In a compelling RiskHedge podcast interview, a former senior advisor to six presidents of the United States says there is a growing disconnect between President Donald Trump and his National Security Advisor, former Army General H.R. McMaster.
“[Trump] keeps McMaster around,” says Dr. Harald Malmgren, “but I’m told that he really finds McMaster tedious with his long lectures. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all at some point if he appoints McMaster in charge of the Afghanistan operation, because it was McMaster who was the strongest proponent for more troops in Afghanistan.”
Dr. Malmgren, the man who was famously personally dispatched by President Richard Nixon to inform the Europeans of the decision to move the US off the gold standard in 1971, says McMaster’s relationship with Trump and former Marine generals Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, along with the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General Joseph Dunford, “is not wonderful.”
“McMaster is also an academic in a way. You know he writes books, one of which was about Vietnam. And his feeling is that during the Vietnam War, the generals should have stood up to the president and educated the president,” explains Dr. Malmgren. “So, what McMaster does when he meets with everybody is he gives lectures on, ‘Let me explain to you how the world works.’ And that’s tedious not only for Trump, but is tedious for the generals.”
In the expansive podcast interview with RiskHedge’s Jonathan Roth, Dr. Malmgren says he’s never worked in a White House with as many personality conflicts as this current one.
“This is inexplicable. If you wrote about this as a novel, nobody would believe it,” declares Dr. Malmgren. “It begins with President Trump himself, who has a long career in property development: real estate, hotels, casinos, and such things. That business does not involve managing large numbers of people.”
But, as Dr. Malmgren explains, there are individuals in Trump’s cabinet that have world-class experience managing lots of people.
“Someone like (Secretary of State) Tillerson, who ran Exxon, one of the biggest corporations in the world, has years of experience managing hundreds of thousands of employees, dozens of top executives—all of whom have big egos—building consensus, because that's what you do in such a job. But this is not something Trump is familiar with. So, he doesn't like and doesn't quite grasp the idea that delegation means you give somebody the responsibility and then you let them do it and you don't backseat drive them. So, he tries very hard to get involved in everything himself. Now that creates confusion because when someone serious is given a task, they're not sure whether [Trump] might do something different from what they're planning. So, it tends to mess up the long-range trajectory that you need to build to get something done, whether it's health care or tax changes.”
The fascinating interview with one of Washington’s old hands also covers the role Vice President Pence is playing (“He’s the guy who keeps the machinery functioning”), what power interim White House Communications Director Hope Hicks wields (“the commonsense balancer in the room”), and why Trump’s relationship with Congress is on the ropes (“The most common comment I hear from old friends on the Hill is, ‘I've got no one to bargain with’”).
Listen to the full 28-minute podcast above.