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Trump fans, foes agree: McMaster for NSA is a masterstroke

President Donald Trump announces on Monday, Feb. 20,

President Donald Trump announces on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, that Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will be his new national security adviser. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

Flynn successor seen as upgrade

President Donald Trump’s choice as his new national security adviser is proving more popular than his first one.

Praise for Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster came from a diverse array of Trump policy critics, who saw the career Army officer as an upgrade from his ousted predecessor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was derided as prone to conspiracy theories and too chummy with Russia.

“A man of genuine intellect, character and ability,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) “A stellar reputation,” said Strobe Talbott, a State Department official under Bill Clinton. “A brilliant, reasoned leader who understands both hard & soft power,” tweeted former Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington.)

McMaster won fame for bucking the Pentagon establishment. A book he wrote on the Vietnam War, “Dereliction of Duty,” faulted military leaders for not being candid with civilian policy makers that the strategy was failing.

He was outspoken on faulty assumptions that drove the initial Iraq War strategy and stoked the insurgency. As a commander, he demonstrated an alternative approach that Gen. David H. Petraeus adopted to help turn the tide.

See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

Contrasts, bigly

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump gave McMaster “full authority ... to hire whatever staff he sees fit.” But McMaster also will have to coexist on the National Security Council with Steve Bannon, the political strategist and former Breitbart News chief.

Unlike Bannon — and Flynn and Trump — McMaster draws sharp distinction between Islam as a religion and jihadi terrorists. In Iraq, he ordered his troops not to use derogatory terms to refer to Muslims. He also has warned of Russian threats in Europe.

Will Trump listen to McMaster, like he has to Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former Marine general?

Trump backed away from his vow to use torture against terror suspects, saying Mattis made a compelling case it doesn’t work, but he still sounds ambivalent. If McMaster’s past is any guide, he will also argue forcefully for his views.

Swede and sour

As a candidate, Trump said he wants to be “unpredictable.” Count that as a promise kept. Who foresaw he’d pick fights with longtime U.S. friends Australia and now Sweden?

First, there was his word-jumble at a Florida rally Saturday that sounded to many — Swedes included — like he said that country had just suffered a terrorist attack. “We were like ... has somebody stolen our meatballs?” a Stockholm driver told CNN.

Then Trump said he was talking about a Fox News segment. It suggested refugees in Sweden caused a crime surge that its government is hiding. On Twitter Monday, Trump said: “The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!”

Swedes from a wide swath of the political spectrum regard the story as an exaggeration at best. “Just a piece of friendly advice: when you are in a hole, stop digging,” conservative former Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeted at Trump.

The take-away: Donald and Felix

A figure in one of the latest possible intrigues involving the Trump White House and Russia is Felix Sater of Port Washington — a Moscow-born, Brighton Beach-raised businessman who has done jail time for assault, pleaded guilty in a stock fraud scheme and been a government informant.

Later on, he became a Trump business associate, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

The New York Times reported Sater played a role along with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a Ukrainian opposition pol last month in trying to sell then-National Security Adviser Flynn on a Ukraine peace plan that they said met with favor from Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

It’s too soon to say where the story may lead, but it brings new attention to Trump’s dealings with Sater.

Leave the oil

En route to Baghdad, Mattis put a cap on one of Trump’s favorite applause lines — that we should have taken Iraq’s oil in the war, and that perhaps we’ll get another chance.

That’s not the best motivational speech to a country whose forces are on the front lines of the fight against ISIS, with U.S. advisers and airstrikes providing support.

“All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I’m sure that we will continue to do so in the future. We’re not in Iraq to seize anyone’s oil,” said Mattis.

Pence fails to reassure

Vice President Mike Pence vowed the Trump administration will stand with the European Union and the NATO military alliance, but was met with some skepticism from leaders shaken by the president’s more critical comments.

“Too many new and sometimes surprising opinions have been voiced over this time about our relations — and our common security — for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be,” said EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Pence also warned the allies that Trump wants to see “real progress” by the end of 2017 on their military spending.

What else is happening

  • In a tweet, Ivanka Trump did what her dad has not. She responded to the rash of bomb threats against Jewish community centers around the nation with a call to “protect our houses of worship & religious centers” and the hashtag #JCC.
  • Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager, said the White House staff “has probably not prepared him as well as they could have or should have.” Lewandowski, from New Hampshire, also said on David Axelrod’s podcast that he saw no evidence to back up Trump’s claim of massive voter fraud there.
  • Golf-gazi? After initially saying Trump just played “a couple” of holes of golf Sunday, spokeswoman Sanders admitted he played a full round. The admission came after pro golfer Rory McIlroy posted on his website that he had played 18 holes with the president.
  • Sanders said Trump’s Mar-a-Lago visits and mingling make him accessible to “regular Americans.” Membership costs $200,000.
  • Thousands of people gathered outside Trump International Hotel at Manhattan’s Columbus Circle for a Not My President’s Day rally, reports Lauren Cook of amNewYork.
  • Retired Russian diplomats and Putin’s staff are preparing a dossier on Trump’s psychological makeup for the Russian president, NBC News reports. Among its preliminary conclusions are that Trump is a risk-taker who can be naive, according to former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Fedorov.

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