WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump named Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster — considered to be one of the smartest strategists in the military today — as his national security adviser.
McMaster, who is known for speaking his mind even if it means going against the grain, is replacing already ousted adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned amid controversy over whether he withheld information from the administration following correspondence with Russia's ambassador.
A few years ago, one retired lieutenant general called McMaster the "21st-century Army’s preeminent warrior-thinker." And McMaster, who currently commands the Army Capabilities Integration Center, often quotes other famed military theorists like Carl von Clausewitz.
Brookings defense analyst Michael O’Hanlon told Defense News that he thought McMaster was an "absolutely brilliant choice," "a force of nature and a national treasure" and the "single most talented three-star in the U.S. military today."
But despite the praise, it was rumored McMaster was held back from a promotion for a time because of his outspoken nature. In an interview with McMaster, when asked if he was surprised to get his third-star, he said his current position and rank was the "bonus round."
But it appears McMaster is not done rising.
Even early on in his military career, his writing was noticed. The book he wrote as a young major — "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the lies that led to Vietnam" — is on the Marine Corps’ required reading list.
And even an after-action report McMaster penned following the Battle of 73 Easting was considered an epic piece of military writing — an account of what is considered to be the last great tank battle of the 20th century.
McMaster proved to be as much of a fighter as a writer during the battle. Under his command as captain of the 2nd Squadron, Eagle Troop, McMaster ordered nine of his M1 Abrams tank to line up and fire and within seconds had completely taken out the enemy.
He became a decorated veteran in both Iraq wars and got a shout-out from President George W. Bush in a State of the Union address.
McMaster has continued to be the wordsmith behind major Army doctrine and is credited for crafting the Army’s Operating Concept released in 2015. The general is known to be able to quote the concept word-for-word on countless speaking engagements and in interviews.
In a sense, he has done much to shape the Army and how it will fight in the future.
But what may be of more interest to Trump is McMaster’s recent experience spearheading an undisclosed study of Russia’s warfare capabilities following what the Army observed as stunning hybrid warfare tactics by the country against Ukraine. The study is said to be complete, but classified, and is likely to further influence how the Army moves forward in the future.
McMaster has also proved over time that he’s not scared to criticize the Army. He’s often said the service moves too slowly to replace aging capabilities — such as armored combat vehicles — and has offered up creative strategies to get around the sluggish pace of acquisition and tight budgets that have plagued the Army for many years.
The general has recently advocated strongly to prioritize close-combat capability, to find new ways to increase armor and protection for vehicles, and to develop capability to counter the rising drone threat.
McMaster has also said the current fight against the Islamic State and other conflicts in the region cannot be won simply by throwing ground troops at the problem but will require local governments and coalition partners to stabilize these countries and eradicate terrorist activity.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.