Derek Harvey, the president’s top Middle East adviser, was dismissed on Thursday by national security adviser H.R. McMaster—further shrinking the ranks of White House aides hired by McMaster’s ousted predecessor, Michael Flynn.
“McMaster wants his own guy,” said a senior White House aide. The White House did not immediately announce a replacement for the job of NSC Senior Director for the Middle East.
The move comes as McMaster, a three star Army general, seeks his footing in a White House where rivals have undermined him with disparaging leaks—and where President Donald Trump himself has occasionally clashed with his top foreign policy adviser.
Harvey had a longstanding relationship with McMaster dating to their service as advisers to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq during the 2000s. But it was Flynn, a former colleague of Harvey’s at the Defense Intelligence Agency, who brought Harvey to the Trump NSC, and talk that McMaster wanted him out had recently circulated among national security insiders.
Since replacing Flynn in February, McMaster has removed several staffers hired by Flynn, who was ousted over his contacts with Russia’s ambassador. Those so-called “Flynnstones” include former deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, although McMaster failed in an effort to replace the NSC’s director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who is close to Trump advisers skeptical of the national security establishment. That group includes the senior White House aides Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.
Harvey was viewed as one of President Donald Trump’s more hawkish foreign policy advisors—particularly on Iran, whose leadership he has studied closely and which he recommends confronting more aggressively. He has also been a staunch critic of the Iran nuclear deal. And Harvey has pushed for a strong U.S. military role against the Islamic State in Syria. Many military officials consider him the government’s most knowledgeable source on the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and Syria.
“General McMaster greatly appreciates Derek Harvey’s service to his country as a career Army officer, where he served his country bravely in the field and played a crucial role in the successful surge in Iraq, and also for his service on Capitol Hill and in the Trump administration. The administration is working with Colonel Harvey to identify positions in which his background and expertise can be best utilized,” said National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton.
McMaster has weathered recent rumors that he might quit or be fired—which senior White House aides dispute—and was reportedly angry that Trump has rejected his recommendations for sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Harvey, who did not reply to a request for comment, may take a position elsewhere in the administration, an NSC aide said.