Pentagon & Congress

McMaster: Strategic competitors probably view the US as ‘weak’

Strategic adversaries of the U.S. likely view the country as “weak,” according to former White House National Security Adviser and retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

“I think they view us as weak at the moment, right? Because they see us in the midst of now, today especially, a triple-crisis,” McMaster said during a Washington Post virtual event on Tuesday. “A crisis of the pandemic, a recession associated with the pandemic, and the social divisions laid bare by the murder of George Floyd...and then this vitriolitc partisan discourse where we’re at each other’s throats.”

In particular, McMaster said China is inclined to view the U.S. through such a lens, noting that Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely surrounded by those feeding him information he wants to hear.

“I think what he’s hearing is ‘Hey, you’re on top, you’re winning. Look how weak they are. We’re emerging, we’re first out of this pandemic economically. Now is the time to act.’ And you see that with this very aggressive action on the part of the Chinese Communist Party,” McMaster said.

Specifically, he pointed to increased aggression from China in the South China Sea, and actions China has taken aimed at Taiwan.

McMaster’s comments come as he is promoting his new book, “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World” that was released this month. The book examines U.S. foreign policy and ways the U.S. can better safeguard itself against threats, according to HarperCollins. Likewise, it chronicles his time serving in the Army and the White House.

As a result, McMaster addressed a series of national security and foreign policy issues facing the U.S. at the moment during his interview with the Washington Post.

For example, he argued that the U.S. has “set up the Afghan government for more difficulty” by trying to work with the Taliban and cautioned against pulling U.S. troops from the region. That’s why he’s not optimistic about ongoing peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government in Doha, Qatar that launched this month.

“It’s unwise. I think it’s a pipedream,” McMaster said. “I think it’s doomed to failure and I think what’s paradoxical about this is the Trump administration has replicated almost precisely the flaws in the Obama administration approach to Afghanistan.”

“This is I think a classic case of strategic narcissism, wishful thinking, and ultimately, self-delusion,” McMaster said. “And you see that with the continuing of these Taliban attacks.”

McMaster previously told CBS’s “60 Minutes” this month that pulling troops from Afghanistan is an error, and claimed the threat of terrorist organizations has only grown since the 9/11 attacks.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is on track to withdraw thousands of troops in Afghanistan by November — keeping roughly 4,600 troops there, according to Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

McMaster also pushed back on claims included in author Bob Woodward’s latest book “Rage,” which asserts President Trump said a war with North Korea was “much closer than anyone would know.” McMaster said he believed such a statement is “exaggerated.”

Since taking office, Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have met twice for denuclearization talks. But the president ultimately walked away from negotiations with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam in February 2019 after Kim urged the U.S. to eliminate sanctions on Pyongyang. In exchange, Kim had suggested dismantling a fragment of his regime’s nuclear weapons program.

McMaster also revealed he will vote in the presidential election in November. Although McMaster said he hadn’t previously voted because he wanted to remain as apolitical as possible while in uniform, he said he would cast a ballot in this upcoming election and shared that he is a registered Independent. He did disclose his choice for president.

The retired lieutenant general, who left the Army in 2018, is now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a lecturer at the Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He is also the author of “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam.”

McMaster was replaced as Trump’s national security adviser in April 2018 by John Bolton, who served in the role until September 2019.

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