H.R. McMaster was an “adult in the room” among adults in the room. The national security adviser was decorated war hero and Ph.D-wielding intellectual — one whose dissertation was a treatise on the hazards of allowing a president’s self-interested needs override the better judgement of military experts. After taking the reins from disgraced Turkish government agent Michael Flynn, McMaster evicted his predecessor’s team of crackpot Islamophobes from the National Security Council, and won a war of attrition with Steve Bannon.
McMaster also repeatedly debased himself — and misled the public — at the president’s command; escalated American involvement in Afghanistan without offering anything resembling a plan for victory; and expressed a more fervent opposition to diplomacy with — and openness to preemptive war against — North Korea than any other senior member of the Trump administration.
In light of that last fact, this just might qualify as good news:
The White House is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser as early as next month in a move orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to five people familiar with the discussions.
…A leading candidate to become President Donald Trump’s third national security adviser is the auto industry executive Stephen Biegun, according to the officials.
Biegun, who currently serves as vice president of international governmental affairs for the Ford Motor Company, is no stranger to the White House. He served on the National Security Council staff from 2001 to 2003, including as a senior staffer for then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Rice introduced Biegun to Mattis, recommending him for a position in the administration, according to a close associate of Rice. After Mattis met with Biegun at a think tank event he was convinced Biegun would be a good fit for the national security adviser role, the associate said.
Two people close to Biegun said he would need several weeks to get his financial affairs in order to be able to join the administration this spring.
A couple points on all this:
• Apparently President Trump is a puppet … of Condoleezza Rice. Rice personally lobbied for Rex Tillerson’s appointment as secretary of State; now, she’s apparently on the cusp of installing another one of her favorite corporate executives into a top-tier foreign-policy post.
• Had McMaster lost an internal battle with Steve Bannon or some Michael Flynn acolyte, this would be more concerning. To this point, James Mattis’s policy views have been indistinguishable from McMaster’ s — except on North Korea, where the former has pushed for diplomacy, while the latter has said, “Now is not the time to talk …there can’t be negotiations under these current conditions.” McMaster believes North Korea cannot be deterred, and has said that “their programs have advanced so far” we might not have time for another failed round of negotiations.
Last month, the New York Times reported that Mattis was alarmed by McMaster’s aggressiveness on the North Korean front:
After General McMaster left the room, Mr. Mattis and Mr. Tillerson continued to speak, not realizing that other participants were still on the line. The officials familiar with the matter overheard them complaining about a series of meetings that the National Security Council had set up to consider options for North Korea — signs, Mr. Tillerson said, that it was becoming overly aggressive.
…While General McMaster also favors a diplomatic solution to the impasse, officials said, he emphasizes to colleagues that past efforts to negotiate with North Korea have forced the United States to make unacceptable concessions.
The Pentagon has a different view. Mr. Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., argue forcefully for using diplomacy. They have repeatedly warned, in meetings and on video conference calls, that there are few, if any, military options that would not provoke retaliation from North Korea, according to officials at the Defense Department.
It’s possible that McMaster’s ouster has nothing to do with his views on North Korea, and that he’s merely being sacrificed for his various affronts to Donald Trump’s ego. It’s also possible that McMaster won’t end up being ousted at all.
But given the fact that he was apparently the “adult” in the White House most open to pushing an emotionally volatile reality star into a war with nuclear state, it’s hard to feel much concern at the thought of his exit.