There is an entire branch of Never Trump punditry built around cheering for or demanding the firing of officials in the Trump administration. A few months ago, it was Rex Tillerson who was being forced out. This was the same Rex Tillerson who allegedly had a “suicide pact” with Mattis and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that claimed if one of them was fired they would all quit. Then the #MeToo harpies wanted to run John Kelly out of office because he hired a guy who had been accused of domestic violence but had never been charged with or convicted of any offense. But no one has had more predictions of his demise that National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster.
H. R. McMaster was appointed National Security Adviser on February 20 of last year. He filled the smoking crater left by the implosion of Mike Flynn. McMaster was immediately targeted by just about everyone. The Flynn guys already ensconced in the NSC wanted him gone. A lot of the right wanted him gone because he was perceived to be a “neo-con” of some stripe. Democrats hated him because he’d served in the military.
The latest spate of rumors was driven by this NBC story White House preparing for McMaster exit as early as next month.
The White House is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser as early as next month in a move orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to five people familiar with the discussions.
The move would be the latest in a long string of staff shake-ups at the White House over the past year and comes after months of strained relations between the president and McMaster.
A leading candidate to become President Donald Trump’s third national security adviser is the auto industry executive Stephen Biegun, according to the officials.
There is literally nothing in this story that sounds believable. Anonymously sourced from “five people familiar with the discussions?” Srsly? And this was an NBC scoop? None of these folks talked to anyone else? Allegedly, McMaster was too hawkish on North Korea for either Mattis or Kelly. This simply doesn’t pass the smell test. Or because McMaster didn’t go along with Mattis on some issues. Neither of those pass the smell test. And the successor? Get real.
Anyway there was a lot of gleeful commenting on the subject by a lot of folks who couldn’t tell a three-star general from a three-star restaurant.
Yesterday, NSC spokesman Michael Anton weighed in on the kerfuffle.
The Trump administration batted down a new report on Thursday that national security adviser H.R. McMaster could be on his way out, with President Donald Trump telling a spokesman for the National Security Council that the article was “fake news.”
“I was just with President Trump and H.R. McMaster in the Oval Office,” the spokesman, Michael Anton, said in a statement provided to pool reporters. “President Trump said that the NBC News story is ‘fake news,’ and told McMaster that he is doing a great job.”
Raj Shah, the White House principal deputy press secretary, also cast doubt on reports of McMaster’s looming departure, telling pool reporters that the administration often dealt with “rumor and innuendo about senior administration officials.”
Today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke about it:
WH Press Secretary Sarah Sanders just told Fox News, "Look, General McMaster is not going anywhere. As the president said yesterday, in the Oval Office to a number of the people, he thinks he is doing a great job and glad he is here."
— DJ Judd (@DJJudd) March 2, 2018
Having said that, we can predict that McMaster will probably leave sometime this summer and will finally fulfill the prophecy.
The Army is very much an up-or-out organization. You get exactly one actual chance to get promoted in each grade, if you miss that opportunity then you are forced out. There are a few lucky souls who get picked up on their second look, but they, typically, are guys who have a hard to replace skill or they have had derogatory information in their file removed after appeal. Coupled with an iron clad limit of the number of officers in each grade based upon the total strength of the service, it creates a very competitive environment.
McMaster was commissioned from the US Military Academy in 1984. As a general officer has two critical gates in front of him. Unlike lesser grades, he doesn’t have a time-in-service cap. But he has to leave the Army at age 66. For him that is in 2028. So not a major issue. He has to leave the Army at five years in grade. He was promoted to lieutenant general in July 2014. This means that, by law, he has to retire no later than July 2019 unless he’s promoted. In practice, three stars who aren’t going to get promoted usually don’t get five years. They get a phone call from the Pentagon and are told that they need to make plans for a civilian career. I’d say that had McMaster not been national security adviser he would already have exceeded his use-by date.
There has been one other active duty lieutenant general to serve as national security adviser. That, of course, was Colin Powell who held the post under Reagan. Powell served from November 23, 1987 until January 20, 1989. A total of 14 months. McMaster reaches this point in April and I would be shocked if he is still around by July because the longer he stays away from the Army the greater his chances of being forced to retire. The only way he stays longer is if he does not get a fourth star and stays in this position until his mandatory retirement in 2019.
There are logical places for him. Vince Brooks, who commands US Force, Korea, has been in that position since April 2016. Virtually no one serves in that position longer than 26 months. If McMaster is going to get a fourth start this is the most likely place he’ll go. The situation there is not likely to get better and McMaster would be the ideal guy to have in command if war breaks out. Not only is he great combat commander but he has put together all the current planning for a war in North Korea. If not there, then there is a consolation prize available in the Futures Command which will be standing up sometime this year.
So eventually these stories will be right. But they will be right for all the wrong reasons.