Yesterday, Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster held an “all hands” meeting of National Security Council staff. It went pretty much as I would have expected:
Incoming White House National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster sought to reassure senior Trump administration officials during his first “all hands” staff meeting Thursday, according to those who attended the get together and told the Washington Free Beacon that McMaster informed staffers he does not intend to pursue a major shakeup of President Donald Trump’s national security team.
McMaster, who replaced Michael Flynn following his resignation last week, plans to navigate a vast departure from the Obama administration’s foreign policy vision, according to senior White House officials who described the meeting as “reassuring.” McMaster emphasized that he will not dismantle the team that Flynn had built.
As part of his discussion with White House national security staff, McMaster recommended a comprehensive reading list that included President Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal,” and several other tomes by leading historians about how to get the upper hand on America’s enemies. White House staff are said to have been mostly “thrilled” when hearing about the book list.
Sources who spoke to the Free Beacon about McMaster’s vision, as laid out in the Thursday meeting, expressed optimism about his appointment and pushed back on what they described as false media narratives centered around White House disarray following Flynn’s departure.
“It’s no secret we’ve had a few more all-hands meetings than we intended in our first month—but General McMaster used this event to both reassure the NSC staff and to give us the tools to continue the mission,” said one senior White House National Security Council official who requested anonymity while discussing internal White House meetings.
McMaster explicitly told White House officials that he does not aim to dismantle Trump’s foreign policy team or push out those perceived as still loyal to Flynn. These comments run counter to a recent New York Times report claiming that McMaster is pursuing a massive reorganization of the president’s national security team.
A colleague of his, also well known in military circles, Colonel John Nagl had this to say about McMaster (note the publication):
“H.R. is the most bull-headed, nicest, smartest, most ego-free person I think I have ever met,” says retired Army Col. John Nagl, who has known and worked with McMaster for more than 20 years.
“He is absolutely dedicated to taking care of America’s national interests,” adds Nagl. “Razor-sharp, and actually every once in a while even a little bit funny.”
“The president has chosen a man who is absolutely unafraid to go toe-to-toe with anybody, including the president of the United States,” says Nagl. He will “fight absolutely tooth and nail for what he believes is right.”
As a serving soldier, Nagl expects McMaster to salute the president and execute his decisions to the best of his abilities. “But I tell you, I think the President is going to have a hard time convincing H.R. that he’s wrong.”
Critics say they’re concerned McMaster has little or no experience managing a complex, inter-agency committee like the NSC. But Nagl is optimistic.
“The good news here is that he’s got a very good relationship with [James] Mattis, the secretary of Defense, [and] with John Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security,” Nagl says. “He will be respectful of the Cabinet secretaries. He understands how executive agencies work, and he will make the trains run on time.”
“He’s not ideological,” adds Nagl. “He understands, for instance, that while we are facing threat in radical Islamic extremism, the Islamic world is not our enemy.”
I would have been shocked if he’d wanted to try to purge Trump or Flynn loyalists with his own people. He needs to get the organization running. There were a lot of folks hoping for McFarland and Gorka to be given the heave-ho, mostly because they have not been reticent in the criticism of radical Islam. But in a short period of time it will become who can handle McMaster’s legendary work ethic and who’d like to spend more time with their family. Some will leave when they discover that McMaster’s NSC will be coordinating policy rather than making policy. When those departures happen they will clearly be performance driven and not driven by loyalties or ideology.
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