National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is losing favor with President Donald Trump. Joining the White House in the wake of the controversial Michael Flynn scandal, McMaster was initially hailed as the man who would bring back order and stability to the national security team. But as it turns out, the seasoned general may be too by-the-book for the renegade Commander-in-Chief.
Citing three White House officials, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported Monday that Trump scolded McMaster over the phone after he found out that the general had called South Korean officials and assured them that the United States would honor its commitment to pay for a new missile defense system. Trump reportedly came across the news after reading The Wall Street Journal.
“These officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share,” notes Lake.
Trump was angry because McMaster told the South Koreans that the US would honor a pre-existing deal, not renege as Trump had threatened 4/28 https://t.co/hczrBoH1wL— David Frum (@davidfrum) May 8, 2017
While Trump complained that the pre-existing commitment wasn’t official U.S. policy, South Korea, an invaluable regional ally, would have felt betrayed if McMaster hadn’t followed diplomatic protocol.
Professional and polished, McMaster has charted out a straight course for U.S. foreign policy, reining in the chaotic schemes of Trump’s less-experienced national security picks. As a result, he’s facing a backlash from a president who values unpredictability and improvisation over precedence and procedure.
Trump has complained in front of McMaster in intelligence briefings about "the general undermining my policy," according to two White House officials. The president has given McMaster less face time. McMaster's requests to brief the president before some press interviews have been declined. Over the weekend, McMaster did not accompany Trump to meet with Australia's prime minister; the outgoing deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, attended instead.
Even McMaster's critics acknowledge that he has professionalized the national security policy process and is a formidable strategist in his own right. Trump credits McMaster with coming up with the plan to strike a Syrian air base last month, which won bipartisan support in Washington.
At the same time, White House officials tell me that in recent weeks, Trump has privately expressed regret for choosing McMaster.
According to Lake, Trump has been ambivalent about McMaster since hiring him in February. Trump shared a close personal relationship with McMaster’s predecessor, disgraced former advisor Michael Flynn.
While Vice President Mike Pence pushed for Flynn’s ousting, Trump was purportedly more circumspect about the decision.
“Trump himself has defended Flynn publicly. The two shared a bond from the campaign trail, where they often discussed sports and movies during long evenings on the road,” notes Lake. “For a president who puts so much value in personal relationships and loyalty, Flynn's departure was a blow.”