A rational turn at the White House

Lieutenant General Herbert McMaster's appointment as national security adviser has reassured those hoping for a normalisation of the Trump White House.


Lt Gen McMaster: appointment was a relief
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The appointment of Lieutenant General Herbert "HR" McMaster as Donald Trump's national security adviser, following the ousting of Michael Flynn, has reassured those hoping for a "normalisation" of the Trump White House, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. With James Mattis at the Pentagon, Lt Gen McMaster at the National Security Council and Rex Tillerson at the State Department, the three key foreign policy positions have now all been filled by "rational professionals". That's a relief, given the immense danger of having "an unshackled Donald Trump in charge of the world's most powerful military".

But even before McMaster's appointment, there were encouraging signs. Early suggestions that the US might recognise Taiwan or impose a naval blockade in the South China Sea have been "quietly jettisoned". Meanwhile, sanctions on Russia "have not been lifted unconditionally, nor has the US dropped its objections to Russia's annexation of Crimea". There are even suggestions that "the great wall with Mexico may be turning into a fence".

That's as maybe, but the experts at the Munich Security Conference last weekend didn't seem very relaxed, says Roger Cohen in The New York Times. "Getting used to an American president who responds through Twitter to the last guy in the room has no notion or interest in European history, and has turned America's word into junk, is not easy." America's allies are "nervous", and unsure what to believe.

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This sense of unease wasn't helped at all by Trump's "long and rambling news conference" on Thursday, which was followed on Saturday by a campaign-style rally at which he suggested, incorrectly, that a terrorist attack had taken place in Sweden, says Steven Erlanger in the same paper. In particular they are concerned about Trump's apparent ambivalence towards both the European Union and Nato.

Trump has also praised Putin repeatedly and expressed his interest in warmer ties with Moscow, say Catherine Philp and Boer Deng in The Times. Yet this is in stark contrast with General McMaster, who oversaw a Pentagon study last year on how the US army should best counter the Russian threat.

It's also worth noting that while the Kremlin has refused to comment on McMaster's appointment, Franz Klintsevich, a leading member of the Russian parliament's defence committee, described McMaster as a "100% threat to Russia" and warned of a new "Russophobic policy" from Washington. In another possible area of conflict with Trump, McMaster has also "sought carefully to distinguish between Islamic extremist terrorist groups and the wider Muslim faith", says Ruth Sherlock in The Daily Telegraph.

And in spite of Trump's description of Nato as "obsolete" and a "bad deal" for the US, the vice-president, Mike Pence, assured the Munich Security Conference that Washington was strongly committed to Nato, says The Daily Telegraph. He did point out that if Europe wants a collective defence then it has to pay for it, but this seems fair enough, as many Europeans have acknowledged. Washington spends 3.61% of its GDP on a military "whose duties include defending Germany, which spends just 1.19%". Even Britain is accused of slipping below the agreed target of 2%.

In the midst of squabbles over finance, however, the world should not lose sight of the "very real threat" posed by Islamist terrorism and Russia, says the Telegraph, and the role that Nato must play in countering them. "If the West appears divided and reluctant to act, Russia will feel emboldened."

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.