Debates: Flynn is seen as a lobbyist of Russia’s interests and an advocate of lifting the anti-Kremlin sanctions, but McMaster has an image of a pragmatic realist who has no illusions about Russia. What does it mean for the Kremlin?
Pictured: The U.S. President's National Security Advisor Herbert Raymond McMaster, a lieutenant general, at at the National Infantry Museum. Photo: Patrick Albright /U.S. Army
The scandalous resignation of the U.S. President’s outgoing National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was accused of covering up the details of his phone talks with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, puzzled Russia.
So did the appointment of Herbert Raymond McMaster, a lieutenant general, on this important position. U.S. President Donald Trump announced about his pick this week, with the Kremlin taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We are waiting for further development of the events,” said the Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov while expressing his keen interest in Washington’s future policy toward Moscow.
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With Flynn being seen in the U.S. as a lobbyist of Russia’s interests and an advocate of lifting the anti-Kremlin sanctions, McMaster has an image of a tough and pragmatic realist who has no illusions about Russia.
Russia Direct interviewed prominent experts to understand the implications of McMaster’s appointment for Washington and Moscow.
Mikhail Troitskiy, an associate professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University)
Arrival of General McMaster to the White House as the national security adviser to President Trump does not increase the odds of a new rapprochement between Washington and Moscow.
Unlike his predecessor, General McMaster is known for his skeptical and even hawkish views of Russia. He has stressed the need to push back against Russia in cyberspace and in Ukraine. However, it is clear that any expectations for the cooling of tensions between the U.S. and Russia hinge on the personal perspective of President Trump himself, and he has repeatedly suggested that a "deal" with Russia should not be ruled out in principle.
For the time being, President Trump does not appear to be taking advice from the White House national security staff, so opportunities for political entrepreneurship in U.S.-Russia relations are still there. That said, even if Presidents Putin and Trump are able to hammer out a blueprint for a "deal" — for example, in their first face-to-face meeting — pulling it through the bureaucracy, including General McMaster's people, and filling it with substance is going to be very difficult.
Robert Legvold, professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science and the Harriman Institute of Columbia University
In a sea of confusion, McMaster's arrival in place of Flynn should be a stabilizing factor for U.S. foreign policy. It means that several of the dominant players in Trump's foreign and security policy team are very accomplished military leaders, all capable of serious strategic thinking, and comrades in arms who have known and worked with one another over years of service.
True, the strategic thinking they have done has been almost entirely in terms of military operations, particularly, counter-insurgency warfare, but they are intelligent and capable of enlarging their focus to the broader challenges in contemporary international politics.
They are likely to work well with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, and the question will be the degree to which they can contain the role of the White House’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and limit his influence on the president.
Together they, in their thinking, represent a strong continuation of the long-standing mainstream U.S. attitude toward allies, concepts of national security, and the role of the United States in international politics.
Jack Goldstone, an American sociologist, political expert and a professor at George Mason University
The Trump National Security team and outlook continue to evolve. But it remains schizophrenic. On the one hand there is in the White House a Steve Bannon view of the world in which the biggest threat to Western peace and prosperity is aggressive and violent Islamist extremism.
In this view, partnership with Russia is a natural means to combine the strength of Western Christian societies to repel Islamist aggression, and America should seek to reduce conflicts with Russia and expand areas of cooperation.
On the other hand, the major Cabinet officials – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis – view Russia as an aggressive actor whose intervention in Ukraine violated agreements to respect sovereign borders. They share a concern that Russia’s desire to increase its influence in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia is in conflict with America’s goals of building a strong alliance of democratic and free-market states to uphold a liberal-leaning global order.
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was strongly in the Bannon camp, while his replacement, McMaster, seems more aligned with Tillerson and Mattis.
This would seem to tilt policy in a direction strongly supportive of NATO and less eager to seek compromise with Russia. Yet we will not know for certain until we see further actions.
Bannon seems to be Trump’s most trusted advisor and to have the President’s ear. McMaster is brand-new to Trump’s circle and may be less influential. Secretary Tillerson, for example, has had a quiet first month and has not shown that he will have a major role in shaping America’s global strategy.
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We will likely get the first clear picture of which view will prevail when the Trump administration develops its policy for Syria, or perhaps when President Trump makes a major speech on foreign policy. Until then, as in much else, the Trump administration will keep observers guessing what will come next.
James Carden, contributing editor to The Nation and former advisor to the U.S.-Russia Presidential Commission at the U.S. State Department
The appointment of McMaster to the position of National Security Adviser should be greatly welcome if only because he is not Michael Flynn who quite clearly possessed neither the temperament nor skill to successful lead the National Security Council.
McMaster is reputed to be a truth teller and is said to unafraid to speak truth to power and is known to have impeccable battlefield and academic credentials, which is all to the good given that Trump has not a single one of these qualities.
It is impossible to know right now how McMaster's appointment will affect U.S.-Russian relations, or really the relations with any other nation.
It seems to me the principle challenge McMaster will face will be gaining control of the bureaucracy and fashioning out a coherent global strategy out of the President's often times incoherent, contradictory and nonsensical musings on a world about which he knows rather little.
In other words he will have to make something out of nothing, which is, to put it mildly, never easy. All Americans, regardless of party, should wish McMaster well in his new job.
Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and a professor at Stanford University
The resignation of Flynn and the appointment of McMaster to the position of the head at the White House’s National Security Council should destroy all dreams about a great union between the U.S. and Russia during the Trump-Putin era. Three of the National Security Council's policymakers (McMaster, Tillerson and Mattis) have realistic perception about Russia and foreign affairs in general. They are not the dreamers, who hope that common ideology — a Judeo-Christian Union against Islam and China — will bring two nations together. They are the realists.
McMaster is a confident expert, thinking strategically. He won’t make concessions even to the President of the United States. Moreover, he is a well-experienced bureaucrat, who knows how to work within the system and its environment (the press and Congress) to achieve his goals. And Trump cannot dismiss him, at least in the near future. Such move would reveal the President’s weakness.
Michael McFaul’s comment is based on his blogpost at Echo of Moscow’s website, which was originally published in Russian.