New National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster Is the Neil Gorsuch of Generals

by David French

Donald Trump has made his choice to replace Michael Flynn, and it’s hard to think of a better man. Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster will be the new national security adviser:

General McMaster is a former commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, my old unit. I served in Iraq with a host of guys who’d served under McMaster in the Battle of Tal Afar in 2005, and almost to a man they loved him. I never served under him (I came along for the next deployment), but many of the people I respect the most were with him during one of  the Iraq War’s most significant urban battles and came away deeply impressed. 

Indeed, I’d call McMaster the Neil Gorsuch of generals. Like Judge Gorsuch, General McMaster is respected by his peers, admired for his intellect, and possesses an impeccable record of public service. Professionally, he’s in the short list of the best of the best. (Seriously, read up not just on the Battle of Tal Afar, but also on the Battle of 73 Easting in the Gulf War — where McMaster’s outnumbered Eagle Troop of the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment took on a numerically-superior Iraqi armored force and destroyed it in a mere twenty-three minutes). 

There’s something else, however, that McMaster shares with Gorsuch — a known hostility to executive overreach and a keen awareness of his proper role in a constitutional republic. Gorsuch has famously questioned the explosive expansion of the federal bureaucracy. In his seminal book, Dereliction of Duty, McMaster famously called out civilian and military leaders for their profound mistakes in the run-up to the Vietnam War. Central to his argument is the notion that generals can and should (consistent with the chain of command and respect for presidential authority) provide their independent judgment to the president, including by criticizing and pointing out the shortcomings of the president’s tactical and strategic plans. In other words, effective military leaders shouldn’t simply roll over when confronted with unreasonable presidential demands. 

With the exception of his loyalty hire of Michael Flynn, Trump’s key generals — James Mattis, John Kelly, and now H.R. McMaster — represent the best of modern military leadership. Their presence in the government is deeply reassuring. It’s now incumbent on President Trump to heed their counsel and give them the level of authority that they have earned. 

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