Col. Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster on progress in Iraq

posted at 5:39 pm on May 28, 2008 by Allahpundit

If you don’t recognize the name, that’s not wholly your fault. He’s probably the most celebrated example in the entire military of a deserving commander being passed over for promotion — twice — for what appears to be political reasons. By way of an intro you can do worse than the pithy summary at the Bush-hating Third Way site: “Now you may be thinking, wasn’t it H.R. McMaster that led the pacification of Tal Afar, an operation so successful that Bush devoted an entire speech to it just last year? Didn’t I read about McMaster’s brilliant strategy in a long New Yorker piece about him? Wasn’t it McMaster who won a Silver Star in the Gulf War, leading troops so bravely and well that Tom Clancy wrote it up? And surely it was McMaster who’s PhD dissertation became a hugely influential book, Dereliction of Duty, that the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs made required reading for senior military types?” Indeed it was, and yet he remains a colonel instead of a general despite his mastery of counterinsurgency and advisory role to Petraeus because, in all likelihood, “Dereliction of Duty” succeeds too well in challenging the complacency that characterizes some of the brass in charge of promotions.

All of which is a long way of saying that this is a guy who very much knows what he’s talking about and is respected as such on both sides of the aisle, which should be all the lead-in you need to the transcript of his observations two weeks ago at an AEI seminar about progress in Iraq. It’s sufficiently long that I don’t want to discourage you from diving in by prattling on here; you can safely skip the last 40% or so, if that’s any inducement, but at least read his list of the 10 things that have changed in Iraq over the last year, which you’ll find near the beginning, and his account of what Iran’s up to, which comes shortly after the halfway point. Quote:

[T]his sometimes happens in the media when you see the word “alleged” in front of when you know in line of Iranian activity, I was just want to say, come on, man. Because you know if I was, as an Army Colonel to say something, to make a statement about that, there would always be some sort of effort to confirm what I’m saying.

In the case of what Iran is doing in Iraq, it is so damn obvious to anybody who wants to look into it, I think, that is drop the word “alleged” and say what they’re doing, which is, we know for a fact organizing and directing operations against the government of Iraq and against our forces.

Pay particular attention in his ten-point list to his explanation of the cascade effect between Al Qaeda, the Shiite militias, and popular support among Iraqis. The left has always strained to minimize AQI’s role in Iraq in order to delegitimize the war: Sometimes that takes the form of arguing that they’re not “real” Al Qaeda like Osama’s gang in Pakistan, other times it means emphasizing that they’re only a small part of the wider Sunni insurgency. McMaster’s point is that, small or not, their attacks on Shiites are what created the need for militias to protect Shiite neighborhoods, which in turn boosted the militias’ popularity, which in turn gave Iran an opportunity to cultivate the militias to its own end. Take away Al Qaeda and you take away the security pretext, which leaves the militias with nothing to do but prey on the Shiite locals, which destroys their popularity, which leaves Iran hamstrung. Exit quotation: “When I traveled through the south on a last couple of visits, what I heard — and this is again on the point of militias being increasingly discredited, and this is from Iraqi Shiite leaders who were saying things like Iran is the true occupier of Iraq.” Go read.

Update: Aha. I missed the news somehow, but as of two weeks ago, Col. McMaster is now Brig. Gen. McMaster. That’s a very good sign of the Army getting its strategic priorities in order.

Update: Please note that audio and video are available in the sidebar at the AEI site in case you want to settle in with this.

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Good-now we should declare victory and grab some oil.

Valiant on May 28, 2008 at 5:41 PM

Eh. Just another nobody Obama doesn’t need to meet with.

Chuck Schick on May 28, 2008 at 5:46 PM

For many of us in the service, McMasters getting his star was like Scorcese finally winning his Best Director Oscar. Long overdue and we cheered along…

It took General Petraeus’ appointment to the selection board to make it happen though. Peacetime leaders make awful wartime leaders, McMasters was swimming upstream against a current of peacetime bureaucrats who wouldn’t/couldn’t understand that small wars are the name of the game now.

Actually, they always were. Look out our history, and 80% of our fights have been small wars/insurgencies.

Anyway, tangential. When McMasters talks, listen. He’s one of the best COIN brains we’ve got.

John from OPFOR on May 28, 2008 at 5:50 PM

Wasn’t McMaster one of those just recommended for promotion to general by Petreaus ?

tomk59 on May 28, 2008 at 5:51 PM

The list isn’t officially out yet, but McMaster is getting his star.

NPP on May 28, 2008 at 5:54 PM

My son would walk barefoot through hell for the man. Those credentials are good enough for me.

He made the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment into one crack outfit. The politicians better hope they don’t run into him at a cocktail party.

Limerick on May 28, 2008 at 6:02 PM

Here’s the mp3 of the program:

its 114 minutes long.

Vincenzo on May 28, 2008 at 6:07 PM

i fit doesn’t work, go to the story page, right click the audio link on the top right, and save it to your pc. then open it.

Vincenzo on May 28, 2008 at 6:07 PM

What we have seen is a result of people stopping shooting each other, which is the first step in getting people to talk to each other, I guess.

See? Obama is right again!

Tony737 on May 28, 2008 at 6:07 PM

NPP on May 28, 2008 at 5:54 PM

I certainly hope you’re right. The politics involved in the promotions of senior officers, and the gross favoritism shown by the military’s so-called leaders, is utterly disgraceful.

DrMagnolias on May 28, 2008 at 6:08 PM

If you don’t recognize the name, that’s not wholly your fault.

Yes it most certainly is, as on this very web site I have several times, for at least the past month, been hawking his book “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam” as well as commenting on his being twice passed over for promotion.

MB4 on May 28, 2008 at 6:13 PM

Here’s the mp3 of the program:

Vincenzo on May 28, 2008 at 6:07 PM

Bless you! I printed it to read tonight (38 pages) but this way I can take it in during my drive home.

RushBaby on May 28, 2008 at 6:15 PM

Yet before the start of the Iraq war and during the early stages of the fighting, the Joint Chiefs once again [as they did in Vietnam] fell silent. Justin Rosenbaum, the captain at Fort Knox who asked General Cody whether any generals would be held accountable for the failures in Iraq, said he was disturbed by this parallel between the two wars. “We’ve read the McMaster book,” he said. “It’s startling that we’re repeating the same mistakes.”

McMaster’s own fate has reinforced these apprehensions. President Bush has singled out McMaster’s campaign at Tal Afar as a model of successful strategy. Gen. David Petraeus, now commander of United States forces in Iraq, frequently consults with McMaster in planning his broader counterinsurgency campaign. Yet the Army’s promotion board — the panel of generals that selects which few dozen colonels advance to the rank of brigadier general — has passed over McMaster two years in a row.

McMaster’s nonpromotion has not been widely reported, yet every officer I spoke with knew about it and had pondered its implications. One colonel, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to risk his own ambitions, said: “Everyone studies the brigadier-general promotion list like tarot cards — who makes it, who doesn’t. It communicates what qualities are valued and not valued.”
– Fred Kaplan

MB4 on May 28, 2008 at 6:20 PM

I’m glad Petraeus has been able to influence who gets stars, so that we can start to shake up the existing “entrenched management” at the Pentagon

apollyonbob on May 28, 2008 at 6:23 PM

Congrats General. To think, I knew you when you wuz just a captain, and I was a punk E-5. Too many years, just too many…

jcon96 on May 28, 2008 at 6:25 PM

haha I just noticed this quote:

Instead of fighting over the existing pieces of the pie, that this pie could get very big as Iraq realizes that it controls some significant resources that it can use to address the needs of their population and to grow the kind of society that want in the future.

The Iraqis get it! Now if only Obama understood that concept.

apollyonbob on May 28, 2008 at 6:27 PM

Update: Aha. I missed the news somehow, but as of two weeks ago, Col. McMaster is now Brig. Gen. McMaster. That’s a very good sign of the Army getting its strategic priorities in order.

Of course the big problem is, how many others who deserved promotion, just not as obviously so as McMaster, and still will not get it, and may in fact already have left the Army, and how many others got promoted instead of them?

MB4 on May 28, 2008 at 6:30 PM

“[Gains that there have been in Iraq are] fragile and reversible.”
– General Petraeus

“We haven’t turned any corners, we haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator.”
– General Petraeus

Doesn’t this sis-boom-bah Yon guy have the first clue as to how much he is sharpshooting General Petraeus? He sure doesn’t seem to.

MB4 on May 22, 2008 at 12:07 PM

Is this the same MB4??

Are you bipolar or just an idiot???

BigWyo on May 28, 2008 at 6:33 PM

BigWyo on May 28, 2008 at 6:33 PM

No he does that all the time, it is his way of getting attention.

right2bright on May 28, 2008 at 7:18 PM

Is this the same MB4??

Yes it is the very same one, but then you at least knew that much I hope. Do you have some kind of problem with General Petraeus?

Are you bipolar or just an idiot???

BigWyo on May 28, 2008 at 6:33 PM

Is your mind completely vacuous or are you just not capable of engaging in anything above childish-name calling?

No he does that all the time, it is his way of getting attention.

right2bright on May 28, 2008 at 7:18 PM

Also vacuous and/or childish name-calling. You too must try to do better.

MB4 on May 28, 2008 at 7:36 PM

I salute Gen. McMaster, my namesake, and who knows, a relative! I will have to check into this as I’d not heard of him before now. Then again, my family has fought in basically every war since and including the revolution.

sMack on May 28, 2008 at 11:02 PM

Glad to see my old HI-302 (History of the Military Art 1914 to present) professor is getting his star.

In defense of the Army promotion system, McMaster has been flying through promotions. Leveling out at O-6 for a bit is not the worst thing after getting picked up below the zone twice in a row.

BohicaTwentyTwo on May 28, 2008 at 11:03 PM

Nice. Good to see that rewards come to those who deserve them, even if it takes awhile.

Delayed gratification is a sign of maturity, right? ;)

Biffstir on May 29, 2008 at 12:57 AM


Makes sense that McMaster was below the zone. After all, being awarded the Silver Star for 73 Easting is a big deal. Add to that the Ph.D and the Tal Afar success, he should have been selected sooner.

AP, as far as titles go, I believe it is Col.(P) McMaster. No star yet.

The Opinionator on May 29, 2008 at 4:44 PM