The Washington Post reached back 20 years this week to launch a new attack based on a book by one of the president’s advisers.
Carlos Lozado, the Post’s chief book reviewer, lets the readers know where he is going with this re-review from the start.
“It’s a brutal verdict on the failings so evident in the American president and his top advisers: ‘arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people.’
“That is the judgment of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, national security adviser to President Trump. But McMaster is not describing his current boss; he is portraying President Lyndon B. Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the mid-1960s.
“In his book, ‘Dereliction of Duty,’ published in 1997, McMaster explains how a culture of deceit and deference, of divided and misguided loyalties, of policy overrun by politics, resulted in an ever-deeper U.S. involvement in Vietnam – a war, McMaster writes, that ‘led Americans to question the integrity of their government as never before.’
“Twenty years ago, McMaster authored a cautionary tale. Today, he risks becoming one.”
Lozado writes that McMaster is “one of the few credible voices remaining in a White House that is once again making Americans question the integrity of their government.” Even before the special counsel was appointed, McMaster “was defending the increasingly indefensible behavior of the president, such as Trump’s off-the-cuff disclosure of classified intelligence to senior Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting.”
“The general publicly described the president’s actions as ‘wholly appropriate’ (resorting to the phrase nine times in a single appearance), attacked the reporting on Trump by rebutting allegations that had not been made and reminded reporters that he was ‘in the room’ when Trump met with Russia’s ambassador and foreign minister. Message: If you don’t trust the president, you can still trust me.”
In “Dereliction of Duty,” McMaster proves, according to other reviewers, that he understands the importance of telling the president things he may not want to hear. It also shows his disdain for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lozado said, “whom he depicts as torn by inter-service rivalries and deliberately marginalized from key policy debates by Johnson and McNamara.”
But to Lozado, “it is McMaster’s views on Johnson that feel most relevant when reading the book today.” That’s because those views were not positive.
“McMaster displays nothing but disdain for LBJ, for reasons that echo,” Lozado wrote. “He was a president with a ‘real propensity for lying,’ McMaster writes, obsessed with loyalty, focused on his political fortunes at the expense of the nation’s needs, paranoid about dissent and leaks, and willing to consume the credibility of decorated military officers to cover for his duplicity. Those around him, however well-intentioned, became complicit or compromised, manipulators or manipulated.”
The Johnson White House was “sinking ‘in a quicksand of lies,’” Lozado wrote. Generals were told to lie. The president should not have put the generals in that position, but the “flag officers should not have tolerated it when he had,’” McMaster’s book states.
“How exactly do you not tolerate a president who lies and expects you to back him up? … This is a matter of individual conscience, both for Johnson’s advisers four decades ago and Trump’s today.”
Lozado suggests the generals who work for Trump today, are, like those who worked for LBJ in the 1960s, there to be used as props, to lend credibility, “perhaps for the macho vibe or because he hopes some additional respect will rub off on him.”
He then recounted the ceremony where McMaster was announced. He chose his words carefully, Lozado said.
“I’d just like to say what a privilege it is to be able to continue serving our nation,” McMaster said.
“Serving the nation, joining the team, protecting the interests of the people. Nothing about working for Trump or joining his administration,” Lozado pointed out. “McMaster was keeping his distance even as he entered the most inner of circles.”