Saturday, December 16, 2017
Politics

Trump chooses McMaster as national security adviser

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump picked Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a widely respected military strategist, as his new national security adviser Monday, calling him "a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience."

Trump made the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago getaway in Palm Beach, where he has been interviewing candidates to replace Michael T. Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Vice President Mike Pence about calling Russia's ambassador.

The choice continued Trump's reliance on high-ranking military officers to advise him on national security. Flynn was a retired three-star general, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is a retired four-star general. His first choice to replace Flynn, who turned the job down, and two other finalists were current or former senior officers, as well.

Shortly before announcing his appointment, Trump wrote on Twitter: "Meeting with Generals at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Very interesting!"

McMaster is seen as one of the Army's leading intellectuals, first making a name for himself with a searing critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their performance during the Vietnam War and later criticizing the way President George W. Bush's administration went to war in Iraq.

As a commander, he was credited with demonstrating how a different counterterrorism strategy could defeat insurgents in Iraq, providing the basis for the change in approach that Gen. David H. Petraeus adopted to shift momentum in a war that the United States was on the verge of losing.

McMaster's challenge now will be to take over a rattled and demoralized National Security Council apparatus that bristled at Flynn's leadership and remains uncertain about its place in the White House given the foreign policy interests of Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman who is the president's chief strategist.

Most of the NSC staff is composed of career professionals, often on loan from the military or civilian agencies, and they have privately complained about being shut out of their areas of expertise and kept in the dark about important decisions. For their part, Trump's aides look on many of those holdovers from the last administration with suspicion, blaming them for leaks. The atmosphere has grown so toxic that some NSC staff members fear they are being surveilled.

In addition to reassuring and reassembling the staff, McMaster will have to figure out his own role in the month-old administration. Other candidates for the job reportedly harbored concern about how much authority they would have, although the White House has said whoever had the job would have the right to choose his or her own staff.

Trump announced that Keith Kellogg, another retired lieutenant general, will remain as the NSC chief of staff. Kellogg has been acting national security adviser since Flynn's resignation a week ago and was one of the four candidates interviewed by Trump on Sunday for the permanent job. Trump made no mention of K.T. MacFarland, the top deputy national security adviser, and whether she would stay.

Trump praised McMaster in a brief appearance before reporters Monday.

"I watched and read a lot over the last two days," he said. "He is highly respected by everyone in the military and we're very honored to have him."

McMaster, wearing his uniform, responded in kind. "I'm grateful to you for that opportunity," he said, "and I look forward to joining the national security team and doing everything that I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people."

The other two candidates interviewed Sunday were John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, and Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

This was the second time Bolton, an outspoken conservative skeptic of international organizations and treaties, has been considered and rejected for a high-level post in Trump's administration. Trump made a point Monday of praising Bolton and saying that he would find a position for him in his administration eventually.

"We had some really good meetings with him. Knows a lot. He had a good number of ideas that I must tell you I agree very much with," the president said. "So we'll be talking with John Bolton in a different capacity."

He made no specific mention of Caslen, but added that "we'll be talking to some of the other generals that I've met."

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