NBC: Five sources say White House preparing to replace McMaster as NSA

If you were going to bet on anyone as the next White House departure, you’d bet on McMaster. The media’s been reporting on his personality clashes with Trump since the day he took the job.

But … Kelly and Mattis teaming up against him? They’re supposed to be his allies in the West Wing!

The White House is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser as early as next month in a move orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to five people familiar with the discussions…

[A] source close to Mattis said the Pentagon chief assured Kelly that he would offer McMaster a graceful landing, either another three-star job in the Army or even a promotion to a four-star general.

Defense officials would not speculate on what job McMaster could take in the Army, but two possible options are taking over for Gen. Vincent Brooks at U.S. Forces Korea or becoming the first commander of the new U.S. Army Future’s Command, which will focus on modernizing the force.

Whispers that the knives were out for McMaster in the White House began within three months of him becoming NSA and persisted long after. Among his greatest hits — allegedly! — over the past year:

— He pushed for “tens of thousands” of U.S. ground troops in Syria and Iraq to finish off ISIS;
— He told foreign officials that he disagreed with Trump’s approach to Russia;
— He canned two Bannon loyalists on the National Security Council, part of his running foreign-policy feud with Bannon;
— He supposedly mocked Trump’s intelligence at a private dinner with a CEO;
— He touted Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians as “incontrovertible” evidence of the Kremlin’s interference during 2016, earning a public rebuke from Trump.

That’s a lot of agita for 12 months of service, but the list isn’t exhaustive. McMaster begged Trump not to refer to “radical Islamic terrorism” in his first speech to Congress. Trump ignored him. When Trump addressed the NATO summit last year, the draft of his remarks approved by McMaster explicitly reaffirmed America’s commitment to Article 5. The remarks Trump ended up delivering, however, did not, catching McMaster off-guard. Even McMaster’s no-nonsense personal style in briefings seemed to rub Trump the wrong way.

Politico reported a few weeks ago that Trump and Kelly had discussed pushing him out in November but held off, not wanting to have to go hunting for a third NSA in less than a year. McMaster’s been on the job for a year now, though, so the axe is finally set to fall. As for why Kelly and Mattis are suddenly anti-McMaster, Politico had a clue about that too:

Trump has continuously chafed at McMaster’s “rat-a-tat” briefing style, according to a senior White House aide, who likened it to machine-gun fire. The president at one point gestured toward the general in the midst of a lengthy briefing and said to others in the room, “Look at this guy, he’s so serious!”…

Perhaps even more problematic for McMaster, though, is that he has also run afoul of Kelly, who routinely looks for advice from Defense Secretary James Mattis, whom he served under in the Iraq War. McMaster has at times sided with the more conservative members of the president’s national security team and against Mattis and Kelly.

It’s one thing to alienate Trump, who’ll tolerate employees he disdains (right, Jeff?), but alienate Kelly and you’re staring at unemployment.

I’m not sure what “conservative” means in Politico’s excerpt, but presumably it means McMaster is more hawkish than Kelly and Mattis are. If so, that would explain who Kelly’s reportedly looking at as the next NSA: Stephen Biegun, a Bush 43 alumnus and Condi Rice protege on the National Security Council. According to NBC it was Rice herself who introduced Biegun to Mattis, getting his foot in the door. Rice, of course, ended up as Secretary of State under Bush and was a voice for diplomacy in Dubya’s second term contra the more hawkish Cheneyites. A somewhat more diplomatic NSA might be a better fit for Kelly and Mattis than McMaster is.