Anti-Trump forces expecting another insider’s tale on how awful the president is will be disappointed by retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
He served as President Trump’s national security advisor for one year, from early in 2017 to April 2018. It was a critical time in the emerging White House: Mr. Trump wanted to explore new relations with two despots, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, while abandoning former President Barack Obama’s hallmark Iran nuclear deal.
Gen. McMaster’s immediate successor, John Bolton, just finished the media rounds of his thorough trashing of Mr. Trump in “The Room Where It Happened.”
Gen. McMaster, a career strategist/warrior, takes a broader world view in “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World,” which debuted Tuesday. It’s not “kiss and tell.” There is no obsessive Trump psychoanalysis or tales of a dysfunctional White House.
The three-star Army general remained on active duty to serve Mr. Trump. It was his last post, winding up a career that saw him gain recognition as a young officer for writing a book, “Dereliction of Duty,” about President Lyndon Johnson’s lies that sold the Vietnam War to the American public. As a colonel, he led soldiers in 2005 to in close-in combat to capture towns in northern Iraq.
“Battlegrounds” disputes the regular Democratic Party/liberal media line that Mr. Trump is a Russian agent and Mr. Putin has “something on him.” This is a favorite refrain of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
Gen. McMaster writes that Mr. Trump’s administration was not the first to try to find common ground with the Kremlin. (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Russia “reset” produced gains for Mr. Putin, such as Silicon Valley helping him enhance a cyber village outside Moscow to develop new computer software.)
Though Mr. Trump kept up his friendly rhetoric toward the Putin regime, in practice Washington stayed firm.
“Finally, Russian efforts to convince the Trump administration to lift economic sanctions in 2017 failed as the administration instead sanctioned more than one hundred individuals and companies in response to Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine,” Gen. McMaster writes.
Gen. McMaster said the idea of a workable direct line of communication with Mr. Putin didn’t pan out. So the national security team focused on his national security adviser, Nikolai Patruschev.
“During my conversation with Patrushev, I joked that Russia’s efforts to divide Americans and meddle in our election made the imposition of severe sanctions on Russia the only subject that united Congress,” Gen. McMaster writes. “In fact, the first major foreign policy legislation to emerge from the U.S. Congress after President Trump took office was a sanctions bill on Russia, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which passed in the Senate in a 98-2 vote after flying through the House …”
Gen. McMaster addresses the Trump-Russia agent claim: “While some speculated that President Trump sometimes appeared to be an apologist for Russia and Mr. Putin because the Kremlin was extorting him with damaging evidence of business improprieties or embarrassing personal conduct, Trump’s over-optimism about improving Russian relations fit a pattern of optimism bias and wishful thinking across two previous administrations.”
Gen. McMaster applies the same tag to former Mr. Obama.
“Over-optimism led to complacency as the Obama administration pursued a Russia policy based on its hopes to work with the Kremlin rather than the needs to deter and defend against Russian aggression,” the general writes. “Those hopes soon vanished when Russia annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, intervened in Syria, hacked the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and attacked the 2016 presidential election.”
Mr. Obama’s tactical mistake was to whisper to then-President Dmitry Medvedev on a “hot mike” to tell Mr. Putin he would have “more flexibility” after the 2012 election. During the campaign, he mocked Republican nominee Mitt Romney for labeling Russia the U.S.’ chief geopolitical foe.
Gen. McMaster exposes Mr. Putin’s “unreciprocated efforts” toward Mr. Trump by noting, during the 2018 Helsinki summit, the former KGB officer’s response to a reporter’s question about “compromising material” on the real estate mogul during his 2013 visit to Moscow.
“Well, distinguished colleague, let me tell you this, when President Trump was in Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow,” Mr. Putin said. “I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.”
Gen. McMaster calls Mr. Putin’s non-answer “KGB subterfuge.”
Gen. McMaster says the Kremlin’s skill at creating fake personalities to attack Mrs. Clinton was turned on him during his National Security Council days. And the “bots” ignited the “alt right” to attack him.
“The NSC staff and I became objects of a new facet of the Kremlin’s sustained campaign of political subversion,” he writes. “Building on the vitriolic political discourse on social media surrounding Donald Trump and his new administration, Russian intelligence agents employed many of the same bots, trolls, and American accomplices it had used during the 2016 presidential election in an effort to undermine the effectiveness of the U.S. government. Members of the NSC staff, especially those who did not possess last names of northern European origin, were slandered and harassed on social media.”
He adds: “The alt-right, like the Russians, saw me as an obstacle to advancing its agenda, so it collaborated using social media under the ‘#FireMcMaster campaign.’”
Perhaps it was Gen. McMaster’s assurances to an international gathering in February 2018 that Russia surely interfered in the 2016 election that prompted his exit two months later.
Mr. Trump tweeted, “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems.”
This week, however, Mr. Trump became a McMaster fan as his former adviser defended his Russia moves during an interview with Joe Scarborough on MSNBC.
“Our wonderful General blew up Scarborough’s FAKE two year narrative,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Thank you General H.R. McMaster. Look forward to reading your book, “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.”