H.R. McMaster Takes a Dive

Historians in the News
tags: Trump, HR McMaster

Jack Shafer is POLITICO's senior media writer. Previously, Jack wrote a column about the press and politics for Reuters and before that worked at Slate as a columnist and as the site's deputy editor.

National security scholar Erin Simpson spoke for the Pentagon press corps and the principled legions inside the U.S. military yesterday when she tweeted, “HR you’re breaking my heart.”

H.R. McMaster—the national security adviser and the object of her heartbreak—had gone to a White House lectern not once but twice to cover for President Donald Trump, who had gotten busted Monday by the Washington Post for shooting off his mouth about highly classified terrorist threats to visiting Russian dignitaries. McMaster’s ham-fisted attempts at Trump damage control—never have the words “non-denial denial” been more apt—did nothing to persuade close readers of the Post story that the president hadn’t wandered off the reservation and fallen into a bottomless crevice from which there is no rescue.

Had anybody but McMaster tried to make the ridiculous case that Trump had done nothing wrong, the press corps would have pilloried him. The next installment of Saturday Night Live would parody him. Instead, the press has been filled with more than sorrow than anger for the bald-pated lieutenant general, writing as if they had just witnessed a scene from a Shakespeare tragedy where a military leader has chosen duty over honor.

Everybody expected more of him. McMaster, after all, was the one who wrote the bookDereliction of Duty—on how a senior officer should not bend in serving the truth to the powerful. President Lyndon Johnson “was lying, and he expected the [Joint Chiefs of Staff] to lie as well or, at least, to withhold the whole truth,” he wrote critically. He had garnered respect from troops and pressies alike for his independent mind. Now here he was, the most prominent officer of his generation giving up his soul, playing the role of apologist, if you want to be polite about it, or the liar, if you don’t, for the scoundrel Trump. In the Atlantic, former State Department Counselor Eliot A. Cohen wrote in sorrow of how McMaster (as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell) were advancing “the kind of parsed half truths that are as bad, and in some cases worse” than lies, predicting that the moment may come soon that “these high officials can no longer recognize their own characters for what they once were.” ...

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