National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has fired three staff members in recent weeks. The three are Ezra Cohen-Watnick, senior director for intelligence; Derek Harvey, the NSC’s top Middle East adviser; and Rich Higgins, director for strategic planning. All three were aligned with Steve Bannon.
Neither the Standard nor the Times reports on any ideological content to purge. Both treat it as a power struggle between McMaster and Steve Bannon, with the Times throwing in a Michael Flynn angle.
Is there an ideological component to the purge? There appears to be.
To get at the question, we should start by asking how many Obama holdovers McMaster has sacked. If, as I understand to be the case, there has been no purge of Obama holdovers, this would suggest that McMaster is comfortable with Obama-era national security policy, or at least more comfortable with it than he is with the national security policy President Trump campaigned on.
There are strong indications that this is so. Specifically, it may be that McMaster’s views on Israel and Iran are more in line with Obama’s than with Trump’s.
Caroline Glick makes this argument. She writes:
The Israel angle on McMaster’s purge of Trump loyalists from the National Security Council is that all of these people are pro-Israel and oppose the Iran nuclear deal, positions that Trump holds.
I think this is indisputable.
McMaster in contrast is deeply hostile to Israel. . .According to senior officials aware of his behavior, he constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews.
Many of you will remember that a few days before Trump’s visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisers were blindsided when the Americans suddenly told them that no Israeli official was allowed to accompany Trump to the Western Wall. What hasn’t been reported is that it was McMaster who pressured Trump to agree not to let Netanyahu accompany him to the Western Wall. . . .
And even that. . .wasn’t sufficient for McMaster. He pressured Trump to cancel his visit to the Wall and only visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial — ala the Islamists who insist that the only reason Israel exists is European guilt over the Holocaust.
If any of this is true, it is deeply disturbing.
Who does McMaster favor over the pro-Israel loyalists he has canned? According to Glick::
[McMaster] fires all of Trump’s loyalists and replaces them with Trump’s opponents, like Kris Bauman, an Israel hater and Hamas supporter who McMaster hired to work on the Israel-Palestinian desk. He allows anti-Israel, pro-Muslim Brotherhood, pro-Iran Obama people like Robert Malley to walk around the NSC and tell people what to do and think. He has left Ben Rhodes’ and Valerie Jarrett’s people in place.
If true, this is distressing.
What about Iran? Glick notes that McMaster supports the nuclear deal and refuses to publish the side deals Obama signed with the Iranians and then hid from the public.
By contrast, the three officials McMaster fired do not support the nuclear deal. And, as noted, they are pro-Israel.
Glick isn’t the only one who sees a strong ideological component to the purge. Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon reports that Iran was the central, though hardly the only, area of policy clash between McMaster and those he has purged (Kredo also says McMaster will be firing more Trump loyalists in the coming weeks). He writes:
NSC officials such as Cohen-Watnick, Harvey, and others had been making the case that Trump should scrap the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal over increasingly aggressive Iranian ballistic missile activity and mounting evidence Tehran is breaching the accord. McMaster, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and top Obama-era State Department officials who worked on the deal, have aggressively urged maintaining it.
“That’s why they took [Harvey] out,” explained one source, referring to Harvey, who is said to have constructed a comprehensive plan on how to scrap the nuclear deal.
Another source described the Trump administration’s Iran policy as “completely gutted” in the aftermath of these firings.
If this is true, then McMaster should be sacked. I suspect, however, that with John Kelly ensconced as Trump’s chief of staff, McMaster is safe for a while.
Democrats like Rep. Barbara Lee are far off base when they complain about the role of generals in the Trump administration. Generally speaking, the U.S. military is a politically correct institution and its thinking is not sharply at odds with that of the Washington foreign policy establishment. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised if former generals like McMaster, and to a lesser degree Kelly and Mattis, are moderating forces in the Trump administration.
Moderating voices shouldn’t be excluded from the administration. Some of Trump’s campaign positions can do with being moderated.
However, when the moderating voices largely parrot the Obama administration’s line on Israel and Iran, we have a big problem.