PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump appointed Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster as his new national security adviser on Monday, picking a widely respected military strategist known for challenging conventional thinking and helping to turn around the Iraq war in its darkest days.
Mr. Trump made the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he interviewed candidates over the holiday weekend to replace Michael T. Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Vice President Mike Pence about a call with Russia’s ambassador.
Unlike Mr. Flynn, who served as a campaign adviser last year, General McMaster has no links to Mr. Trump and is not thought of as being as ideological as the man he will replace. A battle-tested veteran of both the Persian Gulf war and the second Iraq war, General McMaster is considered one of the military’s most independent-minded officers, sometimes at a cost to his own career.
The selection encouraged Republicans who admire General McMaster and waged a behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade Mr. Trump to select him. Key to the choice was Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Army veteran who once served under General McMaster and suggested him to the White House. A coterie of other national security conservatives, including a top aide to Senator John McCain of Arizona, also lobbied for him, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has worked with General McMaster, encouraged him to take the job.
Lt Gen HR McMaster is outstanding choice for nat'l security advisor – man of genuine intellect, character & ability https://t.co/rYmJm00Xdf
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 20, 2017
“He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” Mr. Trump told reporters as General McMaster, wearing his uniform, sat 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.”
The choice continued Mr. Trump’s reliance on high-ranking military officers to advise him on national security. Mr. Flynn is a retired three-star general and Mr. Mattis a retired four-star general. John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, is a retired Marine general. Mr. Trump’s first choice to replace Mr. Flynn, Robert S. Harward, who turned down the job, and two other finalists were current or former senior officers as well. General McMaster will remain on active duty.
General McMaster had the aura of disruption that Mr. Trump has valued in several cabinet secretaries, said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to describe internal deliberations. Another candidate, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, the superintendent of West Point, impressed Mr. Trump as being “from central casting,” the official said. But the president wanted him to stay at West Point, which he reveres.
General McMaster, 54, made a name for himself as a young officer with a searing critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their performance during the Vietnam War and later criticized the way President George W. Bush’s administration went to war in Iraq.
As a commander, he was credited with demonstrating how a counterinsurgency strategy could defeat militants in Iraq, demonstrating the promise of an approach that Gen. David H. Petraeus adopted to shift momentum in a war the United States was on the verge of losing.
Stocky, smart and soft-spoken with a sense of humor, General McMaster, for all his war-making experience, has little background in navigating Washington politics, which could be a challenge for him in his new role with a fractious national security team to corral.
His task now will be to take over a rattled and demoralized National Security Council apparatus that bristled at Mr. Flynn’s leadership and remains uncertain about its place in the White House given the foreign policy interests of Stephen K. Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman who is the president’s chief strategist.
Meeting with Generals at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Very interesting!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Feb. 20, 2017