WASHINGTON: Lieutenant General HR McMaster is best known for his pointedly titled book “Dereliction of Duty,” which blames the jumbled views and weak fighting commitment of US political and military leaders for failure in the Vietnam War.
Named Monday to be President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Herbert Raymond McMaster will now become partly responsible for US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, two conflicts that have stretched out much longer than Vietnam.
But first, McMaster will have to take a firm hold of the White House national security team, after Trump forced out his predecessor Michael Flynn just weeks into the job.
The 54-year-old West Point graduate and former tank commander might be able to do just that. Flynn — fired for not being truthful with the vice president over discussions with Russia’s US ambassador — commanded little respect with his former colleagues at the Department of Defense.
By comparison, McMaster is a Pentagon star, both battle-tested and a scholar in military science who sees the world in a new and dangerous geopolitical battle between China, Russia and the United States.
That battle “has elevated the risk of a major international military crisis to maybe the highest level in the last 70 years,” McMaster said in a speech on global challenges last year at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Unlike his new boss Trump, McMaster sees Russia as a particularly insidious threat. Moscow, he said, aims “to collapse the post-World War II, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic and political order in Europe, and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”
– ‘Shoot first’ –
McMaster gained fame and a Silver Star in 1991 when his hugely outnumbered unit of nine tanks wiped out dozens of Iraqi Republican Guard tanks and armored vehicles in the Battle of 73 Easting in the Gulf War, all without taking a single casualty.
The key lessons, he wrote in a summary of the battle last year, were: “shoot first,” “fight through the fog of battle” and “take risk to win.”
Thirteen years later, he was back in Iraq leading the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in what ultimately was a key effort to quell the insurgency in Tal Afar, in northwestern Iraq.
McMaster’s work there was said to contain the roots of the counterinsurgency program of General David Petraeus, and McMaster worked with Petraeus on the Iraq troop “surge” in 2007.
– ‘Warrior-thinker’ –
In between, the Philadelphia native earned a doctorate in American history from the University of North Carolina, and took increasingly senior army teaching and training positions.
That mix embellished his image as an all-around professional warrior, somewhat like Trump’s choice for secretary of defense, Jim Mattis.
Indeed, the two got to know each other in the 1990s and Mattis has endorsed his White House appointment. “The two have a strong working relationship,” said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis.
McMaster “might be the 21st century army’s pre-eminent warrior-thinker,” wrote retired lieutenant general Dave Barno in a profile of McMaster as one of Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2014.
He “is also the rarest of soldiers — one who has repeatedly bucked the system and survived to join its senior ranks,” Barno said. Nevertheless, McMaster’s latest post could prove a new level of challenge.
After Flynn resigned, several other top current and former military brass declined to work in the Trump White House, including, reportedly, Petraeus.
One issue was the ability to fully control the staffing of the national security council. McMaster has been promised that control, according to White House spokesman Sean Spicer.
But even with that, he will now be one of the top political and military elite in charge of prosecuting unpopular, seemingly stalemated conflicts like the one he criticized in “Dereliction of Duty” — which is subtitled “Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The Lies that Led to Vietnam.”
One criticism of his Vietnam survey at the time was that it placed all the blame for the failure to win the war on US leaders. McMaster, meanwhile, did not consider what the wily North Vietnamese themselves did to prevail. -AFP