Wed, Aug 09, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Top Trump aides clash over direction of foreign policy


US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster listens during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington on July 31.

Photo: AP

A long-simmering dispute between two top White House aides has boiled into a public battle over the direction of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, with a cadre of conservative groups pushing for the ouster of Trump's national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.

Over the past few days, conservative groups and a Web site tied to Trump adviser Steve Bannon have targeted McMaster as insufficiently supportive of Israel and insufficiently tough toward Iran. They have expressed outrage about the firings of several aides regarded as sympathetic to their views.

An online campaign — under the hashtag #FireMcMaster — prompted Trump to declare his support for his adviser.

The dispute reflects the tensions at the heart of Trump’s foreign policy coalition. McMaster is one of several powerful generals in Trump’s orbit who hail from the Republican foreign policy establishment.

However, Trump is equally sympathetic to the views of firebrands like Bannon, who are trying to push the party in a new, isolationist direction embodied by his “America first” doctrine.

McMaster and Bannon have clashed loudly and repeatedly during recent White House discussions over Afghanistan war strategy, four administration officials and outside advisers said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.

However, Afghanistan represents only the latest dispute between McMaster and Bannon, who have also fought over White House personnel.

McMaster, a US Army general, recently purged three National Security Council officials who were viewed as close to Bannon or to former US national security adviser Michael Flynn.

For people close to Bannon, the moves were seen as telling. The former chief of Breitbart News, who wants Trump to upend the Washington foreign policy establishment, has bitterly argued against further US entanglement in global conflicts and believes McMaster is adhering to holdover policies from the administration of former US president Barack Obama.

Breitbart has promoted a series of anti-McMaster headlines on its Web site. The Zionist Organization of America on Monday announced it has undertaken a review of McMaster’s views on Israel. Dozens of conservative and “alt-right” social media stars have hammered the national security adviser on Twitter.

The outcry grew so loud that Trump on Friday said: “General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”

However, privately, Trump has at times expressed some dissatisfaction with McMaster and rued losing Flynn, according to people who have spoken with the president.

Trump often vents about aides without making changes — and McMaster’s position was strengthened by the recent appointment of retired General John Kelly as Trump’s chief of staff.

The Iran nuclear deal has also been a source of disagreement. Trump has repeatedly denounced the accord, even as he has granted Iran continued relief from US sanctions under the arrangement. McMaster was among the Trump aides advocating for that course.

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