facebook linkedin twitter

Former National Security Advisor McMaster ‘Not a Military Drone’

April 9, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
Former United States National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster

Lt. General H.R. McMaster wants you to know he’s not a military drone. Despite a long, high-profile career in the military, he has criticisms of American foreign policy, and he expressed those criticisms even when he was in the military.

In a conversation Wednesday night for the World Affairs Council, McMaster offered a list of foreign policy blunders that he said were the result of a “strategic narcissism” that has caused the U.S. to begin to falter on the world stage.

“Strategic narcissism is our tendency to define the world only in relation to ourselves, denying the agency of others,” he said, later re-emphasizing the “‘agency of others.”

After the American victory in the Cold War and a lopsided victory in the Persian Gulf, a combination of the American military’s technological prowess and economic growth lulled the country into the belief that wars would be easy, according to McMaster’s historical analysis. It inspired overconfidence which set the country up for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Iraq is an interesting story, obviously it’s a tragedy,” he said.

At the time, McMaster was a colonel, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. He got some national attention from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment’s counterinsurgency campaign in Tal Afar. Later, he would join the Trump administration, serving briefly as National Security Advisor. These days, McMaster is a Hoover Institute Fellow and a lecturer at Stanford.

The solution to strategic narcissism, McMaster says, is “strategic empathy,” a term he borrowed from the historian Zachary Shore, which McMaster defines as the ability to understand the driving factors and ideology of others.

The talk circled around content related to McMaster’s 2020 book “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.”

Ben Rhodes, reviewing the book in the Washington Post, criticized a reluctance in McMaster’s book to let his critical eye linger over the Trump administration or his own actions, writing, “his insistence on avoiding frank commentary on his former boss undermines the very credibility he is seeking to assert.” 

The analytical credibility is at odds, stereotypically at least, with the military confidence and political necessities exemplified by McMaster, critics like Rhodes suggest.

McMaster, for his part, does not deny the role of confidence in his analysis.

“One of the aims of the book is strategic self-confidence,” McMaster said on Wednesday.

However, other critics have had more aggressive commentary.

A former West Point faculty member, Gregory Daddis, who reviewed McMaster’s book said that McMaster’s use of history belies “something more brutal,” recounting an incident where McMaster began a talk about working with allies by showing clips of his regiment unleashing destruction in the Middle East set to music. 

“While he may not be fond of war, he believes in it profoundly. And if not war necessarily, then certainly in the United States’ ability to coerce others into adhering to American interests with force or the threat of it,” Daddis wrote.

McMaster doesn’t view himself as a dove. He described views of American policy that throw the ills of the world on capitalism or colonialism as revealing a fundamental “arrogance.” It voids out the agency of others, and it is “an exercise in self-flagellation” and a “curriculum of mild self-loathing,” he said. 

McMaster’s view of strategic narcissism, in fact, demands violence. Strategic narcissism leads not only to overconfident action but also to undervaluing the costs and consequences of inaction, he said Wednesday. Not enforcing the Syrian red line was one such example, the complete withdrawal from Iraq in 2013 was another.

This view extends into other conflicts as well.

“Sometimes war chooses you.” 

Geopolitics

Fiona Hill, a Nobody to Trump and Putin, Saw Into Them Both

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vladimir Putin paid scant attention to Fiona Hill, a preeminent U.S. expert on Russia, when she was... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vladimir Putin paid scant attention to Fiona Hill, a preeminent U.S. expert on Russia, when she was seated next to him at dinners. Putin's people placed her there by design, choosing a "nondescript woman," as she put it, so the Russian president would... Read More

CIA creates Working Group on China as Threats Keep Rising

WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA said Thursday it will create a top-level working group on China as part of a... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA said Thursday it will create a top-level working group on China as part of a broad U.S. government effort focused on countering Beijing's influence.  The group will become one of fewer than a dozen mission centers operated by the CIA, with... Read More

Tensions Flare as Chinese Flights Near Taiwan Intensify

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — With record numbers of military flights near Taiwan over the last week, China has been showing... Read More

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — With record numbers of military flights near Taiwan over the last week, China has been showing a new intensity and military sophistication as it steps up its harassment of the island it claims as its own and asserts its territorial ambitions in... Read More

September 30, 2021
by Kate Michael
Former CIA Official Knows Havana Syndrome is Real, Because He Has It

WASHINGTON — Just as the CIA was reportedly evacuating an intelligence officer in Serbia who had injuries consistent with Havana... Read More

WASHINGTON — Just as the CIA was reportedly evacuating an intelligence officer in Serbia who had injuries consistent with Havana Syndrome, guests of Harvard University’s Intelligence Project were asserting that brain injuries from “a new form of asymmetric deniable warfare” aren’t just tricks of the mind. ... Read More

U.S. Military Commanders Assure Senate They Are Ready for Terrorism

WASHINGTON -- The war in Afghanistan is officially over but the terrorism threat to the United States continues, according to... Read More

WASHINGTON -- The war in Afghanistan is officially over but the terrorism threat to the United States continues, according to military commanders who testified to the U.S. Senate Tuesday. They acknowledged that the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal was disappointing after 20 years of war.  A suicide... Read More

September 27, 2021
by Dan McCue
Decision to Keep Land Border with Canada Closed Roils Lawmakers

WASHINGTON - The Biden administration’s decision to extend travel restrictions at its land border with Canada is causing consternation among... Read More

WASHINGTON - The Biden administration’s decision to extend travel restrictions at its land border with Canada is causing consternation among some members of Congress. The White House announced the decision to continue to bar nonessential travel by land between the two countries last week, just as... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top