Donald Trump's new NSA HR McMaster differs on Russia, but he should connect with president's style

President Donald Trump has tapped Army Lt Gen HR McMaster, a prominent military strategist known as a creative thinker, as his new national security advisor, replacing the ousted Michael Flynn.

Trump said McMaster is "a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience."

The president's choice further elevates the influence of military officers in the new administration. Trump, who has no military or foreign policy experience, has shown a strong preference for putting generals in top roles, as per AP. In this case, he tapped an active-duty officer for a post that's sometimes used as a counterweight to the Pentagon. McMaster joins Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, both retired generals, in Trump's inner circle of national security advisors.

The White House also said that McMaster plans to remain on active military duty. He is viewed as soldier-scholar and creative thinker. Outside of the army, he may be best known for his 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty, a searing indictment of the US government's mishandling of the Vietnam War and an analysis of what he called the "lies that led to Vietnam." The book earned him a reputation for being willing to speak truth to power.

McMaster commanded troops in both American wars in Iraq — in 1991, when he fought in a storied tank battle known as the Battle for 73 Easting, and again in 2005-2006 in one of the most violent periods of the insurgency that developed after the US-led invasion in 2003. He is credited with using innovative approaches to countering the insurgency in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar when he commanded the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He later served as a special advisor to the top US commander in Iraq.

It was not clear how closely McMaster's and Trump's views align. On Russia, McMaster appears to hold a much dimmer view than Trump of Moscow's military and political objectives in Europe.

According to Vox, his political views are opposite of retired Gen. Michael Flynn's. The report adds that according to Andrew Exum, a former official of the Barack Obama administration, described McMaster as "great officer and thinker". The report argues that though McMaster is suited for the role, it is not clear how much influence he will have on Trump.

A CBS report stated that Trump's first choice for the post of national security advisor was Vice Admiral Robert Harward who turned down the president's offer. Staffing issues and Harward's refusal to retain KT McFarland as the deputy National Security Advisor were some of the reasons cited in the report for Harward's refusal.

According to Reuters, McMaster is known for speaking his mind and challenging his superiors. One subject on which Trump and McMaster could soon differ is Russia. McMaster shares the consensus view among the US national security establishment that Russia is a threat and an antagonist to the United States, while the man whom McMaster is replacing, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, appeared to view it more as a potential geopolitical partner.

Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia under Obama, praised Trump for his pick and had tweeted: HR (McNaster) will not be afraid to question his boss.

Paul Szoldra writes for Business Insider: "McMaster is the kind of guy who says what's on his mind and call out a wrongheaded approach when he sees one... Put simply: McMaster isn't a political guy, unlike other officers who are trying to jockey for position and move up in their careers." 

Though McMaster's appointment has been lauded by many, given Trump's style of functioning it remains to be seen if the president will see eye to eye with his new national security advisor. As John Baldoni write for Forbes: "He must find ways to connect his orthodoxy with Trump’s unorthodoxy in ways are understandable to the commander in chief."

(With inputs from agencies)

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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2017 15:07:22 IST

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