What LT. Gen. H.R. McMaster will offer as new national security adviser

Historians in the News
tags: national security adviser, HR McMaster

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It was 1997 when “Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam” by then-Captain H.R. McMaster, a new PhD from the University of North Carolina, hit the bookshelves. The history of the planning for and gradual escalation of war in Vietnam had been well covered by prominent and established authors, but their books were not what the Chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were reading in 1998. Then-COL David Petraeus, a mentor to McMaster, had given a copy to GEN Hugh Shelton, the Chairman and his boss at the time, who subsequently made it required reading for each of the service Chiefs. If the past is prologue, what may we learn from this study and its author, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, the new national security adviser?

Through research derived from newly declassified archives, McMaster's book exposed the painful bureaucratic (personality) politics and disconnect between civilian and military leaders that undermined American chances of success in Vietnam in the 1960s.

McMaster examines why civil-military relations — the cornerstone of military and national security policy — were at a the lowest point as President John F. Kennedy then Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy excluded military leaders while developing and executing their war strategy. 

In a scathing arraignment, McMaster illustrates how civilian leaders circumvented military officials; lied, prevaricated, and deceived their advisors; and deliberately withheld information from Congress and the American people about the Vietnam War strategy. The result was ill informed decision making that deferred to domestic influences over sound military policy. In the quagmire that was Vietnam, America lost 58,000 soldiers, with hundreds of thousands wounded and failed to keep Vietnam from falling under communist oppression.

But civilian leaders weren’t exclusively to blame. McMaster also assembled a portfolio of damning evidence against military leaders, who, knowing that Johnson and McNamara would accept nothing less than uncritical support, became “yes men,” rendering themselves impotent, even as they disagreed with the premise and direction of the war. McMaster illustrates how the gatekeeper, GEN Maxwell Taylor, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, deliberately misled the president about the views of the service Chiefs and in turn misled the Chiefs about the president’s intentions. Drawing from years’ of meeting notes, McMaster deftly shows that the military service Chiefs were silent accomplices. While these military leaders believed that civilian control of the military was “essential to Democracy,” they ultimately were unable to overcome service parochialism and agree on strategic objectives. All took the path of least resistance, in great part to keep their jobs, remaining deferential to Secretary of Defense McNamara and civilian leaders. ...

Read entire article at The Hill

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