What McMaster could teach Trump: Don’t lie, don’t blame the media, don’t rely on an inner circle

Politico reports: Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president’s new national security adviser, knows a thing or two about standing up to the commander in chief and his political confidantes — and the potentially disastrous consequences when you don’t.

He literally wrote the book on it.

The military’s leading warrior-intellectual drew key lessons about the workings of the National Security Council from his exhaustive history of White House deliberations during the Vietnam War.

They could come in handy as he takes the reins following the ignominious departure of President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and joins a White House similarly grappling with deep divisions in the country, public protests and open partisan warfare over Trump’s most controversial policies, from immigration to Russia.

The debacle that was Vietnam inflicted “one of the greatest political traumas” on the United States since the American Civil War, McMaster wrote in “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam,” which was published in 1997 after he earned his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“It led Americans to question the integrity of their government.”

Even a quarter century after it ended, in his view, the shadow of the war — the 58,000 American lives lost , the billions of dollars spent, the social upheaval it caused — hung over American foreign and military policy and the nation itself. [Continue reading…]

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  1. It’s worth recalling the judgment of the NYT reviewer back when the book was published.

    “Having drawn up a devastating indictment of Johnson and his principal civilian and military advisers, McMaster apparently believes he has explained the outcome of the Vietnam conflict. It was a war, he says, that was ”lost in Washington . . . even before the first American units were deployed.” The notion that a war like that in Vietnam, which began 14 years before the election of Kennedy and continued for six years after the end of the Johnson Administration, can be satisfactorily explained by reference to decisions made in Washington during late 1964 and early 1965 would seem at best questionable. Yet it is a view held not only by McMaster but by many of the authors who have preceded him. This preoccupation with the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations and their decisions displays some of the same ethnocentrism, the same assumption of American omnipotence, for which McMaster pillories the leaders of that era. It largely leaves out of account the ideas, plans and actions of the Vietnamese.”

    This rather suggests that suggests that McMaster may believe not that what we did was wrong, but that we just did it wrong. It’s not 100% clear that this perspective will be a big help in today’s world. Americans love the oxymoron of the military intellectual, which goes along with the boy scout hope that ‘doing your duty’ will in the end solve all problems.

  2. Paul Woodward says:

    Absent the presence of the lunatic he’s reporting to, I doubt that McMaster would be getting such glowing reviews — mostly because the national security adviser, like the defense secretary, should be a civilian.

    Each time someone who is not certifiably insane joins the Trump administration, there’s a palpable sigh of relief from outside as though we’re about to see some kind of order restored. I don’t think that that attitude is unreasonable, but I agree that McCaster’s voice of sanity shouldn’t be overstated for the same reason you give: his view, popular inside the military, that the Vietnam war could and should have been won by the U.S..

    This is indeed a strange mix of talents to celebrate — McMaster knows how to read books and kill people.

    I guess this is actually a fairly universal view among the proponents of martial culture: that the most ruthlessly effective warrior displays great calmness — hence the huge popularity of martial arts among people who in all other respects aren’t fans of multiculturalism.