- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Haselton
Best Defense guest respondent
I believe H.R. McMaster, in the role of being President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, is caught on the horns of a dilemma.
He knows how dangerous the Russians are, and the lengths that they will go to diminish U.S. power and influence. If he does not he is incompetent. We both know that is not the case.
So, why would he so precisely parse his language to exonerate a president from accusations of things he did not do while obfuscating on what he did? Can the president “declassify” anything? Yes. Should he? Well that is in the “it depends” category. If the president declassified something that benefitted the United States — strategically, morally, etc. — okay. But if it adversely affects our position (diminishes credibility, security, and stability) then “no,” it is not okay.
In my opinion McMaster finds himself in the position of looking for ways to contain a president who, he must realize, is bad for our global credibility, international standing, and strategic influence. Like the generals he decried in Dereliction of Duty, he believes he can effect change from within by working with an individual who does not even understand the damage he is doing to our position in the world. If he resigns, he is replaced by a sycophant who will say yes and things get even worse. If he defends the president he props up someone who is clearly “tone deaf” in international politics.
In the end, McMaster signed on to try and help a person he neither understands nor relates to. Like an unrecovered addict, Trump has not learned the basics of a 12-step program: Admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving your problem. Trump does not know he is the problem and is therefore incapable of acting in ways that address the issue that his lack of understanding in the realm of international relations is the problem.
If I could talk to McMaster and tell him one thing it would be, “Your oath is to the Nation. Use your position to fight against this lunacy. You serve at the pleasure of the president but your duty is to the American people. Do what is best for them and us. Protecting the president is not your job.”
Mark Haselton graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1977. He is a retired career special forces officer and former chief, strategic concepts, joint staff, responsible for drafting the national military strategy, the chairman’s joint strategy review, and chairman’s joint risk assessment. He is currently a defense contractor with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and service on the Joint Iraq/Afghanistan Joint Transition Planning Group for the secretary of defense and secretary of state.
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