McMaster Learns to Speak Trump’s Language

About a month ago, Mike Allen wrote that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster was having trouble communicating with Trump.

One of the more elusive skills in this White House is the ability to communicate effectively with President Trump. It’s no secret he likes things short, simple, graphical.

Someone who was doing it all wrong (although better lately), according to colleagues, is national security adviser H.R. McMaster. It’s one of several reasons the two men often don’t click.

McMaster has briefed in a certain way his whole career: crisp, linear, dry, like a good military man, and leaves nothing to chance. The formality doesn’t work with Trump, who sometimes simply tunes McMaster out.

Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa report that this communication problem was hampering the discussion about what to do in Afghanistan.

President Trump was frustrated and fuming. Again and again, in the windowless Situation Room at the White House, he lashed out at his national security team over the Afghanistan war, and the paucity of appealing options gnawed at him…

Years before running for president, Trump had a clear message on Afghanistan: It was time to get out. In 2012, he said the war was “wasting our money.” In 2012, he called it “a total disaster.” In 2013, he said, “We should leave Afghanistan immediately.” Trump continued his criticism of the war during the year and a half he campaigned for the White House.

But since becoming president, he has faced a different set of opinions. Defense Secretary Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both generals with extensive battlefield experience in Afghanistan, warned Trump about the consequences of withdrawal and cautioned that any move in Afghanistan would have ripple effects throughout the region.

Eventually McMaster found a way to convince the president that the situation in Afghanistan was not hopeless.

The story goes that this was meant to show Trump that “Western norms had existed there before and could return.” I’m sure that showing the president a little eye candy when it comes to Afghani women had nothing to do with it at all (cough, cough).

I’m not sure who this reflects on more poorly: McMaster, who would stoop to sexual objectification as an argument for more military adventurism, or a president he knew it would appeal to. But that, my friends, might be all you need to know about the depravity and incompetence that currently resides in the White House.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.