Who Is Gen. McMaster? Trump's New Top Security Adviser, Who Urged Army Brass to Speak Truth to Power

During his time as a commander in Iraq, McMaster reportedly told soldiers that disrespecting local civilians was akin to 'working for the enemy.'

President Donald Trump, right, listens as Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, left, talks at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, where Trump announced that McMaster will be the new national security adviser.
Susan Walsh/AP

U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Monday that General H.R. McMaster will become his new national security adviser, following the resignation of former General Michael Flynn, who held the top national security position in the White House for less than a month and quit last week because of his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.

McMaster, 54, is an active duty general who became famous during the Iraq war for his original and innovative strategy in the war against the local insurgency forces, specifically around the city of Tal Afar.

Trump called McMaster "a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience. I watched and read a lot over the last two days. He is highly respected by everyone in the military and we’re very honored to have him."

“General McMaster has served with distinction in the United States Army for over three decades and will now bring that tremendous experience to his new post as my national security adviser.” he said

McMaster's conduct during the Iraq war was featured in a special report by 60 Minutes and in a lengthy article published in 2006 in The New Yorker. He holds a PhD from the University of North Carolina, and his dissertation – which dealt with the relationship between the senior command of the U.S. military and the top echelons of the U.S. government during the Vietnam War – was published as a book under the headline "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam.”

According to the New Yorker article, McMaster's book "assembled a damning case against senior military leaders for failing to speak their minds when, in the early years of the war, they disagreed with Pentagon policies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, knowing that [President] Johnson and [Secretary of Defense] McNamara wanted uncritical support rather than honest advice, and eager to protect their careers, went along with official lies." It will be interesting to see how McMaster's insistence that military leaders should speak up their mind, even if they are not in agreement with the political leadership, will be accepted in the Trump White House.

During his time as a commander in Iraq, McMaster "ordered his soldiers never to swear in front of Iraqis" or hurl racist insults at them, according to The New Yorker. He also sent some to three-weeks long courses in Arabic, and bought hundreds of copies of a book about the modern history of Iraq for them to read. An article in Foreign Policy published over the weekend quoted him as telling his soldiers that "every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you're working for the enemy," emphasizing the importance of drawing a distinction between terrorists and regular citizens as part of his military strategy.

McMaster told a sub-committee of the U.S. Congress last year that the U.S. Army is at risk of becoming "too small to secure the nation" and is falling behind technologically. These warnings will probably provide a common purpose for him and for Trump, who has mentioned numerous time during the election campaign that he plans to "re-build the military" and increase its budget.

Trump also named former General Keith Kellogg, who was interviewed for the position of national security adviser, as chief of staff to the National Security Council.

Another candidate interviewed for the position, former UN ambassador John Bolton could be asked to serve in other positions in the administration, the president noted. Trump said that Bolton "knows a lot and had a good number of ideas that I must tell you I agree very much with. So we’ll be talking with John Bolton in a different capacity." Bolton was already considered by Trump for a senior position in the State Department, but eventually wasn't chosen, mainly for fear that his candidacy wouldn't pass a confirmation vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

McMaster, who had arrived at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for an interview with the president and stayed on for the announcement that he's been chosen for the job, told Trump at a joint appearance before the press: "I would just like to say what a privilege it is to be able to continue serving our nation. I'm grateful to you for that opportunity, 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. Thank you very much."

According to reports in recent days, McMaster wasn’t Trump's original pick for replacing Flynn. The president first offered the position to retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, who was close to accepting it, but eventually decided not to – among other reasons, because he wasn't sure he would have full hiring authority over the National Security Council. A spokeswoman for the White House, Sarah Huckabee, said on Monday that McMaster would enjoy full authority to hire "whatever staff he sees fit."

Senator John McCain (R-AZ,) who is the chairman of the Senate's Armed Services Committee and a critic of the Trump administration's policy and connections to Russia, praised Trump's choice of McMaster on Monday, calling it "outstanding" and describing the general as "a man of genuine intellect, character, and ability." The senator added, "I give President Trump great credit for this decision."