But the president’s hesitation is also, according to multiple current and former senior U.S. officials I’ve spoken with in recent days, a striking vote of no-confidence in his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who has been trying and failing for months to sell the president on a new plan for Afghanistan.
McMaster has made a major policy review of America’s long, failed war there his personal mission, according to the sources, and he pushed hard to get a new strategy that would include the relatively modest troop increases and a commitment to at least another four-year timeline approved in advance of Trump’s May summit with NATO allies.
But instead, the sources said, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson teamed up with Mattis to block McMaster’s initial version, which they believed Trump and political advisers wary of the war, notably chief strategist Steve Bannon, would not support without clearer markers of success. “Tillerson says, ‘I’m not selling this to the president,’” a senior administration official who was present recalled. “They believed McMaster was not reading the West Wing very well,” added another former senior U.S. official briefed on the process.