His second choice, Robert Harward, refused the position for numerous reasons, including the chaotic nature of the White House administration. For his third and final pick, Trump didn’t take any chances, appointing an active-duty general who couldn’t refuse his request.
The announcement was made Monday at Trump’s private-member club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. Trump had spent the weekend there, interviewing potential candidates for the role.
“He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” Trump said with McMaster sitting next to him. “I watched and read a lot over the last two days. He is highly respected by everyone in the military, and we’re very honored to have him.”
Retired Gen. Michael Flynn resigned from the job after just 25 days, when it was revealed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador about sanctions. Trump then offered the job to 40-year military veteran Harward, but he turned it down.
McMaster is a veteran of numerous military conflicts — including the Gulf War, the second Iraq war and Afghanistan — but he has little experience of day-to-day politics in Washington. Time magazine named McMaster among its 100 most influential people of 2014, saying he “might be the 21st century Army’s pre-eminent warrior-thinker.”
Besides having a decorated military career, McMaster is seen as a scholar, completing a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina between tours of duty in Iraq.
Andrew Exum, who has known McMaster for a decade, said: “The president’s selection of H.R. McMaster to be his new national security adviser is unambiguously good news. The United States, and the world, are safer for his decision.”
John McCain, who has been one of Trump’s biggest critics, welcomed the announcement, saying McMaster “is a man of genuine intellect, character, and ability.” The Republican senator went on to give Trump “great credit” for his choice. “I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now,” McCain said.
Throughout his career, McMaster has never been shy to voice his criticism when he believes it is warranted. As a young officer, he came to prominence when he criticized the Joint Chiefs of Staff over their actions in the Vietnam War in his 1997 book “Dereliction of Duty” — which is currently at the top of Amazon’s best-seller list. Later he also berated President George W. Bush’s administration for how it handled the war in Iraq.
Among the first challenges McMaster will face is in dealing with the fallout from the controversy caused by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, and the ongoing investigations into links between the Trump administration and Russia.
On Monday, the New York Times revealed how a peace plan for Russia and Ukraine was conceived by people within Trump’s inner circle, including his lawyer Michael Cohan; Felix Sater, an associate with alleged Mafia links; and Paul Manafort, who previously managed Trump’s election campaign and has pro-Russian ties.
Among the other candidates in the running was Keith Kellogg, who took over as acting national security adviser after the resignation of Michael Flynn last week. Kellogg has now been appointed to serve as the National Security Council chief of staff.
Others interviewed by Trump in Florida this weekend were Robert Caslen, the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and career diplomat John Bolton, whom Trump said would serve in the government “in another capacity.”