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McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy
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The war party is back in power and the odds of normal relations with Russia have dropped to zero.

The appointment of Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster to the position of national security adviser indicates that Trump has done an about-face on his most critical foreign policy issue, normalizing relations with Russia. General Michael Flynn– who recently stepped down from the post following allegations of lying to Vice President Mike Pence –was the main proponent of easing tensions with Moscow which is a position that had been enthusiastically embraced by President Donald Trump. But McMaster does not support normalizing relations with Russia, in fact, McMaster sees Russia as a “hostile revisionist power” that “annex(es) territory, intimidates our allies, develops nuclear weapons, and uses proxies under the cover of modernized conventional militaries.” So, what’s going on? Why has Trump put a Moscow-hating hawk like McMaster in a position where he’ll be able to intensify the pressure on Russia, increase the provocations and, very likely, trigger a conflagration between the two nuclear-armed superpowers?

The appointment of McMaster is an attempt by Trump to placate his enemies in the Intel agencies and foreign policy establishment. Trump is signaling to his adversaries that he will cooperate in carrying out their strategic agenda provided they allow him to finish his term. Trump doesn’t want to end up like Flynn nor does he want to do battle with the all-powerful deep state operatives who can launch one demeaning propaganda blitz after the other followed by years of excruciating investigations leading inevitably to a lengthy and humiliating impeachment that leaves Trump a broken, discredited shambles. That’s not how Trump wants to end his career in politics. He wants to end it on a high note, riding a wave of burgeoning affection and love.

That’s why he picked McMaster. The neocons love him, the liberal interventionists love him, the media loves him and the entire political establishment loves him. Everyone loves him. He’s the “warrior-scholar” who ‘speaks truth to power’ and writes futuristic books on ‘generation warfare’, ‘information superiority’ and ‘predictive battlespace awareness’ all of which delight his devoted admirers. The downside of McMaster is that he is a hard-boiled militarist with a driving animus towards Russia. Judging by his writing on the topic, I would expect a broader and more lethal conflict to flare up in either Syria or Ukraine as soon as he gets settled in his new job.

Bottom line: The removal of Flynn has convinced Trump that powerful elements within the national security state have him in their crosshairs. As a result, Trump has relinquished control of foreign policy and handed the whole mess over to gladiator McMaster who will coordinate with Sec-Def General James Mattis on a new strategy to deploy US troops to East Syria and West Iraq to establish a permanent military presence in “occupied” Sunnistan. (The area will also be used for natural gas pipeline corridors connecting Qatar to the EU) The strategy in Ukraine will focus primarily on luring Russia into a long and resource-draining war that will further depress the ailing Russian economy precipitating political instability, social unrest and regime change. That is the hope at least, that Russia’s wars abroad will lead to the ousting of Vladimir Putin.

Here’s a few clips from a presentation McMaster gave at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on May 4, 2016. They help to clarify the man’s ominous world view:

“…what I’d really like to talk to you about is (the) period we’re in right now, a period of increasing risks…risks to our nation, to our allies, and really all of humanity……….

globally – the situation in connection with U.S. vital interests and security – .. is changing really in a direction that’s going to raise additional challenges to the U.S. and U.S. national security…. what we’re seeing is a shift in geopolitics in a way that imposes great dangers and has elevated the risk of a major international military crisis to the highest level in the last 70 years. A number of scholars are writing about this – Jakub Grygiel and Wess Mitchell in particular in their great recent book “Unquiet Frontier,” where they describe revisionist powers, Russia and China in particular on the Eurasian landmass, that are surrounded by weak states which are now becoming battlegrounds, areas of competition at the far reaches of American power.” (“Harbingers of Future War: Implications for the Army with Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster”, The Center for Strategic and International Studies)

We have discussed the “pivot to Asia” ad nauseam in this column. McMaster’s comments help to underscore the fact that the struggle to control the “Eurasian landmass”, the center of economic growth for the next century, is at the heart of the US imperial crusade which is now entering a new and more dangerous phase.

McMaster: “I also think Margaret MacMillan’s great essay written in 2014 making the analogy between 2014 and 1914, and really making the point that geopolitics is back; maybe our – what we might call our holiday from history in the post-Cold War period is over.”

So in McMaster’s mind, another global conflagration on a par with World War 1 is now in the making. Unlike most people, he sees this as a challenge rather than an apocalyptic event that should be avoided at all cost.

McMaster: “I think what might have punctuated the end of the post-Cold War period is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Now, this was – this was not really a new development in terms of Russian aggression. I think you can go back to the denial-of-service attacks on the Baltic states in 2007, certainly the invasion of Georgia in 2008.”

McMaster is extremely well read and follows the news closely. He knows that Georgia attacked South Ossetia and that Putin –who was at the Olympics at the time– merely responded. Why is McMaster deliberately misleading his audience about the details? And why doesn’t he explain how the elected government of Ukraine was toppled in a CIA-State Department coup? Those facts are readily available to anyone who has seriously researched the incident.

It seems obvious that McMaster is twisting the truth to make his case against Russia.


“…even though it may have been apparent at least since 2008 that Russia was changing its geostrategic behavior … what we’re seeing now is we’ve awakened to, obviously, this threat from Russia, who is waging limited war for limited objectives – annexing Crimea, invading Ukraine – at zero cost, consolidating gains over that territory, and portraying the reaction by us and allies and partners as escalatory.”

The “threat from Russia”? In other words, NATO is not responsible for its relentless push eastward expanding its grip on all the former Soviet satellites in east Europe, deploying its tanks, heavy artillery, troops and missile systems right onto Russia’s doorstep. No. Instead, Russia should be blamed for its fictitious invasion of Crimea.

McMaster is basing his argument on fake facts and a convoluted interpretation of events that doesn’t square with reality. Russia is the victim of US-NATO aggression not the perpetrator.

McMaster then offers a remedy for so called ‘Russian aggression’: “…what is required to deter a strong nation that is waging limited war for limited objectives on battlegrounds involving weaker states … is forward deterrence, to be able to ratchet up the cost at the frontier, and to take an approach to deterrence that is consistent with deterrence by denial, convincing your enemy that your enemy is unable to accomplish his objectives at a reasonable cost rather than sort of an offshore balancing approach and the threat of punitive action at long distance later, which we know obviously from – recent experience confirms that that is inadequate.”

“Forward deterrence”? This needs to be clarified.

What McMaster is saying, is that, instead of threatening to retaliate at some time in the future, the US should use ‘deterrence by denial’, that is, make it as hard and as costly as possible for Russia to achieve its strategic objectives. By defeating ISIS in Eastern Syria and establishing permanent US military bases, McMaster intends to prevent Russia from restoring Syria’s sovereign borders which is one of the primary goals of the mission. The “safe zones” that Trump has talked about recently, fit perfectly with this same strategy as they undermine Moscow’s efforts to reunify the state and bring the conflict to an end.

This appears to be the plan that McMaster will pursue as national security adviser. Expect US ground troops to be deployed to Syria as soon as the details are worked out.

More from McMaster:

“… what Russia is employing…is a sophisticated strategy…that combines conventional forces as cover for unconventional action, but a much more sophisticated campaign involving the use of criminality and organized crime, and really operating effectively on this battleground of perception and information, and in particular part of a broader effort to sow doubt and conspiracy theories across our alliance. And this effort, I believe, is aimed really not at defensive objectives, but at offensive objectives – to collapse the post-World War II, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic, and political order in Europe, and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”

The Russian strategy employs “criminality and organized crime” to effect “perception and information”?

This is just more demonization of Russia intended to make the case for war. Putin does not want a war with the US nor does he want to “collapse the post-World War II order… and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”

Putin is a firm believer in capitalism and still participates in the G-20 and WTO. What Putin objects to is the US using its extraordinary power to topple regimes it doesn’t like spreading death and instability across the planet. That’s what he opposes, the persistent meddling that undermines global security. Is that so unreasonable?


“So what do all these conflicts have in common is they’re about the control of territory, people and resources. ….what we need is that synergy between the joint force, where our forces have the capability and the capacity to deter conflict and, if that fails, to resolve conflict in our interest – to protect our security and our vital interests. And that may entail imposing outcomes without the cooperation of the enemy, and that has significant implications for the Army in particular.”

In other words, we are going to continue to fight for oil and markets (our “vital interests”), we’re going to go it alone if necessary, and if somebody tries to stop us, we’re going to annihilate them.

Isn’t that what he’s saying?

You know it is. There’s not going to be normal relations between Russia and the US on McMaster’s watch. The man believes we are in a life or death struggle with an evil enemy that wants to do us harm. That’s not the basis for building peaceful relations. It’s a justification for war.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at [email protected].

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Donald Trump, Russia 
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  1. He knows that Georgia attacked South Ossetia and that Putin –who was at the Olympics at the time– merely responded.

    Medvedev responded, actually. But yeah, pretty much in the same half-assed, inconclusive way Putin is responding to the Kiev’s aggression in Donbass now.

    Anyway, whatever he had to say in 2016, McMaster is an adviser, not the king. So, hopefully all is not lost yet.

    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov
  2. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website

    You know it is. There’s not going to be normal relations between Russia and the US on McMaster’s watch.

    Maybe. But it is better to have a military professional capable of more-or-less accurate assessment of US capability (Russian ones are a different matter) or lack thereof, than have a bunch of “exceptionalist” and grossly incompetent lunatics, as was with Obama Admin, drive towards war with Russia based on a false premises of the American military superiority. I stated it already many times but many people still miss a huge point–in hypothetical Russia-US war it will be not Russia who will initiate a nuclear exchange. In this sense McMaster is an improvement. I would expect of him, despite cases he makes, to know the consequences. I think he does. Susan Rice or Nuland, among many, didn’t.

  3. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website
    @Mao Cheng Ji

    Anyway, whatever he had to say in 2016, McMaster is an adviser, not the king

    Correct. He advises on formulation of policy and knowing Trump it is far too early to declare a “loss” or his “caving” to war-mongers–he still has the last word. Michael Flynn was not a dove either, for him Russia was merely a situational ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

  4. Anonymous [AKA "pararglider"] says:

    yet, more histrionics from mike!

    trump is about business, profits, jobs and peace. like any ceo of an organization many of his advisers and executives have their own points of view which may or may not thoroughly coincide with those of the ceo. at the end of the day the ceo decides which plans to implement and which to table. a great ceo will always have disparate voices at his table lest he fall victim to the siren song of fawning and flattery of which obama is the current worlds champion. unlike trump, obama is a poseur. a more narcissistic world leader we’ll likely never see again.

    mike if you’d stop running your chain saw for a moment and actually look at the forest instead of the tree next to you the view might change, then again, based upon the slant of your editorial output, probably not.

    good luck shouting at wind mills.

    • Replies: @jacques sheete
  5. In other words, we are going to continue to fight for oil and markets (our “vital interests”), we’re going to go it alone if necessary, and if somebody tries to stop us, we’re going to annihilate them.

    If Whitney is right, nothing has changed and we are back to square one. The big, chaotic election ushered in more of the same old, same old. But any moves that really threaten Russia and the ongoing strong relationship with China, could result in a serious assault on our petrodollar advantage. China and Russia are both up to the wazoo in gold. Sharia law now permits more than a billion Muslims to trade oil.etc, etc for gold. Maybe a gold backed yuan is coming? That would not be the war McMaster or the spooks have in mind.
    Breadline, anyone?

  6. @Anonymous

    yet, more histrionics from mike!

    Lotsa histrionics going around. Sounds like McMaster is full of it.

    …trump is about business, profits, jobs and peace.

    Trump doesn’t give a hoot about anything but prancing around acting tough and calling attention to himself. It’s apparent that he’s not above dropping his shorts and bending over for the globo-mafia if that’s what it takes.

    Whitney is right on with this one and it’s apparent that ww1 (yes, one) continues.

    • Replies: @paraglider
  7. Sean says:

    There is no such thing as “global security”, states have to look out for themselves in a world where the future intentions of other states are uncertain, so alterations in relative power are zero sum.

    In short, America has to interfere all over the world to prevent some country growing strong enough to interfere in America. That is why even the slightest indication of interference in a states internal affairs makes the perpetrator state a full fledged enemy. What happened with the US in Ukraine and Russia in the election is just what one would expect. It would be abnormal to have what the author calls “normal” relations between natural rivals like Russia and the US.

    You might as well say it’s normal for the US and Russia tp be in the same collective security alliance on equal terms and status. That will happen someday, but only when China is too strong for anyone to tackle alone.

    • Replies: @paraglider
  8. @Sean

    your point made sense before nuclear weapons existed. states built alliances, etc for such contingencies.

    in a the nuclear age where both russia and america have to ability to deliver mass death anywhere anytime letting disputes become a direct conflict is to be absolutely avoided.

    russia and america must come to a resolution sufficient to avoid ww3. should both get into a real shooting war it will last less than a week and be fought with missiles. every other bit of high tech bell and whistle won’t matter. russia is also determined by military doctrine to ensure the next war is NOT fought on russian soil which means according to speeches putin has made ………to paraphrase…………..if a fight is “inevitable” and can not be “avoided”, strike first.

    those are not the words of someone looking for a fight.

    this is why the world truly dodged a bullet when hillary lost.

    • Replies: @Sean
  9. Sean says:

    A nuclear surprise attack against a another nuclear power won’t happen, because it would be destroying the attacker country through certain retaliation, not defending it. By comparison, a limited objective conventional war is one Russia might hope to win, and it is fighting one in Ukraine by the way.

    Why did the US facing a possible all out attack to conquer western Europe by the Soviets build up massive conventional forces at far greater expense nuclear weapons, if not because they thought the nukes, being an incredible action were not a credible deterrent. Nukes would not be used to repel a conventional attack, even if the tanks were at the gates. Neither side seemed to have thought the US would have used them first in a Soviet attack across the iron Curtain, and neither the US or Russia wouldn’t use them first now either. There will be more conventional wars however

    • Replies: @paraglider
  10. @Sean

    the us and russia can NOT get into direct troop to troop or aircraft to aircraft fighting. both the rusian ministry of defense and the pentagon understand this because once begun accidents happen blood rises too far then neither side might not be able to pull back from the table. the real pros at both locations know the decision can not be left to think tank warriors and politicians with a short sell by date.

    ukraine was a neocon hatched plan to gain control of crimea.

    crimea was always the ultimate pentagon/neocon/nato goal of the ukraine maidan. its capture would have rendered the black sea an american controlled lake and russias southern border indefensible. the bloodless referendum conducted in crimea to reunite with russia rendered everything else about the ukraine conflict moot. from that point forward the ukraine conflict became an open wound for europe and washington. the successful crushing of the ukraine army with several hundred american and nato mercenaries fighting alongside at the debaltsevo cauldron in the donbass brought forward minsk 2 as the price for allowing the nato and american mercs out of the cauldron instead of killing them outright and or being paraded before news cameras and courts as war criminals .a source of great potential embarrassment to obama and merkel.

    minsk 2 ensures the slow death by strangulation of the ukraine. ukraine is now very close to outright implosion. russian diplomats are chessmasters outplaying the hapless fools working for obama…. himself an overrated fool.

    as for wars, unfortunately humans like to kill each other. it will be trumps team and putins teams job to make sure any fighting if fighting it is to be will be done by proxies and not team russia versus team usa.

    currently russia is now the go to guys for any resolution in the middle east. they are now the most trusted partners or potential partners for all the local players. junior varsity obama and his mental midget neocon think tank crew so f—ed things up no one trusts washington any longer.

  11. Vendetta says:

    Rather hysterical reaction to this. MK Bhadrakumar had a more useful take.

    The big question is whether the choice of McMaster would mean Trump capitulated and is softly retracting from all that he ever said about improving relations with Russia. Time will tell . . .

    Significantly, according to Washington reports, Trump did not approve of state secretary Rex Tillerson’s choice of the famous neocon Elliott Abrams for the number two job in the state department. (Abrams was recommended to Tillerson by former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice) . . . Equally, Trump also sidestepped (not once but twice) the former CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus and the former ambassador to UN John Bolton – for state secretary’s job as well as for replacement of NSA Flynn. Interestingly, a common thread runs through these three gentlemen – Abrams, Petraeus and Bolton. All three are neocons and share a profound antipathy toward Russia.

    On the other hand, what stands out in McMaster is that he will be wary of Russian behaviour but does not view it in ideological terms (like Abrams, Petraeus or Bolton would have.) McMaster’s reputation lies in his smart counterinsurgency tactics, his strategic and critical thinking and his upfront nature to the point of being outspoken. (He was twice superseded while a colonel and made it as brigadier only in his final attempt.)

    But McMaster also enjoys a reputation for being a team player. On the whole, why the old fox, Trump, settled for him is not hard to tell. McMaster must be feeling grateful to Trump for salvaging his career, because he’s reached the fag-end of his military career and has been told that he will not be moving up as 4-star general and will retire by yearend. Simply put, he ow ceases to serve the Army, and begins to serve the commander-in-chief.

    So it might well be that McCain, Kristol, McFaul, etc. are simply desperate to claim some sort of victory since their side has spent the last year and a half reeling from defeat after defeat, and that they are projecting their own ideological hatred of Russia onto McMaster, based on a handful of statements that indicate nothing more than the ordinary level of suspicion toward Russia you’d expect from a US general.

  12. alexander says:

    Dear Mr Whitney,

    We must be living in the age of the imbecile.

    How is it humanly possible for a country that has racked up a monstrous 20 trillion dollar debt in a mere sixteen years expect to sustain itself “overspending” over eight hundred billion dollars a year, fighting essentially meaningless wars in the middle east ?

    In many ways your writing seems quite on point, Mr Whitney , and I thank you for that. However you discuss this ” pipeline” through Syria (“Sunnistan” as you call it ) as though its something critical to US interests..

    Why ?

    As though somehow its more important than the “14.3 trillion” in overspending our stupid wars have cost us, from concerns as pathetic and trivial as this.?……

    You must be off your rocker to suggest the United States whose national debt has already ECLIPSED its GDP by OVER a trillion dollars ,should be worried about some stupid pipeline through Syria ?

    Who gives a hoot if there are hundreds of “pipelines” through Syria ?

    Do you have any idea just how many decades (perhaps centuries) it will take Syria to pump “14.3 trillion” dollars worth of oil though its stupid pipeline ?

    And who cares if it does ?

    Our government has become addicted to the obscene “overspending” of American taxpayer dollars to prosecute endless conflicts in the middle east that produce nothing but destruction, decimation and misery.

    It has now become this very “addiction” which has to generate foolish pretexts like the meaningless “Sunnistan pipeline”, to justify our obscene overspending for our war profiteers.

    This is all it is.

    Syria, like Libya and Iraq, before it, never presented an iota of a threat to the USA, and none of these countries ever attacked us, either…nor would they have dared.

    The most important questions we need to ask ourselves as a nation are completely ignored, even on Unz. review, one of the last bastions of free thought in the country.

    The United States has OVERSPENT what it takes in, by 875 Billion dollars, on average, every year, since 9-11.

    This is a fact.

    How long can we continue to do this ?

    Can the US economy really sustain a 35 trillion dollar national debt over the next 16 years if our GDP only grows to 26.5 trillion ?

    I am asking you ,Mr Whitney, straight out, how long can the USA sustain “overspending” over 3/4 of trillion dollars a year, before we go belly up ?

    What happens to the value of our currency ?, what happens to the value of our bonds once the USA has overspent itself to the point of no return ,on endless, meaningless wars ?

    If we keep borrowing money from future generations like this, with what choices will we have left THEM ?

    Cannot one person out there stop to see the forest from the trees ?….Can anyone look beyond the fraudulent pretexts and phony baloney justifications that preoccupy our war makers ….. to see how our stupidity in this endless belligerent war making is devouring the future of our entire country and its very solvency ?

    Can anybody see it ?

    • Replies: @paraglider
  13. @alexander

    you are quite correct. our bonds will never survive a normalization of interest rates.

    if will happen something like this:

    the european union is imploding now. big money.. really big money is already on the move. since big money requires a return it can go in to bonds, stocks, or real estate. gold is a small money retail play only. the smart big money is leaving europe now ahead of the collapse. this is in part why our american stock markets are so strong. foreign money coming to park. select real estate markets here with insane homes prices…. all foreign money parking. our markets will go insanely higher as europe reaches the edge and collapses. the rise in stocks will not be because our business climate is so much better only because money seeks to survive and euro bonds will not. many good european stocks will be fine as will corporate bonds here and in europe properly selected…..BUT THE DAY OF GOVERNMENT BONDS BEING A SAFE HAVEN IS OVER.

    the next crises will be in government bonds and pension funds promising impossible rates of return.

    the influx of money here will raise the exchange rate of the dollar to all time historic highs despite the feds best efforts to prevent this from happening. as the dollar exchange rises our domestic production becomes increasingly unaffordable outside our border rendering our exports industry into crisis. it is this crsis which will eventually (within 10 years) tip our government bond market into insolvency to the point it goes no bid apart from the fed.

    after europe implodes japan goes next. their demographics are terrifying. only after europe and japan go down does the crisis arrive here. once it hits america full bore i suspect our nation will begin to splinter into regions as the center (the federal governments ability finance itself through borrowing fails).

    all of these forces are very deflationary. gold will only begin to rise once the public comes to understand the desperation in financing the usa government finds itself. for now faith in washington and the fed remains.

    by the 2030’s the west will have fallen and the global financial power center will migrate to shanghai as the eur-asian integration proceeds now at full force. i seriously doubt the united states will survive intact much beyond the mid 2030’s as a single nation of 50 states.

    the cultural wars between left and right here visible for all to see right now are an early tremor of the death of the united states 20 years out. much like the death of the soviet union in 1989 was proceeded by a few decades of unrest in russia

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