Monday, August 7, 2017

H.R. McMaster, the current White House lightning rod

Suddenly, how one feels about the Trump "agenda" or "doctrine," whatever they are, can be determined by one's take on the latest bellwether who has all those with two cents to toss in aligning in one of two camps. To hear some tell it, he's a flaming peacenik and a Jew-hater. Others see him as the adult in the room.

His record for both erudition and steadiness of battlefield nerves are not in question. He has a PhD in history, wrote a 1997 book about how LBJ, Robert McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the mid-1960s made a disaster of US involvement in Vietnam. In 1991, he led a tank force in the 23-minute Battle of 73 Easting during the Persian Gulf war, destroying 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers and over 30 trucks. In 2005, his unit won a battle against al-Qaida in the Iraqi city of Tel Afar by setting up small outposts throughout the city and living among the populace, gaining the residents' trust and thereby getting important intelligence.

It seems he views Russia far more warily than Trump or a lot of people among Trump's inner circle and supporters, telling Hugh Hewitt in a MSNBC interview that Putin's a very bad actor.

As Noah Rothman at Commentary points out, the accusations are getting throbbingly outlandish:

For all the talk of the discipline forced upon the president and his more impetuous staffers by Kelly, Washington has not been liberated from all-consuming White House feuds spilling out into the public square. The latest and undoubtedly not the last of those squabbles is the ongoing turf war between the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster.
The dings and dents in those “guardrails” of democracy, whose structural integrity Krauthammer and others found reassuring, are evident if only because of the terrain on which this battle is being fought. The conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, a blogger American political observers are compelled to follow by virtue of his inexplicably high-level sources, is leading the charge against McMaster. The primary line of attack on the general has been to question his commitment to the integrity and independence of the state of Israel. Though the criticism is not invalid, it is all too precious coming from someone who chose to illustrate his critique with inarguably anti-Semitic propaganda.
A slightly more sophisticated assault on McMaster along these lines is being pursued by the bloggers at Breitbart, an organization Bannon led until last year. Among its “most popular” headlines from within the last 48 hours: “McMaster Worked at Think Tank Backed by Soros-Funded Group that Helped Obama Sell Iran Nuclear Deal,” “Liberal Anti-Trump Media Matters Goes All In for Embattled Gen. McMaster,” and “Top McMaster Ally Bill Kristol Plotting to Primary, Oust Trump: Must ‘Take One Shot’ at Removing POTUS.”
Honest policy disagreements partially motivate the consternation of the Bannon wing, in particular, the Bannon wing’s desire to see the U.S. extricate itself from Afghanistan immediately. It is also rooted, however, in antipathy toward McMaster for purging their like-minded compatriots from the National Security Council. The Daily Beast reported that former NSC members Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Col. Derek Harvey were Bannon loyalists first, and their ouster is a terrible sign for the nationalist wing of the GOP’s influence. “[I]f one crossed Cohen-Watnick in a staff meeting,” the report read, “a punishing leak to Cernovich would often quickly follow.”
Cohen-Watnick’s role in the humiliation of Rep. Devin Nunes and his alleged ties to a conspiracy theorist who deserves none of the legitimacy the political press bestows upon him should have resulted in his ouster a long time ago. The fact that the Bannon wing is mounting a counterattack against the forces sanity within this White House—an attack so effective that the president felt compelled to respond to them over the weekend—speaks to the parlous nature of this moment.
 I certainly sat up and took notice of what those dismissals have brought out in someone I've long admired, Caroline Glick:

Soon after the firings, the critical articles and posts about McMaster ramped up, several of which have White House sourcing. Caroline Glick, a conservative columnist at the Jerusalem Postposted on her Facebook page late on August 2 that McMaster is “deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump” and implied he was sympathetic to Islamist ideology. Citing senior White House officials “aware of his behavior,” Glick wrote that McMaster “constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews.”

I read the linked Facebook post, and she paints a most unflattering picture.

There is, it appears, another side to the story, though:

Israeli officials responded to mounting allegations that US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is anti-Israel, saying that these were blatantly false and he was a staunch supporter of the Jewish state.
“Anyone who meets McMaster among us and is in contact with him is constantly impressed by how pro-Israeli he is,” an unnamed Israeli security official told the Haaretz daily on Saturday. “The connection with him is excellent.”
The officials also noted that during US President Donald Trump’s recent trip to Israel, McMaster’s held a lengthy meeting with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and highlighted his regular contacts with Defense Ministry officials.
Then there are the comment threads under each of these articles, and the Twitter exchanges about it all.

You know what I see going on?

We have lost all sense of nuance in this world.

Look, I want to know more about where McMaster really stands on Israel, and I'm dismayed that he has signed off on these every-90-days assessments of whether Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA, when the damn thing needs to be scrapped, yet this afternoon.

But you'll notice something about all those who say McMaster is indisputably a blackguard: They have cast their lot with Trump, and see him as an effective president. Glick, Breitbart, Frontpage. While I completely understand the desire to eradicate any vestige of Obama policy, which was indisputably anti-Israel and pro-appeasement of Iran, this readiness to paint someone of McMaster's experience and intellectual depth as the equivalent of Jimmy Carter or Walt and Mearsheimer, this insistence that one size up a figure on the public scene in ten minutes and come to a conclusion impervious to further consideration is the essence of what makes post-America such a brittle place.

Finally, something that Trump's water-carriers need to face squarely is that McMaster continues to enjoy the endorsement of Squirrel-Hair himself .

The odd think about the purist insistence on litmus tests coming from Trump's slavish devotees is that there is no discernible doctrine by which to gauge whether someone is sufficiently on board with "the agenda."

It may be that the balance sheet for McMaster eventually necessitates cutting him loose, but at this juncture, in a White House trying to get its bearings after some of the wildest upheaval ever seen in an administration, it might behoove us to take a deep breath, let a few things play out, and remember that there are degrees of these things, and not to ascribe villain status to those who don't fully live up to what we're looking for in key foreign-policy figures.


  1. If you don't like those on board with a 2 state solution, don't go looking for relief from our new defense secretary either. He's on record as saying the current situation is unsustainable.

  2. Disagree with that, too, but, as with this McMaster case, I'm able to see the considerable distance between "problematic view on one particular issue" and "subversive Jew-hater."

  3. McMaster and Matis belong to our country, not Trump or the Republicans and Jimmy Carter is no subversive Jew hater either, though none too bright to hear your vituperous ilk tell it. There are many Americans still here among us who bristle at the insubordination shown towards our former Commandwr in Chief over this issue.

  4. Sorry, must disagree. Jimmy Carter is a Jew-hater and a lover of tyrants of all stripes.

    Went to North Korea in early 1990s to lay groundwork for the Agreed Framework, which put us on the path to our current grim juncture.

    Praised Hugo Chavez.

    Buddies with Castro

    Meets Hamas leader but not Netanyahu in 2015.

    A moral monster.

    One of the five worst US presidents of all time, putting him in the company of Barack Obama, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and James Buchanan.

  5. I know what you think of him. You hate men of peace.

  6. I don't hate anybody, but Jimmy Carter has one of the most grotesque world views any human being has ever had.

  7. Sure, guess he's the devil's Christian, eh? And, sure, we needed another Nam (bet it really pissed you off he granted the draft dodgers amnesty, huh?) or even an Afghanistan for 16 years running now. He is affirmed by the views of both McMaster & Matis too. He wanted to legalize pot too, but nooo, onto Ronnie's ramp up, including asset and property seizure.

  8. Ya think he got those grotesque world views from his time at Annapolis where he graduated near the head of his class? Or as a nuclear physicist under Admiral Rickover? Or through his strong and demonstrable Christian faith?

  9. So he praised Chavez. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And what does buddies with Castro mean? And the Korean "solution" has eluded all Presidents since Ike who campaigned on escalation but pulled us out of there when faced with the sad and stark reality of Eorld War III. And I've never liked Netanyahu either. It's already apparent that real moral monsters DJ Trump and Andrew Jackson will occupy worst position. As for wrecking the overall prosperity of cities and towns across America, it started with Reagan.

  10. No, Obama and Carter top the list of the worst - by light years.

    And this nonchalant attitude about praising Chavez just blows my mind. How in the f--- did you come by your value system?

  11. A hell of a lot transpired between the Eisenhower era and the early 90s - particularly a well-advanced North Korean nuclear program. And Carter went over there driven by his delusion that he could achieve some kind of "agreement" with the Kim dynasty.

  12. Carter has made a point of seeking out leads and regimes that have expressed the most hostility to the US over the course of his post-presidency career - and busted his butt to find something noble and admirable about them. That's about as foul as it gets.

  13. Buddies with Castro: in 2003, he went down there and he and Castro stood at the pitcher's mound at some kind of Cuban baseball game and traded pitches.

  14. Buddies with Castro: in 2003, he went down there and he and Castro stood at the pitcher's mound at some kind of Cuban baseball game and traded pitches.

  15. Yep, and a quarter century later a president called Obama accepted a book from Chavez and attempted to normalize relations with Cuba. So what? We re not joining them or anything, just because we did not want to beat them, unless it was by example. The world has seen how the US has such great kill ratios but never quite accomplishes its mission by war. I negotiate for a living. It works and I believe in it. Go right ahead and blow your mind all you want. I'd personally like to have a bit more fun doing that, but, be my guest. You are a damnable hawk. Damnable!

  16. So what?

    You really mean that, don't you? "So what."

    It's like you're trying to take the most ridiculous position you possibly could

  17. So you say. I have plenty of company. Probably a lot more citizens think our way than yours and if they don't to start off they will when the body bags come home en masse.