of achievement and the relationship of the folks involved within the process. Successful businessmen tend to seek the advice of other successful folk in their area of expertise from varying perspectives and then make informed decisions therefrom. Apparently this author is grossly uninformed of that fact AND of Trump. Had he been aware he would have long ago observed Trumps penchant of seeking advice from successful experts and would have never wasted time writing this trivial rubbish.

  10. Just watched enough of the Oscars as I can stomach without tossing-out
    my dinner. Kimmel, this bulshiy artist had the gall of making fun of one
    of the world’s premier Pedratic Neurosurgeon African-American to boot
    this in a crowd of hugely over-fed, over over paid parasites lacking the
    most basic principles of human decency, of lives marred in divorce,
    children abandoned in pure hellish existences, of destroyed families,
    of deaths by drug overdoses, poster-people for the most selfish,
    selfcentered, inconsequential people on the surface of the earth.
    A crowd who once a year dress-up for this dog and pony show after,
    Botox and Surgery to alter their sorry faces. I say this: who cares,
    what happens if your lot suddenly disappears from the surface of
    the earth? Not a bloody thing.
    Making fun of other human beings is precisely what loser do:,they
    have to denigrade others to make themselves feel good.
    Hang in there Mr President of the United States of America
    Donald J. Trump who after a hugely successful life decided
    that America had slid so low that he had to intervene to save
    the country.

  11. @ ArnoldHarris:

    I sometimes think that you and Bernard Ross are the only two down-to-earth, practical posters on this site-consistently anyway. Of course there are others but more occasionally.

  12. Ted,
    You seem to know a lot of people in the thick of what’s happening, so I suggest that you might try to get the article below this one, by Soeren Kern, on the complete failure of Deradicalizing Jihadists, to be read by McMasters. It might prevent him giving Trump very bad advice.

    Although, in truth, I just can’t believe any intelligent military man today would not know that Islam is a violent, conquering religion, only temporarily stopped at the end of the 18th cent, by John Sobieski and allies at Vienna.

    Now, equipped with the same barbarism, much more degraded now than then, modern weapons and communication, with no conscience or morals, they are 100 times more dangerous than they ever were before.

  13. . Trump knows precisely what he is doing, within limits. President Trump is looking to win. It was a brilliant appointment.
    Edgar G., I cannot believe it either, it simply cannot be believed, therefore, it was a political position which was a function of surviving The Obama Administration and elements of what preceded it. Therefore, greatest likelihood of McMaster fitting in just fine….an asset, to put it mildly.

  14. Number 1: The US didn’t lose the war. We negotiated a truce that that the NVs took to th bank. We walked away from it and the South Vietnamese lost the war. You didn’t need a ticket puncher to tell you ONE of the reasons we didn’t win it was because of the brass. Ask the grunts if you want to know what’s going on. They could have told you that from the get go.

  15. A poor choice. McMaster has been influenced by the relativists in the “New” army. ISIS follows the example, prescriptions and proscriptions set by mohammed centuries ago and followed by every “lesser” jihad since. ““the Islamic State is not Islamic.”

  16. No successful person seeks advice from someone who is obviously dead wrong. ISIS is nothing more than the modern reincarnation of the islam envisioned by mohammed. Hopefully he’ll fire him before he can do any damage.

    @ bernard ross:

  17. “the Islamic State is not Islamic.” is all I neeed to know about Macmasters. He is nothing more than a former ticket punching general officer. I had my doubts about trump and his selection of the deluded general hasn’t eased them. @ Sebastien Zorn:

  18. Let me put it in trump terms. Macmaster’s nook is a bunch of garbage. It is nothing more than a major trying to make a name for himself and get more egg salad.

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