President Donald Trump has selected a new national security advisor: Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. He will be replacing former Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who resigned.
What is McMaster’s background, and what will he bring to the table as Trump’s new national security advisor? Here are seven things you need to know about him.
1. McMaster has an extensive Army resume. Per the Hoover Institute:
He assumed duties as the Director, Army Capabilities Integration Center and Deputy Commanding General, Futures, US Army Training and Doctrine Command on 15 July 2014. Prior to his arrival at Fort Eustis he served as Commanding General, Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning from June 2012 to July 2014. Previously he served as Commander, Combined Joint Inter-Agency Task Force Shafafiyat (Transparency) in Kabul, Afghanistan. He was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army upon graduation from the United States Military Academy in 1984. He holds a PhD in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
LTG McMaster’s previous command assignments include Eagle Troop, Second Armored Cavalry Regiment in Bamberg, Germany and in Southwest Asia during the 1991 Persian Gulf War; 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry in Schweinfurt Germany from 1999 to 2002; and 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Carson, Colorado and in Iraq from June 2004 to June 2006. Staff assignments include Director of Concept Development and Learning at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command from August 2008 to May 2010; Special Assistant to the Commander, Multinational Force-Iraq from February 2007 to May 2008; Director, Commander’s Advisory Group at US Central Command from May 2003 to 2004; and squadron executive officer and regimental operations officer in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment from July 1997 to July 1999. He also served as an assistant professor of history at the United States Military Academy from 1994 to 1996.
2. McMaster wrote a book excoriating military leaders for not standing up to President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. The 1997 book Dereliction of Duty argues that the Joint Chiefs of Staff knew that the strategies and tactics set forth by Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara were shortsighted; yet they did not voice their concerns with the president or McNamara. In an interview with the Defense Writers Group, McMaster explained that Johnson’s strategy was “based on assisting Johnson in getting elected in 1964 and passing the Great Society.”
“The military [in response] made the mistake of engaging in executive and legislative politics by thinking-and this is a quote from [Gen.] Earle Wheeler, when he was Army Chief of Staff and about to become JCS Chairman-‘This war could be lost in the Congress if they lose faith in this,'” McMaster said. “This was in the context of him giving instructions to [Gen. William C.] Westmoreland on his way to Vietnam, in essence telling Westmoreland to be really careful of what he says and to portray the war in the most favorable light so that Congress doesn’t lose faith.”
McMaster continued by saying that the Pentagon was “defeatist” from the get-go:
John McNaughton, who was the [Pentagon’s] International Security Affairs division chief, thought this was doomed to failure. … But he still had to plan under McNamara’s strategy. So what he did was he justified that by changing the objective of military force, which was no longer to guarantee the freedom and independence of South Vietnam, but it was instead to ‘maintain American credibility.’
“He came to this almost perverse conclusion that to send up to 200,000 troops into Vietnam and lose would be better than doing nothing at the outset. What he said was, ‘We have to get bloodied so that we can show the world that we were’–and here he used another metaphor–‘a good doctor who did all he could for the patient, but the patient died of this incurable disease.’
“So there is this defeatism at the outset and this unclear objective. What is the objective? I mean, can you imagine going to Congress and saying, ‘We don’t really have a way out of this, but we just need to get bloodied?'”
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, despite having disagreements with the strategy, said nothing. McMaster argued that while they shouldn’t have resigned, they should have voiced their concerns to help lead toward a better strategy in the war.
3. McMaster was critical of how the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars were planned. “Gaps between prior visions of future warfare and the nature of the eventual wars themselves complicated efforts to adapt strategy over time,” McMaster wrote in Survival magazine. “Minimalist, linear plans – in place at the outset of both wars – were disconnected from the ambition of broader policy objectives and the complexity of the operating environment.
“Indeed, recent war plans have, at times, been essentially narcissistic, failing to account for interactions with determined enemies and other complicating variables,” McMaster added.
McMaster’s own strategy in Tal Afar, Iraq was hailed by President George W. Bush “as a model of successful strategy”:
The commander of the third regiment, Col. H. R. McMaster, was a historian as well as a decorated soldier. He figured that Iraq could not build its own institutions, political or military, until its people felt safe. So he devised his own plan, in which he and his troops cleared the town of insurgents — and at the same time formed alliances and built trust with local sheiks and tribal leaders. The campaign worked for a while, but only because McMaster flooded the city with soldiers — about 1,000 of them per square kilometer.
This was also known as the “clear, hold, build” strategy, where U.S. forces would take over a local area and prepare security teams that the city itself could one day use.
Gen. David Petraeus constantly turned to McMaster for advice in leading the U.S. forces in Iraq.
4. McMaster was not selected for a brigadier general promotion before finally receiving it in 2014. The New York Times quoted a retired general in 2007 as saying that McMaster’s non-promotion was the result of a “We’re not interested in rewarding agents of change” mindset because they only liked “the can-do, go-to people” that make “the trains run on time.”
What that means is that McMaster isn’t just a brilliant tactician; he’s a reformer.
5. McMaster has warned about cuts to the Army. In an April 2016 Senate hearing, McMaster ominously stated, “We are outranged and outgunned by many potential adversaries” and that “our army in the future risks being too small to secure the nation.”
McMaster further explained, “We have no current major ground combat vehicle development program underway. The Bradley fighting vehicle and the Abrams tank will soon be obsolete…but they will remain in the Army inventory for the next 50 to 70 years.”
6. McMaster conducted a 2016 Pentagon study on how the U.S. should deal with Russia. McMaster warned that Russia took advantage of the U.S. being bogged down in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by studying “U.S. capabilities and vulnerabilities and embarked on an ambitious and largely successful modernization effort,” citing “the combination of unmanned aerial systems and offensive cyber and advanced electronic warfare capabilities depict a high degree of technological sophistication” that Russia used in Ukraine.
As a result, Russia’s technological warfare has now caught up with the U.S., McMaster argued in a May 2016 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:
“We spend a long time talking about winning long-range missile duels,” said McMaster. But long-range missiles only get you through the front door. The question then becomes what will you do when you get there.
“Look at the enemy countermeasures,” he said, noting Russia’s use of nominally semi-professional forces who are capable of “dispersion, concealment, intermingling with civilian populations…the ability to disrupt our network strike capability, precision navigation and timing capabilities.” All of that means “you’re probably going to have a close fight… Increasingly, close combat overmatch is an area we’ve neglected, because we’ve taken it for granted.”
So how do you restore overmatch? The recipe that’s emerging from the battlefield of Ukraine, says McMaster, is more artillery and better artillery, a mix of old and new.
“We’re out-ranged by a lot of these systems and they employ improved conventional munitions, which we are going away from. There will be a 40- to 60-percent reduction in lethality in the systems that we have,” he said. “Remember that we already have fewer artillery systems. Now those fewer artillery systems will be less effective relative to the enemy. So we need to do something on that now.”
McMaster also noted that the Russians “have caught up to us” in terms of how “they’ve invested in combat vehicles.”
“They’ve invested in advanced protective systems and active protective systems,” McMaster said. “We’ve got to get back ahead on combat vehicle development.”
It would seem that McMaster understands the threat Russia poses to the West and could be an important check on Trump’s warm overtures to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
7. McMaster warned in a 2011 speech how “the warrior’s ethos is at risk.” Here’s the most significant passage of his speech, given on Veteran’s Day at Georgetown University:
The warrior ethos is at risk because fewer and fewer Americans are connected to our professional military. Separation from our society is consequential because warriors depend on respect for what they do to maintain their self-respect.
The warrior ethos is at risk because fewer and fewer Americans understand what is at stake in the wars in which we are engaged. How many Americans could, for example, name the three main Taliban organizations we are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
The warrior ethos is at risk because some argue that victory over an enemy or winning in war is an old idea that is no longer relevant in today’s complex world.
The warrior ethos is at risk because some continue to advocate simple, mainly technologically based solutions to the problem of future war, ignoring war’s very nature as a human and political activity that is fundamentally a contest of wills.
The warrior ethos is at risk because popular culture waters down and coarsens the warrior ethos. Warriors are most often portrayed as fragile traumatized human beings. Hollywood tells us little about the warrior’s calling or commitment to his or her fellow warriors or what compels him or her to act courageously, endure hardships, take risks, or make sacrifices.
Now that McMaster is the new national security advisor, he can make sure the White House has “the warrior’s ethos” necessary to restore America’s strength and leadership on the world stage.
For more on McMaster, read through Omri Ceren’s Twitter thread here.
Follow Aaron Bandler on Twitter @bandlersbanter.