H.R. McMaster: Historian passed over for promotion in the army

Historians in the News
tags: HR McMaster

[The claim that H.R. McMaster, the historian-soldier, has been passed over for promotion in the army has surfaced in the mainstream media for the first time in an article by Fred Kaplan, the national security reporter for Slate. The claim appears in Kaplan's article in the current issue of the NYT Magazine about Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, author of a devastating critique of the leadership of the army during the Iraq War published in May by the Armed Forces Journal. Yingling argues that generals have let down the rest of the army by failing to challenge civilian leaders. Yingling, who earned his experience in Iraq at Tal Afar, is now at the center of a debate about army reform. Kaplan links Yingling's fate to that of H.R. McMaster.]

... Yingling’s commander at Tal Afar, H. R. McMaster, documented a similar crisis [of confidence in the armys's leadership] in the case of the Vietnam War. Twenty years after the war, McMaster wrote a doctoral dissertation that he turned into a book called “Dereliction of Duty.” It concluded that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1960s betrayed their professional obligations by failing to provide unvarnished military advice to President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara as they plunged into the Southeast Asian quagmire. When McMaster’s book was published in 1997, Gen. Hugh Shelton, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ordered all commanders to read it — and to express disagreements to their superiors, even at personal risk. Since then, “Dereliction of Duty” has been recommended reading for Army officers.

Yet before the start of the Iraq war and during the early stages of the fighting, the Joint Chiefs once again fell silent. Justin Rosenbaum, the captain at Fort Knox who asked General Cody whether any generals would be held accountable for the failures in Iraq, said he was disturbed by this parallel between the two wars. “We’ve read the McMaster book,” he said. “It’s startling that we’re repeating the same mistakes.”

McMaster’s own fate has reinforced these apprehensions. President Bush has singled out McMaster’s campaign at Tal Afar as a model of successful strategy. Gen. David Petraeus, now commander of United States forces in Iraq, frequently consults with McMaster in planning his broader counterinsurgency campaign. Yet the Army’s promotion board — the panel of generals that selects which few dozen colonels advance to the rank of brigadier general — has passed over McMaster two years in a row.

McMaster’s nonpromotion has not been widely reported, yet every officer I spoke with knew about it and had pondered its implications. One colonel, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to risk his own ambitions, said: “Everyone studies the brigadier-general promotion list like tarot cards — who makes it, who doesn’t. It communicates what qualities are valued and not valued.” A retired Army two-star general, who requested anonymity because he didn’t want to anger his friends on the promotion boards, agreed. “When you turn down a guy like McMaster,” he told me, “that sends a potent message to everybody down the chain. I don’t know, maybe there were good reasons not to promote him. But the message everybody gets is: ‘We’re not interested in rewarding people like him. We’re not interested in rewarding agents of change.’ ”...

Read entire article at Fred Kaplan in the NYT Magazine

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