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Trump's New National Security Adviser Is Known For Speaking His Mind


President Trump has refilled a key position in his administration. He's announced that Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster will serve as his national security adviser. Here's McMaster at Mar-a-Lago yesterday.


H R MCMASTER: Mr. President, thank you very much. I'd 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 I can to advance and protect the interest of the American people.

MARTIN: The position was also turned down last week by retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward. He said it was for family reasons, but also reportedly over the question of staffing the National Security Council. For more on the new national security adviser, we turn to someone who has covered Lieutenant General McMaster's career for a while, NPR's Tom Bowman. Hi, Tom.


MARTIN: So is H.R. McMaster a good fit for this job?

BOWMAN: Yeah. I think he is. He's one of the most highly regarded military officers. He's something of a warrior intellectual. He has a lot of time in Iraq and Afghanistan and on staff jobs. He also has a Ph.D. in military history.

MARTIN: Wow. So...


So it's not just a military career. I mean, it's been a lot of academia as well. Talk more about Iraq, Tom, because he's sort of seen as playing a really pivotal role in some important moments in the war.

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, he - in the first Iraq war, he received a Silver Star for bravery in this famous tank battle call 73 Easting. And then in the second Iraq war, he helped pacify this city in Northern Iraq, Tal Afar using counterinsurgency methods that were actually replicated elsewhere in Iraq. So, again, he, you know - he's a very smart guy. He knows how to fight. He knows how to work, you know, the military part of things like this.

MARTIN: He wrote a book about 20 years ago called "Dereliction Of Duty" which is a look at how the generals during the Vietnam War knew how to win, but they felt like they were undermined by their civilian leadership. That obviously has a different kind of resonance in this political climate right now.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. You know, "Dereliction Of Duty" was considered a classic. It's on the reading list of the Marine Corps and the Army. And he talks about how the civilians sort of pushed aside the generals and decided to increase the troop levels for the Vietnam War, how they tried to kind of limit the attacks in Vietnam, the airstrikes and so forth. And it was a stalemate, he said. And the result of the civilians' intrusion into the Vietnam War strategy.

MARTIN: So does that thinking extend to how he sees his role as national security adviser that the generals, the military should be given - those decisions should be given more weight to them?

BOWMAN: Well, we'll see what happens. I mean, he's inherited a stalemate in Afghanistan, a term that's been used by the commander there, General John Nicholson. So we'll see how he handles that. You know, Afghanistan's been going on 15 years now, and there's some parallels there to the Vietnam War. You have a safe haven in Pakistan for the Taliban, you have a government that's, you know, doing a bit better now but still divided. And you have an Afghan military that still needs a lot of work, and they've asked for more troops. And also he's going to be facing the strategy on ISIS.


BOWMAN: So we'll see what he does there. There are calls for maybe more U.S. troops over there, more airstrikes. He's going to inherit those two stalemates.

GREENE: One - all those decisions, Tom, I mean - it'll be him, but obviously the commander-in-chief as well - and that relationship so important. A lot of people talked about Michael Flynn having this very close relationship with Donald Trump. General McMaster doesn't seem like that is the case at all. Is that a problem or potentially a good thing?

BOWMAN: I think the real problem here is you have a mercurial president. You have a president that kind of shoots from the hip, a president doesn't have a lot of experience in national security policy and military policy. And you also have a White House staff with Steve Bannon, the political strategist who's going to be in the National Security Council, this guy Steven Miller that helped write the immigration executive order. How is he going to get along with some of these people? But let me tell you something. This guy is no shrinking violet. He's very blunt. He's very smart. And, you know, he is not going to suffer fools gladly.

MARTIN: Part of the reason we understand Bob Harward didn't take the job was because he was concerned he wasn't going to get to pick his own team. Do we know that H.R. McMaster's going to be able to do that?

BOWMAN: You know, we don't know if he's going to be able to pick his own staff yet. But I know in the past with other staffs that he's - that have worked under him, he's a pretty tough boss. So I think whoever he has - is on his staff, they're going to be working really, really hard.

MARTIN: Also, we should we should just lastly note he's going to stay in uniform. He's going to stay on active duty - right? - in this job.

BOWMAN: That's right, and that has happened in the past with Brant Scowcroft and also Colin Powell during the Reagan administration.

GREENE: Oh, that's right. We saw him wearing his uniform all the time. I mean, that's going to be - we're going to see a return to that.

BOWMAN: That's right. And I'm told that Donald Trump wanted Mike Flynn to continue wearing his uniform, but General Flynn told him, well, I don't wear my uniform anymore. I'm retired. That's not going to happen with General McMaster. He will continue on active duty as a three-star general. If this thing doesn't work out, he can go back to his day job.

MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.