H.R. McMaster | October 14, 2020
In AGS’ second Dave & Kay Phillips Family International Lecture of the semester, Professor David Schanzer was joined by Lt. Gen. (Ret.) H.R. McMaster, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General and National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump from 2017-2018, to discuss his new book Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World. Lt. Gen. (Ret.) McMaster highlighted the two key concepts from the book: strategic narcissism and strategic empathy, noting that strategic decisions are better when we look past ourselves and understand the intentions, motivations, and interests of other actors. He then addressed several key national security issue areas, including the U.S. involvement in Iraq and underplanning in those operations, as well as the role that the U.S. has played in Afghanistan over the past two decades. He then addressed at length the question of the relationship between the U.S. and China, suggesting that their strategy was one of co-option, coercion, and concealment. He noted that it is important to maximize positive contacts, work together with other partners, and acknowledge competition with China rather than aiming for a strategy of cooperative engagement.
The discussion then shifted to a Q&A, where Lt. Gen. (Ret.) McMaster answered questions about the strike on Qasim Solemani and its impacts, as well as whether and how the U.S. could practice strategic empathy with our relationship with China. He also addressed how history can help you to think through contemporary problems, noting the perspective it provides in alerting to the complex causality of events. He also answered questions on how a Biden administration might approach grand strategy, and the threats of a cyber infrastructure attack and online manipulations that exploit divisions in society. The conversation ended with a question from Professor Schanzer on the civil-military relations of voting; Lt. Gen. (Ret.) McMaster noted that, to remain apolitical during his time in the military, he did not vote but now, post-retirement, he would be voting for the first time this year (but would not be sharing or publicizing his vote choice).