Small Wars Journal

McMaster Knows How National Security Policy Can Go Wrong. Will That Help Him?

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 3:04pm

McMaster Knows How National Security Policy Can Go Wrong. Will That Help Him? By Phillip Carter, Washington Post

For a generation after losing the Vietnam War, the American military soothed itself with a “stabbed in the back” narrative: If not for meddling politicians, intrusive journalists and a spineless public, the military would have won the war. In his book, “Dereliction of Duty,” H.R. McMaster (then a young Army major) demolished this palliative myth, carefully using historical evidence to show how military leaders failed their troops and their country by remaining silent — or worse — during the escalation in Southeast Asia. Along with other volumes focused on the conduct of the war, McMaster’s work helped reallocate blame for America’s failures in Vietnam to those in uniform who deserved their share of culpability.

In the book, McMaster carefully avoided many of the larger questions raised by his scholarship, such as whether military dissent might have altered the course of the Vietnam War — both as a matter of good historical tradecraft and career savvy. This past week, McMaster, now a three-star general and bona fide hero of the first and second wars in Iraq, was tapped by President Trump to be national security adviser. The big questions he didn’t take on in print 20 years ago now loom large for him and the White House: Can an insular and politicized team make effective national security policy? Should military officers speak up when they see policy going off track? Would it make a difference if they did? And how should civilian officials encourage dissent from the Pentagon?

“Dereliction of Duty” painstakingly dissects four major decisions between 1963 and 1965 that led the United States deeper into Vietnam. McMaster shows how military chiefs failed repeatedly to raise dissenting views about escalation, unable to penetrate the inner sanctums of the White House and meaningfully change the course of the war. In one anecdote, McMaster describes how Army Gen. Earle Wheeler told his staff that he planned to object to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision in 1965 to send more troops to Vietnam without calling up additional reservists. But when asked directly by Johnson whether he agreed with the move, Wheeler silently nodded and indicated his assent. Dereliction of duty, indeed…

Read on.


Bill C.

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 11:51am

First, some background:

Let us say that -- much as with Vietnam -- and likewise with the Greater Middle East today --

a. What the U.S./the West wants is to exploit/to better exploit -- for political and/or other reasons -- the human and other resources of the world; this, to best be achieved, in our minds, by transforming (more along modern western lines) and assimilating (more into the global economy) the outlying states and societies of the world. In stark contrast,

b. What the populations of much of the Rest of the World want (for example, in both the Vietnam case of old and the case of the Greater Middle East today?) is real independence; this, to be achieved by, in their minds, largely avoiding the U.S./the West's such "warm embrace"/its such transformative and assimilative attempts.

In the Old Cold War of yesterday, the U.S./the West's undertook its "transform and assimilate" missions under the heading of "containing and/or rolling back communism."

In the conflicts of today, however, the U.S./the West undertakes its "transform and assimilate" missions for the stated reasons of curing the ills (expanding disease, corruption, crime, terrorism, etc.) which emanate from weak, failed and/or failing states.

With this background before us, to consider the dilemma of U.S./Western leaders, national security personnel and military professionals -- then as now -- to wit: to decide whether the U.S./the West could/can best achieve its "transform and assimilate" missions:

a. By way of military engagements -- large and/or small? Or,

b. By way of military withdrawal? (Which, in the Vietnam case at least, seems to have led, almost immediately, to a significant level of "strategic victory?")

("Strategic victory" being defined, as noted above, by [a] transforming the outlying states and societies of the world more along modern western lines and by [b] assimilating these outlying states and societies more into the global economy; in this manner, the U.S./the West believing that it [c] gains the ability to exploit/to better exploit the outlying states and societies of the world -- this, for political and/or other reasons.)

Bottom Line Question -- Based on the Above:

Quote from our article (see the third paragraph):

“'Dereliction of Duty' painstakingly dissects four major decisions between 1963 and 1965 that led the United States deeper into Vietnam."

Thus to ask, in the context of my argument above, whether we are now, in the Greater Middle East and/or elsewhere today, in a "similar-to-Vietnam 1963-1965" moment?

If so, then how do we believe that McMaster will proceed/will advise?

a. By suggesting that greater military involvement is required?

b. Or by suggesting that it is now time, to a significant degree, for the U.S./the West to "come home?"