As Trump's patience wanes, McMaster navigates divide over U.S. Afghan strategy

Sunday, 06 August 2017, 12:27:09 AM. In meeting after meeting with his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, this spring and summer, President Donald Trump angrily hammered home two questions:

In meeting after meeting with his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, this spring and summer, President angrily hammered home two questions:

He wanted to know why the U.S. military wasn't winning in Afghanistan, and he asked, repeatedly, why, after more than 16 years of war, the United States was still stuck there.

The president's two questions have defined a contentious debate over whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to halt two years of gains. And they have exposed a potentially deep philosophical rift with McMaster, a three-star general.

"H.R. heard the first question and seized on it," said a senior official who is close to McMaster. "But he never heard, or didn't want to hear, the president's second question."

The debate over Afghanistan strategy, which McMaster had initially hoped to have resolved by May, continued Thursday when the president and his national security adviser met in the Oval Office. Trump's reluctance to commit to a new strategy reflects the paucity of good options in Afghanistan and the dim prospects for peace.

It also highlights a contradiction at the core of Trump's foreign policy. On the campaign trail and in conversations with advisers, Trump has said he wants to win and project strength. But he also has called for ending costly commitments in places such as Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The charge for McMaster is to craft a strategy that addresses these contradictory impulses - a desire to simultaneously do more and less in the world - and define the president's "America first" vision.

McMaster's challenge is made more difficult by the stylistic differences that separate the two men. McMaster arrived at the White House in February determined to run an apolitical process that would surface the best national security ideas from the vast federal bureaucracy and present options to the president.

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