The campaign to undermine H.R. McMaster may have backfired with its intended audience of one. Two former National Security Council members and some in conservative media tried to raise the alarm that the national security adviser has usurped Donald Trump on foreign policy. Late last night, the president made it clear that McMaster’s not going to go anywhere, and that Trump’s not buying into the attacks regardless of the source:
President Trump gave H.R. McMaster a vote of confidence after the national security adviser’s rivals seized on a letter McMaster sent to his Obama predecessor Susan Rice giving her continued access to classified information.
McMaster’s letter, which his supporters said was routine, was apparently leaked to imply that the Army lieutenant general was helping Trump’s enemies. McMaster’s feud with other powerful camps inside the White House has been well-documented, and a recent spate of firings by McMaster appears to have ratcheted up tensions. But Trump issued a statement late Friday supporting McMaster.
“General McMaster and I are working very well together,” the statement read. “He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”
Interestingly, the statement has yet to appear on the White House website. Nor has Trump tweeted about it, although he has yet to tweet about Jeff Sessions’ presser too, which is odd considering how much he publicly harangued the AG about prosecuting leakers. The statement as reported in the Fox story seems a little stiff and formal, too, as though someone wrote it for Trump for his approval. One has to see the calming hand of John Kelly in this development, the man on whom Trump now relies to lower the drama and get the administration back to business.
Still, Trump must have signed off on it, and the timing and one specific claim seem especially significant. The crescendo against McMaster was clearly intended to push the media-obsessed Trump into action, which worked — but not the way McMaster’s opponents hoped. The endorsement of McMaster’s pro-Israel stance is perhaps the strongest indication that Trump and his team want an end to the public attacks on McMaster, and that his critics may have overshot the hyperbole and conspiracy thinking. Painting him as an anti-Israel apologist for Islam was several bridges too far for any credibility.
One has to wonder now just what lies ahead for McMaster’s antagonists still remaining in the Trump administration. Instead of taking offense at McMaster’s supposed usurpation of his authority, Trump took credit for McMaster’s work and essentially put them in position of usurpers. The media-instigation tactic didn’t work, perhaps because it was soooooo obvious that Trump couldn’t help but see it coming … or Kelly, who’s likely to be another target of the tactic, explained it to the president. Get ready for a few more sudden departures over the next few weeks, unless they also suddenly make peace with McMaster.
Hugh Hewitt had a lengthy interview with the national security adviser this morning on Hugh’s new MSNBC show, covering a number of the same subjects on which McMaster was supposedly sideways with Trump. Contra the fever-swamp ramblings on McMaster, he’s no fan of the Iran deal, and tells Hugh no one should be surprised if Trump refuses to certify Tehran’s compliance in the near future, least of all the mullahocracy in charge there:
HH: Next review is in 90 days. Do you think the president is going to stay in the agreement 90 days?
HRM: Well, these reviews that come up every 90 days– these are internal reports to our Congress. And so they’re– they’re really two separate issues. Do we– do we certify that– that Iran is– is adhering to the deal? And we’re looking very hard at– at their adherence to it with– with our partners– and other signatories to– to the J.C.P.O.A. is what it’s called, the Iran nuclear deal. And then there– there’s also the question of whether or not you stay in the agreement, based on– on– on– on violations.
HH: Any prediction?
HRM: No– no– no predictions at all. I mean, we’re– we’re not prejudging this. We’re– we’re working hard at it every day. And we’re working hard on it as part of a broader approach to– to the problem of Iran, Iran’s destabilizing behavior, the humanitarian and political catastrophe they’re helping to perpetuate, along with, you know, the– those others responsible, including I.S.I.S.– and– and other ter– terrorist groups in the region. But I– I think Iran is behaving in a way that you could say is aimed at keeping the Arab world perpetually weak and enmeshed in conflict, so they can use this chaotic environment in the Middle East to advance their hegemonic aims. Their– their desire to– to dominate in the region.
HH: Should the Supreme Leader be surprised if the president withdraws from this agreement in the next six months, three months? Is it, would it be a shock to him?
HRM: You know, I don’t think it would be a shock to him or– or anybody, because the– the president has made clear that he will– he will judge whether or not Iran is– is sticking to this agreement based on the merits. And– and this president is not afraid to– to do what he sees is right for the security of the American people.
The biggest news out of this interview is how prepared Trump has become for a potential war on the Korean peninsula. A military freeze at this point is of no use, McMaster insists, because North Korea is already at the nuclear/ICBM “threshold.” The only option at this point is denuclearization, and we’re rapidly getting to a by any means necessary stage. McMaster even references the “just war doctrine” as part of their considerations:
HH: All right, let me switch if I can to North Korea, which is really pressing. And– and remind our audience, at the Aspen Institute ten days ago, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Joe Dunford, said, “There’s always a military– option. It would be horrific.” Lindsey Graham on Today Show earlier this week said– “We need to destroy the regime and their deterrent.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday, I believe, to North Korea, “You are leaving us no choice but to protect ourselves.” And then the Chairman of the Chief of Staff of the Army said, “Just because every choice is a bad choice doesn’t mean you don’t have to choose.” Are we looking at a preemptive strike? Are you trying to prepare us, you being collectively, the administration and people like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton for a first strike North Korea?
HRM: Well, we really, what you’re asking is– is are we preparing plans for a preventive war, right? A war that would prevent North Korea from threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon. And the president’s been very clear about it. He said, “He’s not gonna tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States.” Look at the (UNINTEL) for that regime if it– if– if they have nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States. It’s intolerable from the president’s perspective. So– so of course, we have to provide all options to do that. And– and that includes a military option. Now, would we like to resolve it short of what would be a very costly war, in terms of– in terms of the suffering of mainly the South Korean people? The– the ability of– of that North– North Korean regime to hold the South hostage to conventional fire’s capabilities, artillery and so forth, Seoul being so close. We’re cognizant of all of that. And so what we have to do is– is everything we can to– to pressure this regime, to pressure Kim Jong-un and those around him such that they conclude, it is in their interest to denuclearize. And there are really I think three critical things, came out of the president’s very successful summit with– President Xi of China that were different– that were different from past efforts to work with China, which has always been, you know, the– the desire, right, to work with China– on the– on the North Korean problem. The three things that came out of that are, first of all, that North Korea, Kim Jong-un s– armed with nuclear weapons is a threat not only to the United States, not only to our great allies, Japan and South Korea, but also to China. So that’s a big acknowledgement. The second thing was that– was that, we’re, the goal– the goal of working together with them cannot be the so-called “freeze for freeze.” Where we freeze our– our– our training and then they freeze their program. Because they’re at a threshold capability now. Freeze for freeze doesn’t work anymore. Right? It’s– it’s intolerable. So the goal is denuclearization of the– of the peninsula. That’s the second big thing. The third big thing that came out of it is, China acknowledged they have tremendous coercive economic influence here. They may not have a great political relationship with Kim Jong-un. I mean, who does these days, right? But– but they recognize that they do have a great deal of agency and control over that situation. And so we are prioritizing Secretary of State in the lead obviously, prioritizing an effort to work with the Chinese. As the president has said, as the president has tweeted, right? We– we also though have to be prepared to walk down a path that assumes not as much help from China as we would like. …
HH: How concerned should the American people be that we are actually on the brink of a war with North Korea?
HRM: Well, I think– I think it’s– it’s impossible to overstate the danger associated with this. Right, the, so I think it’s impossible to overstate the danger associated with a rogue, brutal regime, I mean, who murdered his own brother with nerve agent in a p– in– in an airport. I mean– I mean, think– think about what he’s done– in terms of his– his own brutal repression of not only members of his regime but his own family.
That’s not going to make the isolationists any happier, but it’s clearly in line with Trump’s public rhetoric. This interview makes it even more clear that Trump and McMaster are on the same page — for now, anyway. While last night’s personal endorsement of McMaster should make those waging a campaign against him very nervous, McMaster shouldn’t assume that his confidence is perpetual, either.