President Trump made a smart decision in appointing Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser. Not only is it a good choice, but a significantly better one than the ideological and deceptive Michael T. Flynn, who served less than a month before being chased out for lying.
The difference is nearly like night and day. While both were military men, McMaster comes to the job as a respected military strategist and one of the military’s most independent-minded officers. Given Trump’s inexperience, the new adviser’s background will prove valuable. And given the president’s demonstrated expectations of deference, McMaster’s independence will be essential.
It’s a world of difference from Flynn, who was forced out of the Obama administration over allegations of an abusive management style and a willingness to distort facts. He was also known for floating conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and promoting fake news.
None of that is desirable in an official responsible for providing accurate and reliable advice to the president on critical matters of national security. But it got worse, as Flynn belatedly acknowledged communications with Russia about sanctions before Trump was inaugurated, and then lying about it. There was reason to believe he was a bad choice before he was appointed, and then he went about proving it.
Indeed, it’s a puzzle that Trump didn’t turn to McMaster from the get-go. He is thoughtful, insightful and unafraid of critiquing authority. His 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” critiqued the Joint Chiefs for not standing up to President Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War. Even 30 years later, that demonstrated a degree of courage, and Trump is known to favor disrupters – at least, to a point.
McMaster will have his work cut out for him. Not only did Flynn’s brief stint rattle the agency, but the prominence of White House wild card Stephen K. Bannon has created uncertainty and stress. McMaster may have the skills to settle the agency, but that depends, in part, upon Trump and Bannon. Had he been offered the job from the start, the task would likely have been easier.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges. Despite an active and successful military career, including combat in both the Gulf War and the second Iraq War, McMaster has little background in the sometimes treacherous ways of Washington politics. But he understands strategy, one of a set of military skills that is surely transferrable.
It might be concerning that Trump has surrounded himself with so many military men, but with McMaster replacing Flynn, the choices are solid and may help to balance the president’s lack of military or government experience.
He also comes to the job with the support of members in Congress, including some influential Republicans. Among them is Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who served under McMaster in the Army and suggested him to the White House. A top aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also pushed for McMaster, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has worked with McMaster, encouraged him to take the job.
Trump has been heavily criticized for some of his appointments, including Flynn, but with McMaster he has made a wise choice that has drawn broad support. Here’s hoping the general remains an independent voice who will speak his mind to a president who isn’t known to encourage challenge.