President Trump has selected Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to be his new National Security Adviser. McMaster is a “warrior” and a true believer in military power, applied intelligently, that is. He has been highly critical of political power brokers in Washington, DC, and wrote a book on the mishandling of the military during the Vietnam War. Back in 2013, he wrote an article for the New York Times, an article I critiqued in the following post. McMaster, intelligent and well-read, nevertheless is defined by his military experience, seeing “security” as something to be attained through the savvy use of power by warriors like himself.
From July 26, 2013:
In the New York Times on July 20 , Major General H.R. McMaster penned a revealing essay on “The Pipe Dream of Easy War.” McMaster made three points about America’s recent wars and military interventions:
1. In stressing new technology as being transformative, the American military neglected the political side of war. They forgot their Clausewitz in a celebration of their own prowess, only to be brought back to earth by messy political dynamics in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
2. Related to (1), the US military neglected human/cultural aspects of war and therefore misunderstood Iraqi and Afghan culture. Cultural misunderstandings transformed initial battlefield victories into costly political stalemates.
3. Related to (1) and (2), war is uncertain and unpredictable. Enemies can and will adapt.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these points, or in the general’s broad lesson that “American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.”
The last sentence is a dig at the Air Force and an argument for the continuing relevance of ground forces, which is unsurprising coming from an Army general who commands Fort Benning in Georgia.
But the sum total of McMaster’s argument is remarkably banal. Yes, war is political, human, and chaotic. Did our military professionals and civilian experts really forget this before making their flawed decisions to go to war after 9/11?
McMaster ends his critique with a few words of praise for the US military’s adaptability. The usual refrain: We messed up, but we learned from our mistakes, and are ready to take on new challenges, as long as the department of defense remains fully funded, and as long as America puts its faith in men like McMaster and not in machines/technology.
If those are the primary lessons our country should have learned since 9/11, we’re in big, big trouble.
So, here are three of my own “lessons” in response to McMaster’s. They may not be popular, but that’s because they’re a little more critical of our military – and a lot more critical of America.
1. Big mistakes by our military are inevitable because the American empire is simply too big, and American forces are simply too…