Trump's Defense of McMaster Fails to Quell Tensions

Infighting continues between McMaster defenders, Trump loyalists

President Donald Trump and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster
President Donald Trump and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster / Getty Images
August 7, 2017

President Trump's defense of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster's tenure as national security adviser has yet to bridge deep divisions among Republicans over whether he should remain in his influential White House post.

Trump on Friday emailed the New York Times a statement saying the two are "working very well together" and trying to dispel accusations from Trump loyalists that he is anti-Israel.

"He is a good man and very pro-Israel," Trump said. "I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.

Over the weekend, McMaster's defenders and Trump loyalists continued squabbling.

McMaster's supporters dismissed criticisms of the veteran general, pointing to recent successes in pushing out Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria and the need to recalibrate U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to prevent it from descending into chaos as Iraq did when President Obama abruptly pulled out U.S. troops.

James Carafano, a former Trump transition team official and vice president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Trump has just one chance to get the strategy in Afghanistan right in order to turn the tide in the battle there.

"If you get Afghanistan wrong it will send the wrong message to Pakistan, to India … to ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban," Carafano said. "You can see this is tough for Trump—it's tough because this president is a patriot and he wants what's best for the country."

Obama viewed every military and foreign-policy decision through "a political lens," Carafano said. "This president doesn't do that because he really wants to get it right. He inherited eight years of really crappy policy—nothing is working because it was crap for eight years."

He said he could see why Trump and others are frustrated with the long war in Afghanistan.

"This is taking longer than we want it too—but you only get this one time to get this decision right," he said.

Presidents should welcome intense debates among smart people with differing views on foreign policy, he said, lauding the depth of talent on Trump's advisory team.

"Bannon is talented, McMaster is talented, [senior adviser] Sebastian Gorka is talented," Carafano said. "The answer when you don't agree with something is not to get rid of the people. The answer is to force the team to beat out [their differences] and get to the right policy."

"The last thing this that this administration should do is listen to voices that you need to purge this person, and you need to purge that person," he said, referring to calls for McMaster's firing or transfer to head U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Carafano said he doesn't believe McMaster's recent shuffling of more conservative staffers with ties to either Stephen Bannon or former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was a "purging."

"People connect the dots they want to connect and create a narrative whether those dots are connected are not," he said. "I've only known H.R. since he was a cadet. I know his leadership style—military people have a way of building high-performing teams, of getting the right mix of individuals with the right talent set."

As the calls for McMaster's ouster erupted last week, Carafano and four other national security experts at the conservative Heritage Foundation wrote an essay titled "5 Reasons H.R. McMaster is the Right Leader for a Tough President."

Meanwhile, Trump loyalists said McMaster should be held responsible for the leaking of transcripts between Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia because it happened on his watch.

"A partial transcripts leak was done in March and now there's full transcripts that have been leaked out of the NSC—so he had a period of time when he knew this was a problem yet he didn't seal it—he didn't deal with it," Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, told the Washington Free Beacon. "He is the person who was the head of the division at the time. He's a military man so he's very much familiar the military holding [senior officers] accountable for what happens under their leadership."

Manning said Trump would have to live with any continued national security leaks and ramifications on his America First foreign policy that occur with McMaster at the helm if he continues to stand by him.

"If the president does not take some action against McMaster, given everything that's come out, then the president owns everything that he is doing," Manning said.

"The purge that's going on of Trump supporters out of the NSC—people have finally had enough and are starting to push back," he added.