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McMaster reiterates call for confidence in American democracy

WATCH: The former U.S. national security advisor spoke about his new book, “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World," with MSU Denver President Janine Davidson.

October 22, 2020

By Amanda Miller

The picture of a fractured United States approaching the 2020 presidential election is not pretty, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (Ret.) said Thursday in a virtual event for Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“It’s disastrous, actually,” he said.

The former national security advisor to President Donald Trump spoke Thursday as part of the President’s Speaker Series. The virtual event was moderated by President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., and Robert Preuhs, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Political Science.

The discussion centered on McMaster’s new book, “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World,” which examines the America’s place in the world through the lens of his 34 years of service in the U.S. Army and 13 months as national security advisor in the Trump White House. It brought together Trump-appointee McMaster with Davidson, who was an undersecretary of the U.S. Navy in the Obama administration and also a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.


WATCH MSU Denver President's Speaker Series with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (Ret.)


“I write in the conclusion (of the book) about the need for us to make a concerted effort not only to improve our strategic competence but our confidence … in who we are as a people and our confidence in our democratic processes and institutions – and in our common identity as Americans,” McMaster told Davidson.

McMaster contends in the book that the U.S. tried to solve long-term problems in places such as the Middle East and Afghanistan with short-term strategies characterized by “strategic narcissism.” Winning the first Gulf War so easily in the early 1990s was “a setup” that created a complacency on the part of the U.S., he said. It culminated in a lax, U.S.-centric belief that autocracies and perpetrators of human-rights atrocities, as he described in the book, would realize that a free and open society was in their best interests.


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“(Strategic narcissism) doesn’t acknowledge that they have any aspirations except in relation to us,” he said. “… Actually, they have their own agendas.”

McMaster is the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford University. He taught history at West Point and holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also the author of the 1997 book “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam.”


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That book, which “really laid into the military leadership for not doing their job,” as Davidson put it, is essentially required reading for military officers. When asked whether he’d write it all again, McMaster said he would because his experience in the Trump administration, “reinforced a lot of the same lessons.”

As a historian, McMaster said it’s always important to look back.

“History," he said. "does provide us with a dose of humility.”


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