The McMaster Problem?
Trump's national security advisor is either an anti-Israel villain or the only man to steer the ship.
Now that President Donald Trump is on vacation in New Jersey, one might think that the infighting and chaos on Pennsylvania Avenue would settle down. Think again. While the president takes a break from the day-to-day grind of running the executive branch, an all-out war has erupted over National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.
Unfortunately for the casual readers of political news, the only information available either condemns McMaster or celebrates him. On one hand, his opponents characterize him as an anti-Israel, pro-Muslim globalist who’s more interested in maintaining the Obama status quo than in serving his current boss. On the other hand, his supporters claim that his dedicated service to the country and his impeccable credentials are nothing but perfect for the National Security Council.
But where’s the truth? First, it’s important to keep in mind that President Trump has repeatedly defended McMaster and, other than some reported disagreements and fiery exchanges between the two, Trump clearly believes that the positives outweigh the negatives.
An editorial in The Wall Street Journal suggests, “McMaster has come in for abuse for favoring more troops and a new strategy in Afghanistan, for warning that Vladimir Putin is no friend of America, and for advising that Mr. Trump not precipitously withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. He also recently dismissed some NSC staff members who were brought on by Mr. Flynn and are said to be allies of [Steve] Bannon.”
While President Trump has shown no reluctance to fire people who fail him, his public support for McMaster hasn’t quelled the dissent from within.
Some of McMaster’s fiercest critics not only call his policy positions into question but also claim that McMaster is turning the National Security Council into a national security threat. If this is an accurate representation, then one also has to believe President Trump is unable to defend his own positions within the administration.
This isn’t to say that some of McMaster’s positions or actions aren’t a cause for speculation or concern. McMaster renewed the security clearance of Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice, insisted on keeping the Iran deal in place, and The Washington Post reported that conversations between President Trump and world leaders were leaked from within the National Security Council. Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, called for McMaster to be fired over the leaks, although there is no evidence to suggest that McMaster either orchestrated or knew about them.
McMaster clearly has different ideas about the direction of U.S. foreign policy under Trump, but the president can’t afford to fire top-level officials every time a subordinate has an issue.
Some conservatives believe McMaster is hell-bent on sweeping out everyone loyal to Steve Bannon, but there is little concrete evidence to suggest that the removals of Rich Higgins, Derek Harvey and Ezra Cohen-Watnick were unwarranted. Perhaps McMaster is simply trying to make order out of chaos.
Ian Tuttle concurs in National Review by noting, “It’s worth recalling that the National Security Council has been chaotic largely because of the president’s initial decision to appoint Michael Flynn to the national-security-adviser role — an obvious, gargantuan mistake even if we set aside the fact that Flynn had led ‘Lock her up!’ chants at Trump campaign rallies — and because of Steve Bannon’s decision to join the body himself (also later abandoned), for reasons that never were satisfactorily explained by anyone in the White House. McMaster was brought in to sort out this fiasco.”
And there’s no doubt that McMaster’s experience and reputation fit in with the current slate of officials within the administration. Five Heritage Foundation experts remind us, “When it comes to national security, Trump’s Cabinet officials — as well as his vice president, chief of staff, director of national intelligence, CIA director, new FBI director, and senior officials at the National Security Council — all share a core of character, competence, and the capacity for critical thinking and decision making. These are the essence of strategic leadership. They are the building blocks of a great team of leaders. No one exemplifies those traits more than McMaster.”
Trump and his supporters have built this presidency from the ground up with enthusiasm, populism and a “drain the swamp” mentality. But we don’t want the American Revolution to become the French Revolution. By all means, Trump should shake things up, but that doesn’t mean firing everyone who has a different opinion about national or foreign policy.
Reported disagreements between Trump and McMaster aren’t necessarily a bad sign. If nothing else, they should reassure some of the president’s supporters that Trump is not as gullible as they seem to think. For now, McMaster isn’t going anywhere. On Thursday, Trump sat next to him in New Jersey and clearly stated, “He’s our friend. He’s my friend and he’s a very talented man. I like him and I respect him.”
Trump loyalists, including the Bannon wing of the White House, need to trust their own president when he says the country is better served with McMaster as national security advisor. McMaster’s subordinates are there to do a job, not to undermine President Trump. And it’s Trump who will ultimately be responsible for the direction of U.S. foreign policy.