Thursday, August 03, 2017

It's Not Just Congress Pushing Back

National Security advisor, ret. gen. HR McMaster, has been busy with a bit of swamp draining in his own department.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the 31-year-old hired by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to serve as the senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council, was fired on Wednesday afternoon, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

 According to one source close to the White House, the decision comes from the current National Security Advisor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R McMaster, who is trying to root out the people at NSC connected to a controversial concept paper about how Trump was under attack from globalists and Islamists trying to destroy America. “It’s everyone who touched that concept paper,” the source told FP.

Rich Higgins, the reported author of the memo who was serving in the NSC’s strategic-planning office, was let go on July 21, the Atlantic reported Wednesday.

“General McMaster appreciates the good work accomplished in the NSC’s Intelligence directorate under Ezra Cohen’s leadership,” the White House statement said. “He has determined that, at this time, a different set of experiences is best-suited to carrying that work forward. General McMaster is confident that Ezra will make many further significant contributions to national security in another position in the administration.”

It can't be easy taking over the NSC from a conspiracy theorist like Mike Flynn who had seeded the top spots with like-minded conspiracy theorists.

The New York Times offers this:

The White House has engaged in a slow-motion purge of hard-line officials at the National Security Council in recent weeks, angering conservatives who complain that the foreign policy establishment is reasserting itself over a president who had promised a new course.

The NYT adds that Trump may be giving McMaster his own marching orders - to Afghanistan. Trump has been grumbling that America's current commander, Nicholson, is losing to the Taliban and should be fired. Trump's in-house generals disagree but sending McMaster to the dustbowl of Afghanistan would suit Steve Bannon perfectly.

Trump is not psychologically suited for wars such as Afghanistan, low-intensity conflicts that can take 30, even 40 years to conclude. That's hardly the milieu for a chief executive with the attentions span of a common fruit fly.  From Politico:

But the session of the National Security Council Principals Committee, described by two sources briefed on it as a “s*** show” that featured what a third source, a senior White House official, confirmed was a heated debate where “words were exchanged,” proved no more successful than months’ worth of previous Afghan policy debates.

Trump refused to sign off on the plan they approved, the sources said, instead sending it back to his national security team demanding more work. And on Tuesday, the president made clear just how dissatisfied he was. In what were pretty much his first public comments on Afghanistan during his six months in office, he told reporters before a White House lunch, “I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years.” On Thursday, headed into a Pentagon meeting, he was similarly cagey. Asked about more troops for Afghanistan, he replied only, “We’ll see.”

Trump’s equivocation reflects the difficulty of figuring out what to do about an unceasing war that is once again at an impasse without an influx of new troops. “We are not winning in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary James Mattis testified last month.

To close observers of the machinations of Trump world, it’s yet another indication that McMaster—a three-star general widely hailed as a brilliant choice when Trump picked him to replace the ousted Michael Flynn amid the escalating Russian scandal—is increasingly a national security adviser out of sync with his mercurial president. On key policy issues from Russia and NATO to the Iran deal, McMaster has recommended a more stay-the-course approach, only to find fierce pushback from Trump himself. The fight over what to do in Afghanistan has received far less attention than any of those controversies, but the months-long backstage battle suggests the same immovable object for McMaster on this as the other issues: a president who simply isn’t on board.


Owen Gray said...

Trump doesn't know how to spot good advice, Mound. He only understands flattery -- the kind directed solely towards him.

The Mound of Sound said...

Trump is a profoundly flawed human being, Owen. He destroyed his real estate empire once only to see it rescued by Russian capital that needed to be laundered.

The very notion of a 30-year war is beyond Trump's comprehension. It's one thing to criticize Bush Jr. and Obama for incompetence but now Trump owns the Afghan War and he doesn't like his options. As Obama discovered, there are no good options.

It's hard to imagine what an American "victory" in Afghanistan would even look like. Harper defined it as putting paid to the Taliban for all time and the establishment of civil, political and human rights for the Afghan people. I guess we didn't quite hit those marks.