A Comparison and Contrast


Ladies and germs, let us compare and contrast Betsy DeVos and H. R. McMaster. Betsy DeVos is an idiot and a tool. Always has been. Always will be.

In Derelection of Duty, Jonathan Stevenson writes that H. R. McMaster is a brilliant soldier-scholar:

Enlightened realists tend to make the best national security advisers, and McMaster seemed to be just that, keen to integrate the strategic, operational, and tactical aspects of foreign policy and able to function effectively across the political spectrum. …

McMaster was known for speaking truth to power, and he appeared to have the organizational skills and command bearing befitting a three-star general. His unblinking academic criticism of national security officials reflected a conviction that officers were obliged to avoid repeating the mistakes of their predecessors, even if it meant challenging their superiors.

But alas, Stevenson writes,

McMaster could have used NSC precedents to advocate for preserving its authority over policy, but he has declined to do so. In his book, he criticized the imbalance between political and military considerations in the way Vietnam-era policy was made. McMaster preferred generals who spoke up in NSC meetings and pushed back against tendentious political distortions that civilian officials might make as to what was actually required to attain American policy objectives. As national security adviser, he is ideally positioned to encourage that sort of spirited collaboration. Yet owing to Trump’s disdain for interagency deliberation, McMaster has accepted a process in which there is very little meaningful back-and-forth among national security principals. Despite his protestations at CSIS of superior coordination and integration at the NSC, it has broadly failed to reach consensus on policy; one insider described a Principals Committee meeting on Afghanistan as a “shit show.”

Indeed, lack of coordination at the White House is clearly chronic. Trump and McMaster have undercut Tillerson’s and Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s advocacy of diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Despite sharing the overwhelming US military consensus that there were no preemptive military options in North Korea that could reliably preclude escalation and protect South Korea’s population, McMaster appears to have pressed the Pentagon for a preemptive plan to satisfy Trump’s rash, counterfactual demands. This was further evidence of McMaster’s overriding determination to humor Trump at the expense of sound policymaking. …

It is normal and human that McMaster felt duty-bound to accept his present post and was grateful for an opportunity to cap a brilliant but bumptious Army career with a move that amounted to a fourth star. Being constrained by the president’s viewpoint is of course part of the job description. McMaster was aware of this going in. But he also apparently recognizes that he is working for an unfit president: BuzzFeed has reported that, just as Tillerson allegedly called Trump a “moron” after a meeting in July, McMaster privately characterized him as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the mind of a “kindergartener” at a corporate dinner that same month.10

McMaster should know better than to follow this president into policy hell, yet he is doing just that. The degradation of the interagency process on his watch has made it easy for Trump’s ignorance to drive foreign policy, amplified the damage done by a bureaucratically nihilistic secretary of state, and eroded the United States’ global influence and standing. …

There has been friction between McMaster and Trump. The president reportedly finds his national security adviser pedantic, condescending, and potentially disloyal, and McMaster’s affirmation of evidence of the Russian election interference will no doubt intensify the latter perception. But McMaster’s very retention suggests that Trump overridingly values the general’s prestige and bearing. For him to take the job and then refrain from using those qualities to try to steer US policy in the right direction amounts to dereliction of duty.

Aardvark’s Addendum

For all of his willingness to evade his duty, McMaster will soon be history. Soon, Don the Con will be wandering the White House all alone, except for some remaining kooks and yes men.