General known for sharp questions will be Trump's new top security adviser
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Monday, Feb. 20, named Lt. Gen. Herbert Raymond McMaster as his new national security adviser, choosing a military officer known for speaking his mind and challenging his superiors.
McMaster is a highly regarded military tactician and strategic thinker, but his selection surprised some observers who wondered how the officer, whose Army career stalled at times for his questioning of authority, would deal with a White House that has not welcomed criticism.
"He is highly respected by everybody in the military and we're very honored to have him," Trump told reporters in West Palm Beach where he spent the weekend. "He's a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience."
One subject on which Trump and McMaster could soon differ is Russia. McMaster shares the consensus view among the U.S. national security establishment that Russia is a threat and an antagonist to the United States, while the man whom McMaster is replacing, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, appeared to view it more as a potential geopolitical partner.
Flynn was fired as national security adviser on Feb. 13 after reports emerged he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about speaking to Russia's ambassador to the United States about U.S. sanctions before Trump's inauguration.
The ouster, coming so early in Trump's administration, was another upset for a White House that has been hit by miscues, including the controversial rollout of a travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, since the Republican president took office on Jan. 20.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a frequent Trump critic, praised McMaster as an "outstanding" choice.
"I give President Trump great credit for this decision," McCain said in a statement.
Trump also named Keith Kellogg, a retired U.S. Army general who has been serving as the acting national security adviser, as chief of staff to the National Security Council. John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will serve the administration in another capacity, Trump said.
Kellogg and Bolton were among those in contention as Trump spent the long Presidents Day weekend considering his options for replacing Flynn. His first choice, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down the job last week.
The national security adviser is an independent aide to the president and does not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. The role has varied from administration to administration, but the adviser attends National Security Council meetings along with the heads of the State Department, the Department of Defense and key security agencies.
McMaster, 54, is a West Point graduate known as "H.R.," with a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was listed as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2014, partly because of his willingness to buck the system.
A combat veteran, he gained renown in the first Gulf War -- and was awarded a Silver Star -- after he commanded a small troop of the U.S. 2nd Army Cavalry Regiment that destroyed a much larger Iraqi Republican Guard force in 1991 in a place called 73 Easting, for its map coordinates, in what many consider the biggest tank battle since World War II.
As one fellow officer put it, referring to Trump's inner circle of aides and speaking on condition of anonymity, the Trump White House "has its own Republican Guard, which may be harder for him to deal with than the Iraqis were." The Iraqi Republican Guard was the elite military force of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
Trump relies on a tight, insular group of advisers, many of whom zealously guard access to the president, at times appear to have competing political agendas, and who, in the case of senior adviser Steve Bannon, involve themselves in national security matters.
McMaster's fame grew after his 1997 book "Dereliction of Duty" criticized the country's military and political leadership for poor leadership during the Vietnam War.
Trump's pick was praised by one of the president's strongest backers in the U.S. Congress, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, who called McMaster "one of the finest combat leaders of our generation and also a great strategic mind. He is a true warrior scholar, and I'm confident he will serve both the president and the country well."
Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also backed the choice, noting McMaster's "history of questioning the status quo."