In Gen. H.R. McMaster, a brilliant veteran of the Iraq War, president Trump has an able and qualified new national security adviser.
Independent-minded but no rogue, his selection should bring to an end the cycle of bureaucratic backstabbing and palace intrigue that has hamstrung the White House — a problem not just for Trump supporters, but for all Americans.
Regardless of the outcome of various Beltway probes and behind-the-scenes power struggles, the United States must plan and execute its basic foreign policy duties. At a time this turbulent, creative thinking and swift action are a must. This month’s unprecedented internal resistance to administration staffing needs to wrap up as McMaster takes on his pivotal role.
McMaster is uniquely positioned to bring the restive bureaucrats to heel without breeding a dangerous degree of resentment. He has the support not only of mainstream conservative Republicans and the New York Times editorial board, but the backing of Trump’s own secretary of Defense, James Mattis. McMaster also has a better reputation than other “warrior-philosopher” notables like David Petraeus, who was seen by critics as too much of an egghead and still too tainted by past indiscretions to take on the NSA role.
Perhaps most importantly, McMaster has the disposition and bandwidth to deal firmly and fairly with Washington’s restive spies and scheming staffers alike.
Although his short-lived predecessor, Mike Flynn, was a very ineffective choice, the administration’s supporters have been justified in feeling unduly undermined and unfairly maligned by the ranks of the nation’s intelligence community. But the obstruction has been a more complicated affair than many Americans understand. Rather than heroes or villains in a political morality play, most career civil service officers have kept their eye on doing — and keeping — their jobs.
The Trump team’s irritation with leaks and withheld intelligence applies to a relatively small number of higher-ranking officials. As a result, although charges of a wholesale “deep state” rebellion against a duly elected president are mistaken, the appearance of undemocratic obstruction by anonymous, unelected figures has spent down much of the political capital the intelligence community has been able to use since the Inauguration.
But that is only part of the story. Looking beyond the spy agencies, at the Department of State, for instance, political resistance to the administration’s ability to staff itself has come not only from Obama-era staffers but Clinton-era ones, brought on in preparation for an Election Day victory that never came. Adding to the complexity, Republican neoconservatives have also had ideological reason to blunt a changing of the guard.
A certain amount of jockeying for power is to be expected every time an administration turns over — especially when the incoming team marks as great a departure from the status quo as Trump’s. But with McMaster widely praised as much more than a merely credible and responsible figure, the writing ought to be on the wall for the machinations of establishment factions. Holdovers put in place to carry out the agenda of Trump’s defeated election opponent should not be given a pass on bending the foreign affairs bureaucracy to their will.
In a free country, there’s always time and room for above-board political battles among elected officials. Today’s unstable world demands a foreign policy free from debilitating divisions.
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