Past Event On November 12, 2022

H.R. McMaster

The State of Play: Geopolitical Actions, Reactions & Consequences

H.R. McMaster

“Authoritarian regimes look good from the outside. They look really good on parade, man. You gotta give that to Putin. But, authoritarian regimes are actually very brittle. Democracies have the ability to improve–the ability to correct–because we have a say in how we’re governed.”

H.R. McMaster

The State of Play: Geopolitical Actions, Reactions & Consequences

Program Date: November 12, 2022

On Saturday, November 12, The Richmond Forum kicked off its 2022-2023 season with former White House national security advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (USA, Ret.). As a historian with a 34-year military career behind him, McMaster is uniquely qualified to provide his insights into the past, present, and future of the geopolitical landscape.

“We need strategic competence now more than ever.” McMaster began the evening by explaining his motivation for accepting the national security advisor position under former President Donald Trump in 2017. “I felt that our strategic competence had atrophied. This was an opportunity to help a new president restore [that].”

“I wanted to take partisanship out of the process,” McMaster said. “We should not craft courses of action based on partisan political considerations.”

McMaster explained that, while in the White House, he always presented multiple policy options to the president, so that he, as the person elected by and held accountable to the American people, could make the ultimate decision.

McMaster discussed some of the administration’s strategic priorities from his time in the White House, emphasizing conflicts with North Korea, China, Russia, Afghanistan, and Iran.

A key issue underlying these conflicts, according to McMaster, is a lack of strategic empathy. He asserted that without accounting for another leader’s true motivations, we fall into cognitive traps like confirmation bias and mirror imaging. “Putin is driven by a sense of honor lost at the end of the Cold War and an associated obsession with restoring Russia to national greatness. He sees Ukraine as the main object of that ambition.”

“I think, as we hopefully learned with COVID, problems that develop abroad, like a pandemic or jihadist terrorism, can only be dealt with at an exorbitant cost once they reach our shores.”

– H.R. McMaster

For the U.S., McMaster believes the end of the Cold War caused leaders to become overly optimistic and, in some cases, hubristic. “That overconfidence was a set-up for the strategic shocks and difficulties that we encountered in the 2000s when the optimism shifted towards pessimism and resignation.”

“One of the biggest challenges we face today is that too many Americans, young Americans in particular, don’t feel a sense of agency [in our democracy].” The road forward could be through better teaching history and civics, without “some contrived, happy view.” He emphasized the importance of celebrating our nation’s triumphs while also acknowledging our pitfalls.

McMaster closed the evening with gratitude for The Richmond Forum. “By having meaningful, respectful discussions about the challenges we face, we can work together to build a better future.”

Explore the program book.

In the question and answer portion of the program moderated by Executive Director Heather Crislip, H.R. McMaster noted:

  • He believes that the only satisfactory resolution to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is “Russia loses, Ukraine wins,” and that Ukraine’s victory is quite feasible.
  • When assessing the risk of various actions and counter-actions, it is also important to assess the risk of inaction, which McMaster believes is often overlooked.
  • McMaster thinks it is not currently the right time to admit Ukraine to NATO, as these discussions could fuel disinformation in Russia.
  • While a palace coup is not likely, a popular uprising in Russia may not be out of the question.
  • Increasingly, more Russians are getting their news from non-state-controlled channels and some of Putin’s stronger supporters are now beginning to criticize the war effort.
  • In talking about China’s ambition to take over Taiwan, McMaster sang a line from a Funkadelic song: “If you don’t like the effects, don’t produce the cause.” He noted that his Hoover Institution colleague and previous Forum speaker, Condoleezza Rice, delighted our audience with a musical number on the piano during her visit to the Altria Theater in 2010.
  • To build positive partnerships with Iran, McMaster would like to see better alignment between the U.S.’s environmental policy, national security policy, and efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
  • McMaster is a fan of “interest mapping” as a means of fostering cooperation. The process pinpoints where the parties’ interests are aligned and where they are divergent.
  • McMaster is currently writing a memoir about his experience in the White House.

“His unique perspective of the world stage is enlightening, encouraging, and scary at the same time. There is so much knowledge in that man’s brain and we only had time to scratch the surface. The presentation ended with me wanting more, a lot more.”

– Subscriber Comment

About H.r. McMaster

Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (USA, Ret.) was assistant to the president for national security affairs from 2017-2018. Renowned and distinguished as a pre-eminent “warrior-thinker” and “iconoclast general,” McMaster currently operates from The Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His Ph.D. in History from UNC Chapel Hill grounds his perspectives, and his 34 years of military service gave him a front-row seat to global affairs in our era.

Former National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster is a preeminent voice on leadership, global security, and international affairs. He is recognized for his leadership in the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Named one of TIME‘s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and Fortune‘s “50 World’s Greatest Leaders”, McMaster is renowned as a “warrior-intellectual.” He is the author of two important and New York Times bestselling books on national security: Battlegrounds and Dereliction of Duty.

McMaster was commissioned in the United States Army upon graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1984. His command assignments in the United States Army include Commanding General, Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning; Commander, Combined Joint Inter-Agency Task Force Shafafiyat (Transparency) in Kabul, Afghanistan; and Commander, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Carson, Colorado and Iraq. He also served as Special Assistant to Commander, Multinational Force Iraq, and as an Assistant Professor of History at West Point. He was a research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, and a Senior Consulting Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

McMaster serves as an Advisory Board Member for Spirit of America, geospatial-intelligence corporation Edgybees, C3 AI, and Strider Technologies, as a Board Member of Zoom Video Communications and of Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors. McMaster has published scores of essays, articles, and book reviews on leadership, history, and the future of warfare in many publications including Foreign Affairs, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. He was a contributing editor for Survival from 2010-2017 and is currently a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution alongside fellow Forum speaker Condoleeza Rice (2010).

Who Else has spoken at The Forum?

More than 240 distinguished speakers have participated in The Forum since its inception in 1987. Our list of alumni includes past U.S. presidents, sitting heads of state, and leaders from the sciences, arts, business, and more.

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