After Michael T Flynn’s exit from the White House left the seat of United States national security adviser (NSA) vacant, President Donald Trump got down to work this past weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort to appoint the next NSA. He interviewed several candidates for the job at his Palm Beach estate before announcing, yesterday (20 February), his pick for the key role, Lt Gen Herbert Raymond McMaster.
1. Lt Gen McMaster is no stranger to any observer of the US military, and is well-known as a “strategist, leader, and intellectual”. In stark contrast to his predecessor, Flynn, who was justifiably perceived as a loose cannon with an affinity for a fringe ideology, McMaster is regarded as a great thinker and scholar.
2. McMaster’s record of service in the US army is spectacular. Stories abound of how he, as captain of an armoured cavalry troop during the 1991 Gulf War, emerged victorious in tough encounters with Saddam Hussein’s troops. Much later, in 2005, tasked with establishing control over the insurgent-ridden city of Tal Afar, the then Col stressed on gaining the trust of the locals so that insurgents didn’t have safe places to hide. On the back of an impressive record, he was promoted to direct the Army Capabilities Integration Center in 2014, where he still serves.
3. Besides being recognised for his military capabilities, McMaster is regarded as a scholar. After the Gulf War, he enrolled in a PhD programme at the University of North Carolina, which led to his popular dissertation – published in 1997 as a book – on the Vietnam War. Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam took US military leaders to task for their work during the war in Vietnam.
As the US contemplates options to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the near-future, McMaster’s carefully considered views and military expertise are bound to push Trump’s agenda to a more concrete, saner ground.
Now, while there is no doubt that McMaster is qualified for the critical role of NSA, it remains to be seen if Trump will offer him the kind of space – and the freedom to hire his aides – he needs to perform his duty to the best of his ability. For, if there’s one thing we know about McMaster, it is that he doesn’t take dereliction of duty lightly. Trump, therefore, has to watch out, or things may not necessarily end well. The ball will be in Trump’s court.
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