Trump picks battle-tested general as security adviser

US President Donald Trump named Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster as his new national security adviser, again turning to the US military to play a central role on his foreign policy team.
Lt-Gen McMaster with Mr Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Monday, where the latter announced the serving general as his choice to be national security adviser.
Lt-Gen McMaster with Mr Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Monday, where the latter announced the serving general as his choice to be national security adviser.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

PALM BEACH (Florida) • US President Donald Trump has appointed Lieutenant-General H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser, picking a widely respected military strategist known for challenging conventional thinking and helping to turn around the Iraq War in its darkest days.

Mr Trump made the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he interviewed candidates at the weekend to replace Mr Michael Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Vice-President Mike Pence about a call with Russia's ambassador.

Unlike Mr Flynn, who served as a campaign adviser last year, Lt-Gen McMaster has no links to Mr Trump and is not thought of as being as ideological as the man he will replace. A battle-tested veteran of both the Persian Gulf War and the second Iraq War, Lt-Gen McMaster, 54, is considered one of the military's most independent-minded officers, sometimes at a cost to his career.

The selection encouraged Republicans who admire Lt-Gen McMaster and waged a behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade Mr Trump to select him.

Key to the choice was Senator Tom Cotton, a US Army veteran who once served under Lt-Gen McMaster and suggested him to the White House.

A coterie of other national security conservatives, including a top aide to Senator John McCain, also lobbied for him, and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who has worked with Lt-Gen McMaster, encouraged him to take the job.

"He is a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience," Mr Trump told reporters as Lt-Gen McMaster, wearing his uniform, sat next to him. "I watched and read a lot over the last two days. He is highly respected by everyone in the military, and we are very honoured to have him."

The choice continued Mr Trump's reliance on high-ranking military officers to advise him on national security. Mr Flynn is a retired three-star general and Mr Mattis a retired four-star general. Mr John Kelly, the Homeland Security Secretary, is a retired Marine general.

Mr Trump's first choice to replace Mr Flynn, Mr Robert Harward, who turned down the job, and two other finalists were current or former senior officers as well. Lt-Gen McMaster will remain on active duty.

Lt-Gen McMaster's task now will be to take over a rattled and demoralised National Security Council apparatus that bristled at Mr Flynn's leadership and remains uncertain about its place in the White House, given the foreign policy interests of Mr Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman who is the President's chief strategist.

Most of the National Security Council staff is composed of career professionals, often on loan from military or civilian agencies, and they have complained privately about being shut out of their areas of expertise and kept in the dark about important decisions.

Several security council aides said on Monday that they learnt about Lt-Gen McMaster's selection the same way the public did and expressed concern that Mr Flynn's associates, derisively called the Flynnstones, would stick around.

But the three-star general has the advantage of having served in Iraq with some officials on the staff.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Trump picks battle-tested general as security adviser'. Print Edition | Subscribe