Making a right choice (2)

So, despite apparently having “lost” his first choice, because Vice Admiral (retired) Robert Harward could not reconcile his innate sense of duty with his distaste for the current, Trump, White House, President Trump appears, according to an article in the Globe and Mail, to have made a good choice in “Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster as his new national security adviser, choosing a military officer known for speaking his mind and challenging his superiors … [because] … McMaster is a highly regarded military tactician and strategic thinker, but his selection surprised some observers who wondered how the officer, whose Army career stalled at times for his questioning of authority, would deal with a White House that has not welcomed criticism … “He is highly respected by everybody in the military and we’re very honored to have him,” web-wo-us-kellogg-0220Trump told reporters in West Palm Beach where he spent the weekend. “He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience” … [but] … One subject on which Trump and McMaster could soon differ is Russia. McMaster shares the consensus view among the U.S. national security establishment that Russia is a threat and an antagonist to the United States, while the man whom McMaster is replacing, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, appeared to view it more as a potential geopolitical partner.” Evidently retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg (the gentleman wearing glasses on the right end of the trio in the picture) will stay on as Chief of Staff to the National Security Advisor, that, too, is a welcome sign that he, one of the “grownups” in the administration, has confidence in Lieutenant General McMaster.

Lieutenant General McMaster, according to an article in The Economist, “is a free-thinker. His doctoral thesis in military history was a coruscating takedown of the pliant Vietnam-era military leadership, later published as a book entitled “Dereliction of Duty”. Yet there the comparison ends. By the time of his appointment Mr Flynn was widely recognised as a bad manager, strangely obsessed with jihadism and so feverishly partisan that he represented a threat to the treasured neutrality of the armed forces. Mr McMaster is hugely respected by his peers, who consider him one of America’s most thoughtful soldiers.

But, The Economist goes on to say that, “This does not mean Mr McMaster will be a good national security adviser, a perniciously difficult job, at which only a few have excelled. And they—led by Brent Scowcroft, who advised Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, and Stephen Hadley, who steered George W. Bush—tended to be best known for their tact and scrupulous impartiality. Mr McMaster is better known as a straight talker and a risk-taker, albeit by the conformist standards of his profession. Mr Trump, who is as prickly and ignorant of global affairs as he is admiring of generals, might not find him easy to work with. Intellectually rigorous and widely esteemed, Mr McMaster is indeed so different from Mr Flynn it is tempting to wonder about the criteria on which Mr Trump appoints his national security advisers. Even so, at the second attempt, he has picked well.

Finally, The Economist gets at what I think is the nub of the Trouble with Trump when it concludes that, “This also points to the biggest puzzle about the 45th president. Mr Trump has surrounded himself with a clutch of amateurish and ideological advisers, led by Stephen Bannon, who have been responsible for much of his administration’s early haplessness. At the same time he has hired some reassuringly sensible and accomplished cabinet secretaries, such as James Mattis, the defence secretary, and, based on early reports, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state. They are believed to be opposed to, indeed possibly contemptuous of, Mr Bannon’s populist agenda. So whose advice will Mr Trump follow? The answer is unclear. Yet the future stability of America and the world may depend on it.” I agree, and I sincerely hope that Lieutenant General McMaster aligns himself with the “sensible and accomplished” wing of this administration.

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