The dust has finally settled, and General (surprise surprise) H.R. McMaster has emerged from the fallout as the United States' new National Security Advisor (NSA). McMaster took on the position on February 20th after a whirlwind week for the Trump administration that saw previous NSA General Michael T. Flynn resign under curious circumstances on February 13th and reputed first choice, Vice-Admiral Robert Harward, declining the post later in the week.
The position of National Security Advisor is of course one of the most powerful in the entire government. Previous NSAs such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have used the post as a stepping stone to even more prestigious posts such as Secretary of State. Kissinger and Brzezinski remain two of the most powerful and influential figures in foreign policy circles to this day. The NSA thus provides interesting insights into the direction a president's foreign policy is headed, as does his National Security Council (NSC) on the whole. Here I will try to briefly address the implications of McMaster and the overall composition of Trump's emerging NSC.
Flynn was one of the most controversial and despised figures in the Trump junta, so it should come as little surprise that there is must rejoicing in certain circles. Already the mainstream media is hailing McMaster's' appointment as a major victory for the forces of righteousness due to his alleged differences from his predecessor and Trump on certain key issues. The Raw Story crows:
"U. S. President Donald Trump has shown little patience for dissent, but that trait is likely to be tested by his new national security adviser, Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.
"McMaster is joining the White House staff with views on Russia, counterterrorism, strengthening the military and other major security issues that diverge not only from those of the Trump loyalists, but also from those the president himself has expressed.
"A military intellectual whose ideas have been shaped more by experience than by emotion, more by practice than by politics, and more by intellect than by impulse may also find himself in political terrain that may be as alien, and perhaps as hostile, to him as the sands and cities of Afghanistan and Iraq were.
"McMaster will not be alone, however. His prominent administration allies include Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; as well as many of the soldiers who have served with him.
"Unlike his predecessor, Michael Flynn, and Trump himself, McMaster regards Moscow as an adversary rather than a potential partner.Last May, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, McMaster cited Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in eastern Ukraine as evidence of a broader effort 'to collapse the post-World War Two, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic, and political order in Europe and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.' A third area where McMaster’s thinking differs from the president’s rhetoric is the size and shape of the U.S. military.
"Trump has promised to add tens of thousands more soldiers, expand the Navy to 350 ships from 282, and 'provide the Air Force with the 1,200 fighter aircraft they need,' according to his campaign website.In his scholarly 2015 Military Review article, which has 39 footnotes, including one citing Greek historian Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War, McMaster argued that 'promising victory delivered rapidly from stand-off range, based on even better surveillance, intelligence, information, and precision strike capabilities' is a fallacy that 'confuses targeting enemy organizations with strategy.' The question now is whether McMaster’s views will have sufficient force to alter the course of U.S. policy set by the president and his closest aides."
|new NSA General HR McMaster|
Many are hailing the ascension of the "Mattis clique" (which, in addition to McMaster and General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, also includes Director of Homeland Security John F. Kelly and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford) and predicting an inevitable conflict between this faction and the Trump loyalists (personified by "Chief Strategist" Steven Bannon) within the administration. Many point to Russia as a major point of contention.
|General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, who many increasingly see as a bastion of "rationality" and "restraint" within the Trump regime|
And let us not forget that just last year JCS Chairman General Joseph Dunford (who has a long history with Mattis) dismissed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's advocacy for establishing "no fly" zones in Syria on the basis that it would lead to war with Russia. On the whole, there seems to have been quite a divide between the Pentagon and the State Department over the issue of escalating tensions with Russia, with the civilian anti-Russian forces coming off as being far more militant than their military counterparts. And now Trump and new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who has had extensive dealings with Russia) have cleaned house at State.
So in this regard, the arrival of McMaster and the ascension of Mattis may have very little influence on Trump's policy toward Russia.
As for many of the other differences, they appear to be very speculative. The Intercept points to the alleged "ethno-nationalism" of the latter camp as a major point of contention:
"Unlike his short-lived predecessor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump’s new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, has no history of openly associating with bigotry. In fact, McMaster has throughout his career emphasized the need to work constructively with foreign Muslim populations.
"But his presence only calls more attention to the dramatic divide among Trump’s top foreign policy advisers. On one side are career military personnel who understand that antagonizing Muslims is both offensive to American values and damaging to the country’s security. On the other side are inexperienced, radical ethno-nationalists who shrug off international norms and believe that peaceful coexistence with the world’s Muslims is unlikely and undesirable.
"The two views appear incompatible. But which group will emerge victorious is not at all clear. In fact, which group speaks for Trump at any given moment is not entirely clear either."
Mattis and McMaster may advocate a more politically correct approach, but does that change the fact that they've overseen the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in highly morally ambiguous (to put it mildly) conflicts? Both Bannon and Pompeo are themselves military veterans (and may well have been recruited by some branch of the US intelligence services after the respective services ended, as I noted before here) while Gorka has served as some type of instructor for the Joint Special Operations University. As such, I suspect the differences have far more to do with approach than ideology.
If anything, McMaster's appointment only seems to confirm the shakeup in foreign policy circles likely related to an ongoing conflict in the deep state. Typically the National Security Council is dominated by Ivy Leaguers and fellows of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Brookings, the Trilateral Commission and so forth. This is especially true of the president's National Security Advisor. And yet McMaster attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the think tanks he is associated with include the Hoover Institute, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and (like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). While these think tanks certainly have ample ties to the traditional conservative establishment, they are on the whole far more right leaning and defense oriented than the CFR, the Trilats, Brookings or the Atlantic Council.
Let's now briefly consider the composition of the National Security Council (NSC): It will typically feature four to five current or former generals (McMaster, Mattis, Kelly, Joints Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford, and NSC Chief of Staff General Keith Kellogg) with no links to the Ivy Leagues and only limited exposure to the tradition conservative establishment's network of think tanks. Bannon, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and likely Secretary of Energy Rick Perry also come from military backgrounds, though they were not lifers (at least as far as we know) like McMaster, Mattis, Kelly, Dunford and Kellogg. Likely Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also briefly served in the Army, but not to the extent as Bannon, Pompeo and Perry (all of whom were in the military for at least five years). UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was never in the military, but she is married to a military lifer.
|Generals John F Kelly (top), Joseph Dunford (middle) and (Keith Kellogg (bottom)|
Only two NSC members appear to come from a "conventional" background for this type of posting -- Secretary of Treasurer Steven Mnuchin and Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland. Mnuchin is a Yale graduate and Skull and Bones to boot. McFarland did not attend the Ivy Leagues, but she has gone to the equally prestigious MIT and Oxford University (which has longstanding ties to the CFR) and is a protege of Henry Kissinger. The other two known Ivy Leaguers, Bannon and Pompeo, are both considered extremists in many circles.
But the same could be said for much of Trump's NSC. As was noted before here, Pence, Coats and Sessions are all members of the Christian fundamentalist cult variously known as "The Family" or "The Fellowship" (addressed at length before here). There is a strong chance that CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is very close to Pence, is also a Family man as well. As regular reader AW pointed out here, both Rick Perry and Reince Priebus have been linked to another Christian cult known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), one of the most hardline Dominionist sects out there (much more information on Perry's affiliation with this budding cult can be found here). As was noted before here, Bannon appears to be close to the highly reactionary Sovereign Military Order of Malta while DHS head General John Kelly and Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford have been described as hardline Catholics.
Just where all this is heading is difficult to say, but the background of McMaster's is curious in another fashion. Typically the NSA has some background in intelligence and/or diplomacy. While McMaster is viewed as something of a counterinsurgency guru, he has largely been involved with convention forces for his entire career. On the whole, his background reads like someone who would make a fine Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than National Security Advisor.
And this may in and of itself be a clue. McMaster has been a leading figure in new initiatives to prepare the military for a ground war against Russia in Ukraine (and surely other locations) and it is likely he will push for the modernization of conventional US forces in anticipation of war with Russia and/or China down the road.
The disadvantages of using the former are obvious, but the latter also come with a major risk: reverse engineering. As long as China and Russia remain major world powers, they will have the know-how and resources to reverse engineer practically any secret weapon in a fairly short period of time. And so goes the final remaining ace up the Pentagon's sleeve.
The State Department and the traditional conservative establishment, sensing their hold slipping, would prefer a war now in a final desperate bid to cling to the reigns of power. It is also possible they would like to know just what exactly the Pentagon is hiding, which may have been an underlining factor in UFOs becoming a talking point during the 2016 presidential election cycle after such a long black out.
But the Pentagon is clearly running the show now and they would surely prefer to rearm and regroup for the next stage. It is truly disturbing that this appears to be the most cautious approach the deep state has on tap, in comparison to war-now-at-all-cost fixation of the traditional conservative establishment, or the more extreme apocalyptic fantasies of the Christian Right in Trump's NSC. If the former gets their wish and remove Trump before his term ends, then the later will literally be moving into the Oval Office with the newly minted President Mike Pence. And if that happens, all bets are off.