National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was asked three times today by Chuck Todd whether he can work with Steve Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist. Three times McMaster refused to say that he can. Each answer was more embarrassing than the last — to McMaster, to Bannon, and ultimately to their boss. You can read the details here.
It is the job of every member of a president’s staff to work with other staff members to the extent their jobs cause them to interact, as is the case with McMaster and Bannon. It may be that Bannon is on his way out, in which case McMaster won’t have to interact with him any longer.
Even so, a member of the president’s staff, if asked, should be willing to say on the record that he can work with any other staff member. The refusal to say this fuels the narrative that the White House is dysfunctional which, of course, reflects poorly on the president. Given the prevalence of that narrative with this presidency, McMaster did Trump a significant disservice (whether Trump sees it this way now or not).
McMaster has been waging war against Bannon and the positions Bannon holds for some time. As we have discussed, McCaster purged three members of his staff who share Bannon’s views. (Meanwhile, he seems to get along quite well with the Obama holdovers and, indeed, has instructed his people not to use that word). McMaster’s target all along has been Bannon and the views he holds.
It is trite to say that no one elected McMaster (or Bannon for that matter) to any office. Both serve only because the American people elected Donald Trump. What’s significant is that when Trump ran for president, he took positions on key foreign policy that, if most reporting is to be believed, Bannon espouses and McMaster rejects.
McMaster reportedly favors stepped up U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and in the post-ISIS war in Syria. Bannon reportedly opposes both. His position is closer to what Trump advocated.
McMaster, as Andy McCarthy has argued, doesn’t seem to grasp the challenge presented by what McCarthy calls sharia supremacism. Bannon is more attuned to it. So, it seemed, was candidate Trump.
Bannon reportedly wants to scrap the Iran deal immediately. McMaster apparently led the charge to grant the certification necessary to keep it alive for now. Candidate Trump denounced the Iran deal and said he would renegotiate or “dismantle” it as president.
Bannon and McMaster are both pro-Israel, as far as I can tell. However, McMaster hired Kris Bauman to work on the Israel-Palestine desk. Bauman blamed Israel and the Bush administration for undermining the peace process by failing to recognize Hamas’ moderation.
Candidate Trump never suggested that Hamas was moderate or that Israel and the Bush administration were to blame for the failure of the peace process. It’s difficult to underestimate the amount of ridicule he would have heaped on the former suggestion.
Personally, I agree with Bannon on some of the areas of clash and with McMaster on others (assuming reports of their views are accurate). But even on the issues as to which I agree with McMaster (Iran and Syria), I don’t want to see him carry the day by purging those who disagree with him. Let him win by persuading Trump on the merits (if he can), not by knifing those whose sins consist mainly of advocating the positions Trump ran and won on.