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General McMaster: A wise choice for National Security adviser? Open in fullscreen

Roxanne Perugino

General McMaster: A wise choice for National Security adviser?

President Trump and US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, nominated as national security adviser [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 February, 2017

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Comment: After the fiasco that saw National Security adviser Flynn forced to resign over his links with Russia, new nominee General McMaster could temper Trump's bluster, says Roxanne Perugino.

After only 24 days, Lt. General Michael Flynn was forced to resign as President Trump's National Security Adviser, leaving chaos within the National Security Council (NSC).

On 20 February, President Trump appointed Lt. General H.R. McMaster as the new National Security Adviser, after odds on favorite Vice Admiral Harward turned down the offer.

A new National Security Adviser

McMaster's appointment followed a period of disarray and confusion within the NSC. Admiral Harward was offered the job, as expected, but media reports suggesting Harward turned down the position because he would not have the necessary hiring leeway to appoint his own staff abounded; a rumour that White House Press Spokesman Sean Spicer vehemently denied.

McMaster's appointment has been welcomed by US allies to whom he is well-known. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who has been a frequent critic of President Trump, welcomed McMaster's appointment calling him a man of "genuine intellect, character and ability".

However, unlike previous National Security Advisors, McMaster may require Senate confirmation to remain a three-star general while serving in his new assignment.

Many observers believe President Trump has made a wise choice in McMaster

Under the US military system for ranking three- and four-star generals and admirals, the ranks are considered temporary and tied to the position. Upon moving jobs officers must be reconfirmed by the Senate at that rank.

In addition, McMaster only requires Senate confirmation if he wishes to keep his current rank. It is expected that McMaster will be easily confirmed by the Senate.

The decision on Senate confirmation aside, many observers believe President Trump has made a wise choice in McMaster. The question remains however, whether McMaster will have the independence needed to select his own NSC staff.

No one knows precisely why Trump seems to admire Russian President Vladimir Putin

McMaster does not shy away from controversy. He came to prominence in 1997 with the publication of his book "Dereliction of Duty" when he criticized the Joint Chiefs of Staff over their actions in the Vietnam War.

He also criticized President George W. Bush's administration for its handling of the Iraq War. Will McMaster be willing to criticize President Trump if he believes Trump's polices to be unwise? Will Trump heed McMaster's advice?

Challenges ahead

The impact of Flynn's abrupt resignation is likely to be felt as the Trump administration grapples with crucial foreign policy issues. The extent of its impact will largely depend on how much influence McMaster will wield within the NSC, and his ability to advise Trump on crucial foreign policy and security issues.

Trump has a tendency to "shoot from the hip" owing to his lack of knowledge on security policy. Let us hope that McMaster, Tillerson and Mattis will exert a positive influence on the President. The first challenge for McMaster (and Trump) will be dealing with the fallout from the Flynn drama, and the ongoing investigations into links between the Trump administration and Russia.

Flynn's resignation reinforces the suspicion among Washington observers that something is not quite right regarding President Trump's ties to Russia

Republican Senators are promising to be more aggressive in their oversight of the Trump Administration with Democrats attempting to exploit Trump's ties to Russia. Since Trump was elected, Republicans have been careful to not excessively criticize the new president.

However, amid the Flynn controversy and reports of contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials during the election, congress is asserting its oversight authority. 

No one knows precisely why Trump seems to admire Russian President Vladimir Putin, but knowledgeable sources believe Flynn heavily influenced Trump's thinking.

  Read also: Republican-controlled Congress not a carte blanche for Donald Trump

Washington observers wonder if Flynn's resignation will end the controversy over Trump's relationship with Russia - or mark the beginning of a larger crisis.

Flynn's resignation reinforces the suspicion among Washington observers, members of Congress (and those beyond the beltway) that something is not quite right regarding President Trump's ties to Russia.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are prepared to conduct investigations into Russian interference in the US election. The next questions likely to be raised will ask what the president knew about Flynn's Russia contacts, and at what point he knew it? Was Flynn acting on behalf of the president?

The future of the Trump presidency

Since taking office on 20 January, Trump has been subject to criticism, if not ridicule, from some quarters. It has been, to put it mildly, a rocky start.

President Trump arrived in Washington full of bravado and arrogance, determined to blow up Republican ideology and stale conventions

The Flynn fiasco is only part of the confusion at the Trump White House, beginning with the botched rollout of the travel ban against seven predominantly Muslim countries, the recent questionable deportation of illegal immigrants in the United States, to the ill-advised raid in Yemen which killed 30 civilians and US Navy SEAL William Owens.

President Trump arrived in Washington full of bravado and arrogance, determined to blow up Republican ideology and stale conventions. Despite his electoral victory he entered office with record-high disapproval ratings. He has started his presidency mired in controversy and disagreement.

President Trump would do well to study his Republican predecessors such as Ronald Reagan, another outsider who came to Washington with the same intent as Trump's, and who went on to become one of the most popular presidents in modern US history.


Roxanne Perugino is a Legislative Policy Analyst at the Arab Center Washington DC.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.  

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