Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A national security advisor ought to be an erudite warrior

So what do you all think of Lt. General H.R. MCMaster as the pick to be national security advisor?

Looks solid to me, at least at this point:

McMaster, 54, is the smartest and most capable military officer of his generation, one who has not only led American victories on the battlefields of the 1991 Gulf War and of the Iraq War, but also holds a Ph.D. in history. 
McMaster is, in short, both an accomplished doer and a deep thinker, a combination that should serve him well in the complex job of national security adviser.
When he was 34, he demonstrated a through understanding of the dynamics of the Johnson administration with regard to the Vietnam War:

A key to McMaster's thinking is his 1997 book, "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam." Published two decades ago when McMaster was only a major, "Dereliction of Duty" caused something of a sensation in the US military because it took US military leaders to task for their dereliction of duty during the Vietnam War. 
McMaster painted a devastating picture of the Joint Chiefs, who told President Lyndon Johnson what he wanted to hear about how the Vietnam War was going. He described how they went along with Johnson's ill-considered attempt to find a middle ground between withdrawing from Vietnam and fighting a conventional war there that — divorced from on-the-ground realities -- had no chance of success. 
The Joint Chiefs never provided Johnson with useful military advice about what it might take to win the war, according to McMaster. 
Instead, they accepted Johnson's preference for what the President termed "graduated pressure" against the North Vietnamese. This took the form of a gradually escalating bombing campaign that did not bend the North Vietnamese to American will, and instead confused activity — bombing raids and body counts -- with progress on the battlefield.
The major problem Johnson and his military advisers had, McMaster found, is that they went to war in Vietnam without a strategy. He explained: "The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of The New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C."
Later, in a 2013 New York Times piece, he brought that degree of insight to the faltering of US aims in Afghanistan and Iraq:

in his view the United States has too often believed its technological superiority will prevail on the battlefield when, in fact, it is political and human factors that often blunt American power.
McMaster wrote in his Times article "... in the years preceding our last two wars, thinking about defense undervalued the human as well as the political aspects of war. Although combat operations unseated the Taliban and the Saddam Hussein regime, a poor understanding of the recent histories of the Afghan and Iraqi peoples undermined efforts to consolidate early battlefield gains into lasting security."
This is an important lesson to remember as the United States and its allies continue to increase pressure on ISIS. The Sunni militants that make up ISIS are not the underlying problem in Syria and Iraq, but rather they are a symptom of other deeper problems. McMaster knows that there surely will be a "son of ISIS" and a "grandson of ISIS" if there is not some kind of political solution to the wars in Syria and Iraq that produced ISIS in the first place.
He also has a track record of getting results on the battlefield:

In the Gulf War then-Capt. McMaster led a US tank troop in the Battle of 73 Easting on February 26 1991. McMaster's armored forces, acting as scouts, suddenly encountered a large force of the Iraqi army. In a 2014 interview with National Geographic Television, McMaster recalled, "I can see the enemy with the naked eye. I mean, they're at very close range."
In a battle that lasted only 23 minutes, McMaster's force destroyed an astonishing 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers and more than 30 trucks. 
In this age in which any and all information about someone is instantly available, we shall no doubt learn more about him soon. While the remote possibility that something glaringly inconsistent with the above portrait may merge exists, it seems more likely that he'll still be shown to be the kind of guy who will ensure that this position is in good hands.



  1. I've heard you blame defeat in Nam on Walter Cronkite and the dirty hippies. We pounded the crap out of Nam and still did not get it done. This guy is scary because he still thinks there was a way and might convince Trump preemption is the way to go again. But I do hear he has strong bipartisan respect and support. Still, he's a 3rd or 4th choice, was up so dat?

  2. The Gulf War was not a war. It was a PR stunt.

  3. Do you approve of the Iraqui incursion vs IS in Mosul or do you rue more American involvement?

  4. If Iraqi forces can remove ISIS from Mosul by themselves, that is best. We must remember, though, that as long as the ideology motivating ISIS is looking to see in the world, the threat is still with us.

  5. IS wants a world war and participating and/or executing one with our international coalition, or worse, alone, will be playing right into their dastardly hands.

  6. Look, I don't know anyone, left, right or in between who condones IS. You continually bitched about the last dozen years of statecraft so we'll and watch for your ilk to get 'er done. Go to it!

  7. Read Dereliction of Duty, then read two books, both named Hubris.We read and respect reading. Scary, but Donnie don't do dat; he lies & claims he finished first in his class when he was back there in military school (for rich kids):

    1) Hubris by Sir Alastair Horne
    From the 1905 Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War, to Hitler's 1941 bid to capture Moscow, to MacArthur's disastrous advance in Korea, to the French downfall at Dien Bien Phu, Horne shows how each of these battles was won or lost due to excessive hubris on one side or the other. In a sweeping narrative written with his trademark erudition and wit, Horne provides a meticulously detailed analysis of the ground maneuvers employed by the opposing armies in each battle. He also explores the strategic and psychological mindset of the military leaders involved to demonstrate how devastating combinations of human ambition and arrogance led to overreach. Making clear the danger of hubris in warfare, his insights hold resonant lessons for civilian and military leaders navigating today's complex global landscape.

    2) by Michael Isikoff & David Corn.
    There have been many books about the Iraq war, and there will be many others before we are through. This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft that led so many people to persuade themselves that the evidence pointed to an active Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction and that it was in the interests of the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

    This is seemingly an eternal theme. The deeper we are drawn into Isikoff and Corn's account, the more we enter March of Folly territory. When the late Barbara W. Tuchman published her masterly 1984 account of the ruinous policies that governments have pursued through the ages, she ranged across a canvas stretching from the Trojan war to Vietnam.

    To qualify as folly, Tuchman wrote, a policy must meet three criteria: It must have been seen at the time as counterproductive; a feasible alternative course of action must have been available; and the policy must have been that of a group of people, not merely a single tyrant or ruler. If ever a policy qualifies on all counts, it was the U.S.-imposed regime change in Iraq. Isikoff and Corn are reporters (for Newsweek and the Nation, respectively), not historians, but they still compel the reader to confront a further, essential dimension of folly's march. In each case -- the Niger uranium papers, the mobile labs, the aluminum tubes, the Atta-Iraq link -- there were people up and down the policy chain, including some at the very top, who either knew at the time or should have known that the claims were false or unreliable.

    Many critics of the Iraq War have highlighted the ideological drive behind the invasion. Fewer have grappled with the more complex question of why it was impossible for skeptics, doubters and more scrupulous analysts to stop it. Isikoff and Corn enable us to understand better how this devastating policy tragedy played out. But as Coleridge once observed, the light of experience is but a lantern on the stern, illuminating only the waters through which we have passed. Sadly, Isikoff and Corn can't tell the next generation how to avoid such tragedies.

  8. Re: Conducting "statecraft" in the ISIS situation: With what party do we conduct it? ISIS itself is clearly a non-starter. Trump sometimes gives lip service to somehow "working with" Russia on it, but consider that Russia has foremost among its goals for the region ensuring that the Assad regime in Syria and the regime of the mullahs (and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard) in Iran stay in power and that the axis formed by the three of them acts a a counterweight to US aims for the region.

  9. Barbra Tuchman described the society in "The Distant Mirror" as a feudalistic society who's Knights were nothing more than thugs collecting pigs and chickens as rent from the peasants. And at times it worth more to the peasant to follow the folly of war than pay the ransom of another chicken.

  10. Michael, you were referencing a Nam book to me within the past 6 months. I thought it might have been Dereliction of Duty. Was it? If not, what was it? You gave it glowing reviews. What we gonna do 'bout Donnie? Can't trust him to give us his read, cause he don't have one. We have to look to his thugs who are almost genetically programmed to seek and suck on powa,