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H.R. McMaster: The Prince to Petraeus’s King

Then Brigadier General H.R. McMaster (left) receives a bottle of scotch for his hard work. (Photo Credit to Mike Pryor and Wikimedia Commons)

“It’s so damn complex. If you ever think you have the solution to this, you’re wrong and you’re dangerous.” – H.R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty

In late 2007, General David Petraeus returned from Iraq to head up the Army’s general officer selection board. Among those up for promotion was Colonel H.R. McMaster, a West Point graduate with extensive combat command experience in Iraq whose doctoral thesis was later adapted to the widely acclaimed 1997 book Dereliction of Duty. McMaster had been passed over twice, and his career was in jeopardy because of it. It was widely suspected that he had been passed over because of how critical Dereliction of Duty had been of military and civilian leadership. But McMaster had impressed Petraeus in combat and had worked closely with him in recent years, and McMaster was promoted to Brigadier General, likely thanks to the presence of his mentor.

McMaster graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1984 near the top of his class. He commissioned as an Armor Officer, serving in various units in Texas and Germany. In 1991, then-Captain McMaster commanded an armored cavalry troop in the Gulf War; at the Battle of 73 Easting, the nine tanks of McMaster’s troop were involved in the destruction of 80 Iraqi tanks—McMaster was awarded a Silver Star accordingly.

After the Gulf War, McMaster studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a PhD in military history. For his doctoral thesis, McMaster researched what he viewed as the failures of the Johnson administration and the military Joint Chiefs of Staff in the execution of the Vietnam War, ultimately resulting in Dereliction of Duty. McMaster’s other assignments during this time included a tenure teaching military history at West Point and studies at the Army Command and General Staff College.

McMaster remained busy during the early 2000’s. He commanded an armored unit, held various positions at Central Command (including some that were involved in planning the Iraq War), attended the Army War College, and completed a research fellowship at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

In 2004 McMaster deployed to Iraq, where he came to the attention of David Petraeus after his regiment defeated insurgents in Tal Afar. In 2006, McMaster turned over command of the unit, and he went to another research fellowship at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. At the same time, he worked with Petraeus in the development of the counterinsurgency strategy that would be instituted in the 2007 Iraq surge.

Following promotion to brigadier general, McMaster served in various training, development, and deployed positions with distinction, vindicating Petraeus’ faith in him. In 2014, McMaster was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People.

When Michael Flynn stepped down as National Security Advisor, one of the leading candidates to fill the slot was David Petraeus. Petraeus had also been mentioned as a candidate for Secretary of State, but once again he was precluded from serious consideration due to his baggage (e.g. being on parole for mishandling classified information). In McMaster, Trump has made an incredibly smart choice. He cannot have Petraeus in his administration, therefore he has chosen a man who has been under Petraeus’ wing for years, and who has the potential to surpass Petraeus as one of the great military thinkers of our time, and who could easily follow in the footsteps of former National Security Advisor Colin Powell, and in doing so rise to the top ranks of the military and beyond.

— Christopher Lipscomb is a freshman studying international affairs. He is a regular contributor to THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.