Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Then there’s Tal Afar, the city in northern Iraq where, from 2004 through 2006, McMaster, then a colonel, was put in charge of a campaign to pacify that violent, ethnically Turkish region dominated by Sunni insurgents, and riven by conflicts between Sunnis and Shi’ites. McMaster is being credited with making progress in pacifying that region during his tenure, through application of a supposedly “progressive countersinsurgency concept” that involves, instead of mass killing of “bad guys,” getting to know the locals and developing a relationship of trust. Sounds good in theory, but nobody’s talking about his early days in charge there, when Col. McMaster ordered up a brutal air and ground assault on Tal Afar's urban center, reportedly leveling some 60% of the buildings and killing many civilians. Maybe his idea was first you level a whole lot of a city and slaughter a whole lot of people -- insurgents and civilians -- and then you try to make friends with the survivors.
The corporate media, predictably, are almost universally praising this third-round pick to head Trump’s National Security Council, following the implosion and firing of his original choice, the retired Gen. Michael Flynn, and the refusal of an appointment to the post by Trump’s second proposed choice for the job. The foremost reason for all the kudos from the media, no doubt, is that unlike Flynn, who advocated a friendly relationship with Russia (anathema to most major news organizations), McMaster is a Russia “hawk” who has long viewed that country as a threat to the US. He famously called Russian support for embattled ethnic Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea "the end of the US Post-Cold War holiday from history.” The other main explanation for all the media enthusiasm about Gen. McMaster are both his Silver Star and a book he wrote, Dereliction of Duty, in which the concensus line is that he “boldly” blamed the US loss of the Vietnam War on ranking generals whom he claimed were unwilling to honestly report to political leaders on the actual situation in that long conflict.
But think about that last bit. We’re talking about a book written in 1997, some 22 years -- a full generation! -- after that war ended. How much guts does it really take for a military history grad student to write, in a PhD thesis done at a civilian college (the University of North Carolina), that generals like Gen. William Westmoreland and Gen. Creighton Abrams were rank careerists trying to earn their stars by saying what their civilian bosses wanted to hear? I would say zero, especially given that both men, and virtually all the top brass from that war, were long dead and unable to comment or defend themselves. Not to mention that by 1997, the prevailing view was already that the US military leadership in Vietnam War had been disastrous.