Small Wars Journal

Trump's Brilliant Choice of McMaster

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 11:45am

Trump's Brilliant Choice of McMaster by Peter Bergen, CNN

President Donald Trump's appointment of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to be his national security adviser is a brilliant decision.

McMaster, 54, is the smartest and most capable military officer of his generation, one who has not only led American victories on the battlefields of the 1991 Gulf War and of the Iraq War, but also holds a Ph.D. in history.

McMaster is, in short, both an accomplished doer and a deep thinker, a combination that should serve him well in the complex job of national security adviser.

A key to McMaster's thinking is his 1997 book, "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam." Published two decades ago when McMaster was only a major, "Dereliction of Duty" caused something of a sensation in the US military because it took US military leaders to task for their dereliction of duty during the Vietnam War.

McMaster painted a devastating picture of the Joint Chiefs, who told President Lyndon Johnson what he wanted to hear about how the Vietnam War was going. He described how they went along with Johnson's ill-considered attempt to find a middle ground between withdrawing from Vietnam and fighting a conventional war there that — divorced from on-the-ground realities -- had no chance of success.

The Joint Chiefs never provided Johnson with useful military advice about what it might take to win the war, according to McMaster…

After Trump announced McMaster as his national security adviser, "Dereliction of Duty" became an instant best-seller on Amazon.

Its lessons will surely be weighing on McMaster's mind now, as Pentagon brass prepare to present to Trump and his national security team within a few days a menu of options for how to fight the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Another key aspect of McMaster's thinking is that war -- as the Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz pointed out almost two centuries ago — is a fundamentally political endeavor. In an article that McMaster published in The New York Times four years ago he wrote, "Be skeptical of concepts that divorce war from its political nature, particularly those that promise fast, cheap victory through technology." …

McMaster believes that not much in the nature of war has changed since. However, in his view the United States has too often believed its technological superiority will prevail on the battlefield when, in fact, it is political and human factors that often blunt American power.

McMaster wrote in his Times article "... in the years preceding our last two wars, thinking about defense undervalued the human as well as the political aspects of war. Although combat operations unseated the Taliban and the Saddam Hussein regime, a poor understanding of the recent histories of the Afghan and Iraqi peoples undermined efforts to consolidate early battlefield gains into lasting security."

This is an important lesson to remember as the United States and its allies continue to increase pressure on ISIS. The Sunni militants that make up ISIS are not the underlying problem in Syria and Iraq, but rather they are a symptom of other deeper problems. McMaster knows that there surely will be a "son of ISIS" and a "grandson of ISIS" if there is not some kind of political solution to the wars in Syria and Iraq that produced ISIS in the first place…

Read on for much more.