Lt. General H.R. McMaster (@ltghrmcmaster) was the 26th National Security Advisor and author of Dereliction of Duty and Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.
What We Discuss with Lt. General H.R. McMaster:
- The problem with taking a “George Constanza approach” to warfare if we want to resolve conflict instead of just drawing it out longer than it needs to be.
- Why does the United States keep fighting, as H.R. said on 60 Minutes, “a one-year war 20 times” in Afghanistan?
- The importance of exercising strategic empathy in order to understand how opposing states think rather than allowing strategic narcissism to convince us that they have the same motivations and think like us.
- Why immigration is good for the United States and we should be encouraging it as a way to compete instead of discouraging it.
- If H.R. believes that climate change is one of our greatest threats and challenges, why did he support a US withdrawal from the Paris Accords?
- And much more…
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When you discover that the former National Security Advisor who was fired by tweet just wrote a book weeks before a presidential election, you probably assume it’ll be a tell-all about butting heads with the administration over policy and that it might include some juicy details that will either confirm or deny your impression of what life in that circle is like. But — pleasant surprise — this is not that book!
Joining us on this episode is Lt. General H.R. McMaster, the 26th National Security Advisor and author of Dereliction of Duty and Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World. Here, we discuss the problems with enshrining a “George Costanza” approach to warfare into policy, why the United States seems determined to fight “a one-year war 20 times” in Afghanistan, the importance of exercising strategic empathy over strategic narcissism, why immigration is crucial to the health of our country rather than something to be systematically denied, how to face climate challenges reasonably without putting our country at a disadvantage, and much more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss our two-parter with wrongfully imprisoned Erik Aude? Catch up by starting with episode 147: Erik Aude | Imprisoned in Pakistan for a Crime He Didn’t Commit Part One here!
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THANKS, LT. GENERAL H.R. MCMASTER!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World by H.R. McMaster
- Dereliction of Duty : Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam by H.R. McMaster
- H.R. McMaster | Twitter
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu
- Thucydides | Ancient History Encyclopedia
- George Goes Out on a High Note | Seinfeld
- H.R. McMaster: The 60 Minutes Interview | CBS News
- Beware the “RMA’nia!” | The Brookings Institution
- 20 Years Later: Remembering the Attack on Khobar Towers | US Air Force
- The Iranian Hostage Crisis | Office of the Historian
- Ho Chi Minh | American Experience, PBS
- Nikki Haley: ‘We Will Never Accept a Nuclear North Korea’ | CNN Politics
- The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia by Andrei Lankov
- A Peninsula of Paradoxes: South Korean Public Opinion on Unification and Outside Powers | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- Economic Consequences of Korean Reunification | Investopedia
- Don’t Hold Your Breath for Korean Reunification: 5 Problems | Time
- Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor? | The National WWII Museum
- National Security Strategy 2017 | Homeland Security Digital Library
- Is Russia Interfering in the 2020 Election? Yes — Here’s How | Vox
- George HW Bush and the End of the Cold War | Crash Course US History #44
- Germany Proves How Essential Natural Gas Is – And the U.S. Must Supply | Forbes
- What Is Novichok, the Russian Nerve Agent Tied to Navalny Poisoning? | The New York Times
- 1990s: The Golden Decade : In Pursuit of a Better Way of Life | Los Angeles Times
- How 20 Years of Education Reform Has Created Greater Inequality | Stanford Social Innovation Review
- Cities Ask if It’s Time to Defund Police and ‘Reimagine’ Public Safety | The New York Times
- Defunding Police after George Floyd’s Killing Doesn’t Have to Mean More Crime | CNN
- McMaster Says No Redo on Paris Climate Deal Decision | The Washington Post
- Pros and Cons of Fracking: Research Updates | Yale Climate Connections
- Chernobyl: The True Scale of the Accident | WHO
- Not Just India, Tibet — China Has 17 Territorial Disputes with Its Neighbours, on Land & Sea | ThePrint
- US Is Woefully Unprepared for Cyber-Warfare | Roll Call
Transcript for H.R. McMaster | The Fight to Defend the Free World (Episode 410)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Coming up on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:00:02] We're human. People fight for the same reasons that the Thucydides identified 2,500 years ago, fear, honor, and interest. And so if you're not addressing the drivers of conflict, you're just treating the symptoms and you're going to perpetuate that conflict. It's just going to go on longer than necessary. It is a contest of wills. It really requires you, convincing your enemy, that your enemy has been defeated.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:29] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. If you're new to this show, we have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional national security advisor. And each show turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:00:55] And today, like I said, the occasional national security advisor, we have General H.R. McMaster with us today. This is a fun discussion about how the world has continued to get worse while we're preoccupied with partisan discourse and other crap, that's ruining the country. We also dip into Iran, China, North Korea. And how he and his team developed strategies that not only affect the United States but the entire free world. I had a great time with this one. And if you're interested in global affairs and the world in disarray in which we currently live, I think you'll enjoy this conversation as well.
[00:01:25] If you're wondering how I managed to book all these amazing authors, thinkers, generals every single week, it's because of my network. And I'm teaching you how to build a similar network. It's a free course. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. No credit card required, none of that crap. By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribed to the course in the newsletter. They contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company. Now, here's General H.R. McMaster.
[00:01:51] In your job, you have to take every perspective and then you have to decide which one or which pieces of which perspectives are actually going to yield the best result. And that seems like an impossibly difficult, essentially lose-lose scenario where you and or everyone around you is constantly second-guessing your decisions. If it's not you, it's somebody else. Where do you even begin that process? Because you have to take your emotion out of the decision. Ray Dalio had that same problem, right? You have a thousand inputs. They come from different people. Yours are life and death though. So you can't just go, "Well, I liked Jim and so I went with his decision and you know, now, we are where we are and it's just a huge problem." How do you evaluate the inputs?
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:02:34] Right. Jordan, first of all, it's got to assemble a team that can bring together an interdisciplinary perspective because I mean, war conflict, it's a complex endeavor and you have to understand really what is driving and constraining the other. In Battlegrounds, this book I just finished, I mean, I introduced this concept of strategic empathy to try to view these complex competitions from the perspective of the other. It's not a new idea. This goes back to Sun Tzu — know your enemy — but then you also have to know the complex environment in which you're operating. And so war is this continuous interaction of opposites, right? You and maybe multiple enemies and adversaries inside of a complex environment. And you know, nobody's going to have the full range of expertise necessary to understand that complex problem set holistically.
[00:03:27] So you have to bring the right team together. And then the key thing isn't as a historian, it's all about the question. You got to ask the right questions. And you're better off with a general broad question. Like, what is the nature of this conflict? Who is the enemy? What is their strategy? What are their objectives? It's through asking these kinds of questions and creating a collaborative environment with people who bring interdisciplinary expertise. That's how you begin, I think, to frame a problem and apply design thinking to these complex challenges we're facing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:59] How do you make it okay for people to be wrong around you or to give you advice that turns out to be wrong because I would imagine you have to foster that. Because otherwise you just have people that go, "I'm not a hundred percent sure. I'm not going to say anything even though I'm the Iran expert on this. I don't want to get in trouble," and then people die as a result.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:04:16] Well, it's all about the climate that you foster. You know there's this conventional wisdom about the military. That's very hierarchical. You know, nobody speaks out of turn. That's not been my experience. And it's really what you alluded to at the beginning. I mean, the stakes are pretty darn high. So what you want to do is encourage people to be participative, to not hold back. Also, you want to create an organization that has really freed in terms of their ability to think and share their thoughts. But also in the military and the environment in which people are free to act and to actually make mistakes at times. I mean, because the most dangerous course of action typically in combat is to not do anything.
[00:04:52] And so what you want to do is encourage initiatives at lower levels. And to do that, you have to be able to underwrite risk and you have to be able to, I think, communicate clearly what you want to achieve overall. Tell everyone we're on your team as much as you can, about what you're trying to achieve, and how just generally you want to achieve it and free them up to take the initiative.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:13] How much does somebody at your level employ or ask people to employ outside of the box thinking? And I know that sounds like a cliche, but you hear in the military like you said, it's hierarchical. You don't want — you see people at the middle and at the lower level, say like, "No, we don't want people to think too much. Follow the exact instructions because otherwise, you're going to get your head shut off." But like at the higher level, it seems like you have to be thinking. Not just like the enemy, but you have to say — what sort of other outside the box thinking, can we employ? Because we see Russia doing this with cyber warfare — well, Russia, Iran, China, you see our enemies doing this. We can't just be — it goes back — I saw this movie when I was a kid, where Napoleon was kind of invading all these places and the guys are just marching up and they're shooting cannons and they're just walking slowly towards this row of cannons and everyone's getting blown to bits. And I remember asking my dad. "Why are they just walking slowly toward the enemy?" And my dad's like, "That's how they fought back then." And I thought this is — I'm eight. And that's the dumbest idea I've ever seen in my entire life. There's a 10-year-old in the front with a drum. They're all going to die.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:06:14] No, that's why you need an organization that encourages initiative and problem solving and thinking imaginatively. And this is one of the strengths of the American army and the continental army and our militia in the revolution. Right? This was, these were the tactics that the British were employing. Even in kind of dense unfavorable terrain in the South. And you had this combination of riflemen within militias and skirmishers, that would be out in front. They just post with a much different look than they had been accustomed to. And it was confounding to many of these British commanders.
[00:06:45] You know my least favorite saying you hear people use sometimes is, “Hey, stay in your lane." I mean, "Hell, no! Get out of your lane." Think about problems from different perspectives. Consult others who bring imaginative thinking to these complex problems. I think, in the military, what we emphasize is seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative. And the initiative is you gain it by doing something unexpected, by shocking your adversary, surprising your adversary. And then it's kind of like a boxing match. If you land a jab, you got to follow with your right very quickly. And I think it's just an important concept to emphasize the initiative.
[00:07:25] In our command post in Iraq, when we're fighting a really brutal, determined enemy of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, in their training base. This was kind of the Fort Benning, Georgia of Al-Qaeda in Iraq or the Quantico, Virginia training base. We had hanging in our command post. Two questions — or three questions who else needs to know? Because one of the ways you see the initiative is you share information, horizontally, across your organization, and you condition members of your organization to say, "Oh my buddy, over there, he's got a problem," or, "She's got a problem. I can help solve that problem." And so now, you're posing the enemy with multiple dilemmas because everybody's working together in a kind of self-synchronizing way within an organization. You can tell really, I think, an effective maneuver unit in the army by just listening to the radio. Are their communications going straight up and down? Or is the majority of their conversations — is it going horizontally across the organization? So it's who else needs to know? The other big question in there was where are the opportunities and how do we exploit that?
[00:08:28] You don't a lot of bad things happen in combat or a lot of bad things happen in life.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:32] Sure.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:08:32] But if you look at what happens and say, "Okay, well, how do I turn this to my advantage? How do I bend this situation back to our goals and objectives?" And then finally, your question was how do we retain and exploit the initiatives? Because you don't want to let up, right? You never want to become complacent. And so you have this conditioning of a unit to take initiative, I think, is immensely important.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:52] This in the book Battlegrounds, which by the way, I listened to it in audio and it was like 19 hours. What is that in pages 400 or something? 500 pages.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:09:00] Right. Yeah. I think something like that. That's including notes though. It's a page-turner, Jordan, I'm telling you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:05] Well, I read the whole, it was a long weekend, but it was a good one. Yeah. You mentioned in the book Battlegrounds — which we'll link in the show notes — that going back to what you were saying, exploiting the initiative, we run the risk of slash are not doing this in Iraq and Afghanistan where we're kind of like, "Okay, we did it this big surge and we got them on their back foot. Now, let's get everybody out of here and go home." And it's like, "Wait, no, this is — if they're down, this is when you pin them. You don't go, 'Okay, well, let's wait for them to get back up, rest, have some water, and get a meal in, get a good night's sleep. And then pounce back up on us." Like, that's kind of what we're doing with the enemy over there from the sound of it.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:09:42] Right. And what I argue is that one of the reasons why these wars have been longer than anticipated and frustrating is we took these short-term approaches toward the long-term problems. We think realistically a lot of times about war because we're biased towards thinking about change over continuity.
[00:10:00] Hey, we've got this new nifty technology that's going to make war fast, cheap, efficient. Well, actually there are a lot of continuities in a war that you have to consider. War is an extension of politics. And I write about these in the conclusion, right? So you have to get to a sustainable political outcome.
[00:10:14] To your point, Jordan, you know, the consolidation of military gains to get to those political outcomes. It's not like an optional phase and it will hurt. It's something we've always had to do. The second factor is that, you know, war is human. People fight for the same reasons that Thucydides identified 2,500 years ago, fear, honor, and interest. And so if you're not addressing the drivers of conflict, you're just treating the symptoms and you're going to perpetuate that conflict. It's just going to go on longer than necessary. War is uncertain because, as I mentioned already, this interaction with your adversaries makes the future course of events or anything but linear.
[00:10:50] And then finally wars, it is a contest of wills. It really requires you, convincing your enemy, that your enemy has been defeated. And when you're saying, "Hey, you know, I'm just going to take the George Costanza approach to war and leave on a high note. Your enemies are going to say, "Well, I'll just wait for these guys out."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:08] Right.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:11:08] So I think really making sure that you consider continuity as well as change when confronting really any kind of complex problem but especially war, I think, is very important.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:20] Why do we keep fighting — I think you said this on 60 Minutes, a few days ago. We'll link to that video in the show notes if it's up online. I don't know if it is. I downloaded it in a way that I don't think you can normally do but I'll leave it at that. But you said on 60 Minutes that we keep fighting a one-year war — what is it? 20 times, 20 years in Afghanistan.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:11:38] We're up to 19 now, almost 20, right, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:40] So is that because — and I'm not asking you to assign blame necessarily, but is that because military leaders are like, "This is going to be over," because you all should know better, right? Or is this politician going, "Hey, look, get it done yesterday and let's just get it done as fast as possible so I don't have to hear about it when I'm campaigning again"?
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:11:57] Well, you know, it's a combination of both, Jordan. So, in the 1990s, after we were flushed with the victory in the Gulf War, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:02] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:12:04] With tremendous technological military prowess. And there was this assumption that grew overtime associated with this idea of a revolution in military affairs. They were called the RMA, right? Future war was going to be fast, cheap, and efficient, waged mainly kind of at standoff range. And so in Afghanistan, it worked to an extent because we empowered Afghan militias with our tremendous airpower, with tremendous special operations forces, and with intelligence officers. And they defeated the Taliban regime in terms of driving them out of Kabul. But what they didn't do, what they couldn't do is consolidate gains. And then, of course, we turned our attention to Iraq. Then there was a surge in Afghanistan under President Obama, but he announced the withdrawal of those troops at the same time as a reinforcement.
[00:12:50] So, I mean, I could go on about this but essentially, it was a combination of military and civilian leaders who didn't really, maybe understand fully what needed to happen or there wasn't the will necessary to commit the effort over that amount of time and at that level of effort,
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:05] You mentioned that strategic empathy was one of the weapons. Can you give an example of that? One in the book is from Iran where we just maybe don't quite understand what the enemy wants at all.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:13:15] Right. What we tend to kind of rush to what we would like to do. So our strategies sometimes are based on what the purveyor prefers rather than what the situation demands.
[00:13:25] In Iran, if there's a pattern to US policy toward Iran, since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, it is that belief in a conciliatory approach to Iran. And that will affect a change, not only in the behavior of the Iranian regime but in the regime's very nature. Well, it hasn't panned out. And that's because we undervalue the way that the revolution ideology drives that regime. And we pay attention instead to the shop window of the regime, which is typically the president.
[00:13:57] And so we think in the 1990s, this guy Khatami comes in after the Khobar Towers bombing to kill 17 American airmen. And President Clinton is thinking about, "Well, I'm going to strike Iran and try to restore a degree of deterrence in this proxy war they're fighting against us, but there's a new president coming in. The guy's a librarian. He must be not much nicer than the other guy," but he's the shop window for the regime. The regime is the Supreme leader who is driven by that revolutionary ideology and the Islamic revolutionary guards who are the protectors of the revolution and who's good force exports the revolution. And it's a really sustained campaign against the great Satan, you know, the United States, the little Satan, Israel and the Arab monarchies.
[00:14:39] And so what I argue for in the book is, hey, we have to just base our strategy toward Iran, our policy toward Iran on the reality that this regime is permanently hostile to us unless there's a transformation really from within. That's going to be up to the Iranian people, but our policies should be based on — not on wishful thinking about the regime but the reality of what drives the regime.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:00] Yeah, it was kind of crazy to me — and look, I'm no expert on international affairs. I'm a free and podcaster, but like from my whole life has been — the '80s. I was born in 1980. So that was sort of defined by my mom telling me when I was very little about the hostage crisis. And I was like, "How do we have people stuck in a house in another hostile country for over a year? How is this even possible? We have all the allies in the world." And then now that I'm older, I'm like, we have this crazy religious theocracy who nonstop on their own television and media, talk about destroying the West entirely and turning the rest of the world into a theocratic crap pile. Like the one that they're controlling. They have numerous internal revolutions that they put down brutally because the people of Iran don't want to live under them either. And then every year it's like, "Well, let's just buy some more time while they try to get nuclear weapons." What's the worst thing that can happen? And everyone — I feel like a lot of us who I think are just maybe oversimplifying it, but I'd like to think — have a little bit of sense — are going, "What are you doing? You're just going to wait until they have weapons, like North Korea. And then we're just going to pray that they don't use them, even though their shipping has blah and terrorist organizations as many weapons as they can get their hands on by the truckload, we're going to wait out their nuclear ambition. What are we doing? Why?"
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:16:13] Right. Well, Jordan, I think what you're alluding to is this tendency toward mirror imaging. And this is one of the features that I write about in connection with this idea of strategic narcissism, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:22] Yes.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:16:23] We just kind of assume that they're going to behave the same way we would behave. And I wrote a book on Vietnam years ago, titled Dereliction of Duty, and it's about how and why Vietnam became an American war. And what was extraordinary about that story, I think, one of the elements of it is how this mirror imaging affected the Americanization of the war in Vietnam. And in particular, the assumption that Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese communist leadership in Hanoi would respond just the way we would to our actions.
[00:16:52] In fact, one of the memoranda that came out of the Pentagon around that time talked about Ho Chi Minh being like the reasonable man in English common law. Well, he wasn't, right? He was driven by a nationalist and a communist ideology that defied, you know, really what our calculations were based on the reasonable man of English common law.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:11] Yeah, I think, we make this mistake a lot. I often hear arguments like, "Oh, well, Kim Jong-un," or, "Kim Jong-il," or whoever we're talking about at the time, I guess Kim Jong-un now, of course, "Is going to be rational. He's going to react rationally to whatever we're doing," but it's not even the right kind of rational. It's like, we're thinking, "Well, he's going to do what's best for his country and this and that, and the other thing." It's like, no, you're talking about a desperate who's in power at all costs — the cost of his own people, murders his own family members with cannons. He's not going to react rationally. It's like telling yourself that your cat is going to react rationally or your two-year-old is going to react rationally. Why would they do that? They're not looking at long-term consequences. They're just trying to hold on to the next day so they don't die.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:17:53] And what you could say is it's a different form of rationality. You could say Kim Jong-il is a rational person based on how he calculates his interest and makes his decisions. And as you mentioned, he's driven mainly by how do I keep the Kim family regime in power, right? This is the only hereditary Communist dictatorship in history. Right? And you know, he doesn't want to be the one to let it go. He's just the third in line.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:18] Well, also there's probably no safe place on earth for somebody like that. Because even if he negotiated a treaty with half the world and said, "Look, leave me alone. I'm going to go live in privacy and Panama like the Shah of Iran did in the '80s or something like that. Someone's going to go find that guy and that's going to be the end of it. He has too many enemies over too long of a period of time. I mean, even if it's just the North Korean people, they're going to trample them to death if they get half a chance.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:18:42] Right. And those in his network too.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:45] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:18:45] This kind of criminalized, patronage network that he's created around him. And so this ruling class is fearful. They're fearful of any kind of — the North Koreans decide at one point, "Hey, well, maybe I should have a say in how I'm governed. Maybe I should end this corrupt brutal dictatorship." That is just ringing life out of the country. I mean, it has starved millions of their own people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:09] It was like, there's no win for them because even the elite in that country are people that probably make the equivalent of 50,000, or maybe half that US dollars per year. They can't go live in Monaco or Panama for the rest of their lives if they call it quits over there. They will be eaten alive. So they're holding the wolf by the ears over there.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:19:28] Right. Well, I think what's changed a little bit in North Korea. One of the factors that I bring out in the book is, there is a kind of a new class there. It's a kind of emerging middle-class, privileged class in Pyongyang. It's not clear how they're going to react when they start really, really feeling the pinch of maximum pressure and the unprecedented UN sanctions that they put in place. Thank goodness. I mean, based in large measure on Nikki Haley's Herculean efforts when she was our ambassador to the UN. So if we can actually get those sanctions enforced, I think, there's a chance maybe that we can test this thesis that Kim Jung-un can be convinced that his regime is safer without these weapons than he is with them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:07] That's a good point because I think as soon as you get, I guess, a critical mass of people that realize that the only way they're not going to starve to death is to walk across a frozen river to China and smuggle in rice and other food. They're going to realize that something is wrong, especially when those people start to see the outside world, which is inevitable. I mean, even getting information in is tough, but if you have a cousin whose job it is to go to China every week and smuggle food and goods in and out, they're going to tell you, "Hey, there are dog bowls with more food than we've seen on any holiday on the floor in China."
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:20:38] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:39] You know, there's something wrong with our government.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:20:40] I cite this book by Lankov called The Real North Korea. And I used it heavily as I was writing the chapter. It's really well done. And the guy is one of the most foremost experts. And what was, I think, neat about what he said — he talked about how the Moon government, South Korean government is really anxious to remove the minefields and barriers between North and South. And the point that Lankov makes is — the main barrier is psychological, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:02] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:21:02] These are people who have been conditioned that you can't even have an independent thought. So he thinks, as you're alluding to, what's most important is to give them access to information. Get them to begin to have their own thoughts. And that's the psychological barrier, the mental barrier that is going to be, I think, most important when eventually the peninsula unifies, right? That's going to be the biggest obstacle, I think.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:24] Yeah, it seems like it almost will happen from within the military. The South will end up getting some communication through a lot of effort and a lot of backchanneling that says, "Hey, all that artillery that's aimed at you, we're not going to fire that thing, but we need you to come in and figure this out," because it's so much — I mean, it's going to cost what 3 trillion to develop the North. And that's just to build — what? Roads and electrical infrastructure, and it's not going to bring it up to snuff in the South. That's going to take two generations, probably to do something like that.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:21:51] Yeah. A lot of your listeners are probably seeing this, you know, this nighttime satellite —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:55] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:21:55] — range of North Korea. You know what, actually, it's a very sad situation in the North, but you know, we ought to feel pretty good about what the situation looks like in the South, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:04] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:22:04] Because — you know what? At the end of the Korean war — and this is one of the arguments I'm making the book — about no short-term solutions to long-term problems. The situation in South Korea, it looked pretty bleak in 1953. Right? You had a country that was devastated by decades of war, a brutal occupation. The country had been stripped of really any tree. It had no raw materials. It had an illiterate population and a hostile neighbor, right? Who's going to sign up for that program?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:30] Right, yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:22:31] Well, we did. Right? And the country didn't make rapid progress really until the '70s, late '70s, and the '80s. The reforms of the '80s when — man, it really took off, right? Now, the Korean people deserve the credit for that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:43] Sure.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:22:43] The South Koreans — you know, a friend of mine was a Catholic priest and a chaplain, Father Vince Burns, one of the greatest guys in the world, Philadelphian and you know, he said, "Yeah, when I look at South Korea, I just think, man, after the war, they started rebuilding and didn't even take a coffee."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:58] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:23:00] Because they are incredibly industrious and entrepreneurial people. And that has been stifled in the North, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:07] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:23:07] What's the difference? It's the same people. North is the 30th parallel, but the people in the North 30th parallel have just been subjected to this totalitarian brutal regime.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:19] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest General H.R. McMaster. We'll be right back.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:09] And now back to H.R. McMaster on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:26:14] Actually, I've been to North Korea a few times on tours and things like that. And you see a lot of people there that are really intelligent. I've heard sort of — I guess you would call it — not locker room talk. What's the word I'm looking for? Kind of like when you're going to the bathroom and you're like, "So what's it really like?" There's guys that have told me things like, "We just want to be normal, man. All this Kim Jong-il, all this Kim Jong-un stuff — a lot of people think it's pretty stupid, but we just don't want to get in trouble." And then you leave the bathroom and it's like, "Ah, sorry, I don't speak English." I mean, it's interesting to hear that kind of thing. Because it's not that everyone thinks that way, but there's certainly an educated middle/higher class where they just go, "This is the dumbest thing in the world. I've been to China. I went on a business trip. I know they have electricity after 9:00 p.m. unlike us.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:26:56] Right. What the North Korean regime has done is, you know, they've done — really not as sophisticated as China has from a technological perspective, but they've weaponized people's social networks. So they have informants spread out like within every village. If they're suspected of saying your crossword against the regime, they just disappear. They go on to these Gulags. Or worse, they're killed. So it's really, it's a humanitarian kind of catastrophe there in the North and it's worth calling that out.
[00:27:23] You know what I'm a little bit disappointed about these days — and I got to talk to some more of my South Korean friends about it. South Korea seems like they're not as supportive of some of the escapees from the North as they did —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:33] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:27:34] — in the past. And I don't understand that. You know, I think that the right answer is to welcome them. Give them a jumpstart as entrepreneurs in the South and help them with education. Because if, and when that peninsula comes back together, they're going to need a cadre of people who can go up to the North and can help rebuild what is becoming a more and more kind of destitute, but you know, dangerous place. Because of the Kim regime, they make the choice where their resources go and they haven't been cutting back on the missile program or the nuclear program or the military broadly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:05] Yeah, it's scary. I used to live in former East Germany and that was a reunification process. That was markedly different. Because it was just like, "Hey, we're all the same people. Get the cranes out. Let's build up the City of Berlin and then go and clean out all these old chemical factories and sell them and have it modernized. North Korea is starting from 50 years behind where East Germany was.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:28:25] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:25] And probably a lot more of a cultural barrier because at least in East Germany, they knew who Pink Floyd was and they had Bon Jovi records stuff. But in North Korea, it's like just a complete wall.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:28:35] Right. That's what you see some of the latest tensions between North and South about it, some of these groups that have been sending you information into the North via balloon.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:44] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:28:45] This is what really has Pyongyang up in arms. It's why they blew up the building that was supposed to help coordinate between North and South. And I think what they see is the greatest threat to them is any kind of information that the regime does not directly control.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:00] Going back sort of to the macro level. You talk about integrated strategies. So not only mapping out strategies of combat or of relations, but also the emotions and ideology behind other nations and their actions. And we're kind of touching on this right now with North Korea, you mentioned as well with Iran. Is somebody actually doing that? Or was it just something you recommend? And then it's like, your office does it, but other people are kind of going, "Eh, we don't need that. We just need invasion plans."
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:29:24] No, we actually did it. And what's really important about — to understand about the National Security Council Staff is that the National Security Council was developed after World War II and, on the beginning of the Cold War, kind of to avoid another Pearl Harbor. That was one of the big lessons of Pearl Harbor is, there's one agency that knew this, but the other didn't know it. It was also a lesson of 9/11, you know, the 9/11 Commission and the establishment of the Director of National Intelligence, whatever you think of that decision — I mean, it was an adaptation meant to avoid that ever happening again. But what these sorts of failures that we view, at least we understand better, at least in retrospect, always highlight is a lack of coordination and integration between departments and agencies.
[00:30:02] You could say that about the COVID response too. Some of the biggest disappointments in our ability to generate a biomedical response to the crisis. It has really something to do with a lack of coordination and integration across the government. The NSC staff is where the only place, I think, it can happen in the government. Because you could appoint like health and human services, "Hey, we need a group of whatever," but you know, those other departments don't work for that department, right? They all work for the White House overall. And whereas the National Security Advisors just never direct anything. What the National Security Advisors should do is run a process, right? That gives the results of the best analysis.
[00:30:36] That's the interdisciplinary analysis we talked about at the beginning of our conversation, but then it also results in these integrated strategies where we can combine the elements of national power. We have so many competitive advantages as the United States to be able to integrate our diplomatic efforts, our economic efforts, our financial efforts, informational efforts, and then military as well with intelligence. So we have law enforcement, right? Bring so many tools to bear and especially if you extend that to our private sector, where there's so much potential. And then if you extended even further to our like-minded partners and allies internationally, I mean, we can do this. We can overcome these challenges. And I think oftentimes we just don't think clearly enough about how to integrate those elements so that they're synergistic —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:25] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:31:25] Or at least maybe not in conflict with each other. If we can just get everybody pulling in the same direction. And then what you do is you develop a high-level strategy. You're not going to tell the Department of State how to do things or defense or anything for the White House. It's not useful. But you should identify where are the areas where the departments have to work together, what are the important simultaneous actions and initiatives and programs and operations that are to be conducted, and what are sequential, how do we build on each other. And then once you have that strategy, you get to be flexible. I mean, the world changes. Your adversaries react.
[00:31:57] But without that strategy, when something happens — what I've seen in the government a lot of times, at the high levels especially, our government then just reacts to that event. "Oh, look at what happened. They've attacked. They're against us," or occurs in a referendum in Iraq or fill in the blank. But if you have a strategy, you can say, "Oh, well, you know, we didn't think that was going to happen," but how do we bend or torque that event? So we should, we can make progress toward our objectives, right? So we can overcome obstacles to progress or exploit opportunities.
[00:32:24] So I think strategies, you're never just written in stone and like, you call it a day, "Hey, we're done," problem solved. But without a strategy, you're just reactive and you think much less effective at being able to advance your interests.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:37] From the outside, looking in, and especially from reading your book, correct me if I'm wrong. I came away with the impression that China certainly has a strategy. They've integrated their private companies because every company is essentially owned by the Communist Party, in large part, and also Russia/Vladimir Putin, because he's the only one pulling the strings over there, has a strategy. But if the US, like you said, seems to be reacting. Meanwhile, Putin is like, "Good. Okay, I'm going to take that and move that piece over here and I'm going to do this." And then China is doing the same thing all around the world. And the US is kind of like juggling and then China throws us a chainsaw and we're juggling that. And Putin throws us a grenade, we're juggling that, but nobody's going like, "Hey, what's the plan for putting all these things down and then us moving forward with what we need to do."
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:33:16] Well, that's what we endeavored to do. And I believe that's where we produced, Jordan. So for your listeners, I'd recommend the highly readable December 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States. We developed this for President Trump. And, you know, I mean, I think it's a solid document. I mean, I don't know who's going to win the election. I think whoever does that document is going to stand the test of time and it reflects really us putting into place some long overdue and important shifts in our approach to these complex challenges, in particular, I think, the approach towards China. We do have a strategy now.
[00:33:51] You often hear, "Oh, well, you know, the Trump Administration is doing X and Y and Z, but they don't have a strategy." Well, you know, X, Y, Z actually that amounts to a strategy. If we are protecting our industry and our research and development from China's sustained campaign of industrial espionage, that's a good thing. If we're simultaneously investing more so we can maintain our technological advantages in connection with the emerging data, economy, as well as from an investor perspective. That's a good thing too. If we are indicting and calling out APT10, their main hacking organization, and we're doing it with 12 other countries simultaneously, that sounds good to me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:26] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:34:27] But if we're promoting transparent standards in infrastructure investment internationally, if we are conducting arms sales to the Taiwanese, so they can deter China from forcibly subsuming Taiwan into the mainland. When you look at it broadly, the broad range of efforts, it is a strategy. It's pretty clear.
[00:34:46] And I think that whoever's elected in November will continue it. I think it's really important, Jordan, foreign policy — this is one of the reasons I wrote the book is it shouldn't be controversial. Like when we were attacked on 9/11, Al-Qaeda didn't target Democrats or Republicans, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:03] Right.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:35:03] They targeted Americans. And so we need to come together on these challenges, relevant to the foreign policy and national security and work together. And as you mentioned, you know, these autocratic regimes, they can have a consistent long-term policy. They can announce — you know, China's Made in China 2025, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:20] Right.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:35:20] Or by 2050, you know, the Chinese Communist Party will reach X. But we have to strive to do better because it seems like in this partisan environment we're in, the new administration comes in and says, "Hey, what did my predecessor do? Oh, I have to undo that."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:34] Undo that. Yeah. Yeah. Do you think our divisions domestically right now are one of the greatest threats to our national security?
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:35:40] Absolutely, Jordan, they are. And our adversaries are doing everything they can to exploit them. I mean, Russia is masterful at this, you know. People talk about meddling in the election of 2016. That was part of it. The election meddling as part of a campaign that was designed mainly to drive us apart from each other and pit us against each other. Really the three main issues, number one, like 80 percent of the Russian bot control traffic from this IRA, this Internet Research Agency —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:06] Internet research.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:36:07] — was one race. Then in just a second were issues of immigration, gun control, and so forth. We can be our own worst enemies unless we come together as Americans. I hope we can restore confidence in who we are and in our democratic principles and institutions and processes.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:24] Do you think we kind of slept after the Cold War ended and the USSR falls — there's no more authoritarian superpowers, but we just think, "All right, liberal democracy, capitalism. We win. Pack up all the tanks or whatever. We're good now." And then it's like, Vladimir Putin goes, "All right, they are sleeping. They think they've won. Start screwing with them." I mean, that's what it looks like from my perspective.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:36:46] You know, I told you the stories in the introduction to the book, you know that I bore witness to this growing confidence. Because our regimen was patrolling the East-West German border, the day that East Germany lifted travel restriction to the West. That was a time of great jubilation, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:00] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:37:00] And celebration, and it should have been. We won the Cold War without firing a shot. The Soviet Union collapsed and so that was a boost to us and then our same regiments to deploy to a hot war in the Gulf war and demonstrate our ability to overmatch Saddam Hussein's military. Then I think that led to a period of complacency based on that overconfidence in the '90s. And that overconfidence was in many ways it was a setup. It was a setup, I think, for some of the disappointments of the early 200s. It's not just the 9/11 attacks but also the unanticipated length and difficulties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've read about how our confidence was shaken even more by the 2008 financial crisis. It's time for us, I think, to get away from this kind of dramatic swing from what was over-optimism and maybe hubris to pessimism and like resignation, maybe as we looked at foreign policy. Like I want something in the middle and that's really what the book is an argument for.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:54] It seems like Putin and our enemies, in general, played a pretty poor hand well, and the US and Europe played a really great hand, pretty poorly. That's very broad I realized. But would you agree with that? I mean, it seems like we had everything we needed and Putin was like, "Well, this is all I got. I went all in," and we just didn't react until now.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:38:11] Yeah. And you know, you can get a lot done if you're absolutely unscrupulous, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:14] Right.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:38:15] Putin knows he's in a position of relative weakness. The trends aren't in his favor, especially now. 2020 has been a bad year for everybody, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:21] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:38:21] It's been a really bad year for Vladimir Putin. It's supposed to be a big year for him. He was supposed to have a big celebration of the victory in the Great Patriotic War, World War II. He was supposed to actually celebrate his extension in power that changes to the constitution until 2036. But, of course, what hit him? A pandemic. Like it hit all of us. What else hit him? The collapse of oil prices. The demographic trends in the country are not good. Their economy is the size of Italy's or Texas's economy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:49] Wow.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:38:50] What does Putin do? He says, "Okay, if I can't be on top, I'm going to drag everybody else down."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:55] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:38:55] That's what he's been doing. He pictures himself as the last man standing in Europe because you know, everything he's doing to us, he's done it earlier in many ways more intentionally to Europeans, to divide European countries from each other and also to divide communities within each European country, pit them against each other. Again, it's his effort to drag everybody down.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:16] It's a very thing to do. And I don't mean that against Russian people. I mean, there's this, in fact, I think most Russians will agree with this. There's this story and I always get it wrong, but a farmer has one cow and his neighbor has two cows and then he gets a wish or something like that. And he goes, "Okay, great. Kill one of my neighbor's cows." Like, not, give me 15 cows, kill one of my neighbor's cows. There's different variations of this too. Right? Like a guy loses an eye and his enemy has both of his eyes and he goes, "I'll poke both that guy's eyes out when he gets a wish." And it's not just a Russian thing, but these are like parables in Russian history that go well before, probably back through even the time of the czar, these things were existing.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:39:52] Right. I tell the Russian peasant story — I mean I’ve got to give full credit to my colleague at Stanford, Kathryn Stoner, who told me the two cows story. And I used the book. It is a perfect metaphor, right? I mean, Putin wants to kill our cow, so let's not let him do it. You know, let's not be our own worst enemies on these.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:10] What do you think about countries like Germany, making these huge multi-billion dollars — is it a natural gas pipeline? Basically, it's going to make Germany massively dependent on Russia. It seems like a terrible idea. I wouldn't want to buy a key part of my infrastructure from North Korea or Iraq — or in Iraq for all intents and purposes, at least a friendly country or not outright hostile. It seems like the worst idea ever. I just don't understand it.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:40:33] It's a terrible idea. And you know, President Trump has been tough on Germany. And I love Germany. I mean, I've lived there for six and a half years. I love Chancellor Merkel. I think the world of her. One of my best colleagues as a National Security Advisor was Christoph Heusgen from Germany. We worked extremely well together. But, you know, Germany has to step up at this stage. I think they may be on the cusp of doing it. I hope so because I think they're seeing how aggressive China's been. And they're also seeing with the poisoning of Navalny, Putin's main up political adversary with this Novichok nerve agent and then him landing in Germany for medical care. I mean, I think, what more evidence do you need? So I think what Germany could really do is step up on defense spending, right? They spent only like one percent of their GDP. And we had this European deterrence initiative where we're spending about nine billion dollars a year more defense wise to rotate our forces to Germany. That's like 33 percent of Germany’s defense budget.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:30] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:41:31] Let's step up. And the other thing is, as you mentioned, Nord Stream too, the gas pipeline. I think it's a no brainer. The other thing is there's a good sourcing of that gas now, certainly through Ukraine, which could be a disadvantage if that pipeline will shut down.
[00:41:44] But also now, the US is a big exporter, could be a huge exporter of liquid natural gas, which by the way, is great for the environment relative to other fossil fuels — bridges to renewables. Germany and the energy sector banned it. They made a mistake, right? They made a mistake. They said, okay — they want to go to a hundred percent renewables. And then they said, "We're not going to do any nuclear." Well, I mean, you can't do that. That's not going to work.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:06] Right.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:42:06] It’s not going to fuel the economy. So this is one of the reasons why they're on a path to becoming overly dependent on Russian. The bad part is Russia will use that energy to coerce Germany.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:17] Of course.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:42:18] They got a path. They're doing that already, you know, internationally. So you're making a really important point, Jordan. I think that it's time now, really — this is why the subtitle of the book is, you know, The Fight to Defend The Free World. Okay. So, hey, free world. Let's work together. Let's work together on these problems.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:31]Yeah, it seems like in so many ways in the United States also has been doing this to a certain extent. So I don't mean to pick on Germany. I've got family there. I used to live there as well. I love the place. That's why I worry about it. I also worry about Russia because I think people are amazing. And I think you mentioned this in the book, we need more immigration from Russia. We need more immigration from China. Not only because we can force a brain drain on those countries but because — who doesn't want the best people? Some of the best people in the world come and live in the United States and work in the United States. I always like to highlight these because inevitably when I do this, I get emails from Germany, Russia, or China. They're like, "Hey, man. Why are you such a jerk? Why do you hate us?" And it's not, no, I want the people to live in a society where they don't get it put in the equivalent of a Gulag because they sneezed in the wrong direction. And their family has upward mobility because it's not just a crony based corrupt economy where only friends of Vladimir and his buddies can get jobs. We want that to change.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:43:24] Right. You know, Jordan, you know what's a great example and I use this in the book as well. When the Tiananmen Square massacre happened in 1989, our President George H. W. Bush said, "Hey, if you're a Chinese student studying in the United States, you get a green card. You can stay here." And, you know, tens of thousands of Chinese students took him up on it. And you know, they are some of our most productive, greatest citizens these days. So, I mean, what if we were to say, "Hey, if you are a Chinese employee of an American company in China and you and your family are subjected to the coercion of the party, come to the United States. We'll give you a special benefit parole visa." I mean, I think that turns the tables. And that's always been our strength, right? I mean, think about, you know, the great minds that fled the Holocaust and came to the United States.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:09] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:44:10] I mean, who really were the foundation, many of them, for the technological advantages we've enjoyed in the 20th century. There are so many stories of — we're a country of immigrants.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:19] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:44:20] And you know, when you hear the discourse on immigration, everybody's always talking about who we don't want. What do we just talk about like who we do want, right? I mean, do you buy into individual freedom to our democratic form of government? Are you a tolerant person, you know, tolerant of religion and sexual orientation? I mean, do you respect others, right? Do you believe in the rule of law? Do you believe that if you work hard in our free-market economic system, you can make a better life for you and your children and grandchildren? Hey, if the answers to those questions are yes, come on. Join us.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:51] This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest General H.R. McMaster. We'll be right back.
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[00:47:59] Speaking of education, it seems like education is our best defense against things like manipulation, especially online, which we're dealing with right now. Going back to what you were talking about with Russia and Vladimir Putin, these disinformation campaigns. Does the military ever come out and say, "Hey, if we didn't have so many uneducated knuckleheads, we might be better able to defend ourselves"? Because it seems like you all are being quiet over there. Like we need to — what's going on? This is obviously a huge problem. And people go, "Oh, education — you know, we need to read up on this." It's more than that though. Like, we really need a national effort to improve our education system. I went to a public school as a kid and it was a good one. And I remember thinking, "This is pretty bad." And that was in the '80s and '90s. Now, it's worse. And it's the majority of our education. It seems like it is in the hands of parents, especially with the COVID thing and the homeschooling. I got lawyer friends over here teaching fractions and they're like, "Help me." What are we doing?
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:48:50] We have to demand real reform. Right? And my mom taught for over 30 years in Inner City, Philadelphia. She was just an amazing educator and sensitized me to an early age on how it's the most important factor in determining whether someone's going to be successful. Your family is as well, obviously, but I think it's time to really demand real reforms. And if teacher's unions are an obstacle, we've got to tell them, "Hey, you can't obstruct reform anymore." Unions have a purpose but some of these unions have gone beyond their purpose because they're defenders of mediocrity. They're defenders of really the soft bigotry, low expectations. Now, I think, school choice is a way out of this, potentially. We need a combination of policy remedies and we need to demand it.
[00:49:31] This is why I hope that — you know, there is a period of introspection that follows these triple crises of the pandemic, the recession, the divisions in our society laid bare by the horrible murder of George Floyd, and then the anger over inequality of treatment and inequality of opportunity in our country. Okay, let's roll up our sleeves and do something about it and have meaningful discussions based on facts, real facts, you know, instead of — I mean, defund the police. Come on now. Is that good in terms of security in our cities? And we're seeing right now — with the lunacy of that now and how is actually inflicting more suffering on our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
[00:50:09] So what we need — and this was the argument I make on climate change as well — hey, we don't have any more time for non-solutions. We need real solutions for these problems.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:18] Do you think climate change is a huge threat? I know the book mentions this as well, and you've talked about it on 60 Minutes. I think a lot of people go, "Well, if you think climate change is such a big deal, why leave the Paris Accords?" And you, you made an interesting point on that. And I would love for you to take us through that because when we left the Paris Accords, I thought, "Okay, officially, we just don't care anymore," but you have a good counterpoint.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:50:37] Well, Jordan. I mean, I already first sustained it. I just see the downside. But, of course, there are those who argue, "Hey, listen, these goals that we signed up to that can put us at a significant disadvantage." But really when I revised my assessment of it was really after the fact — after we were out, I thought, "You know what? It may be a good thing that we left because the Paris Accord was giving us a false sense of security. Climate change is a problem. It is manmade and we can do something about it, but the Paris Accord is not the right thing because it gives the biggest polluters in the world the ability to continue to poison the earth. And what we need is we need solutions to this problem that are economically feasible globally, including in developing the economy. And this is where I'm really excited about some of the new technologies. Renewables are going to be much more affordable.
[00:51:25] But look at what happened in the United States, we reduced our carbon emissions way beyond what everybody thought was possible. And it happened by really an unanticipated development called fracking, which gave then us access to a vast amount of natural gas, drove the price of natural gas down, and then incentivized to transition out of coal to natural gas. That's what did it. So that's the kind of change we need internationally. Other promising technologies that I cover in the book are the next generation nuclear palette, for example. But there are people who say that climate change is really bad. But I don't like nuclear and we have to go immediately off of fossil fuels. What economic impact is that going to help?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:02] Yeah, we're going to be running on hamster wheels to keep the lights on.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:52:05] So it gets to his point of view, no more non-solutions. let's have real solutions.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:10] Yeah, when the consequences of inaction are left to future generations. Inaction will rule the day. And I can't remember if you said something like that in the book or if it just came to me as an inspiration but it makes sense. I mean, if we're just sort of like praying that Gen-Z figures this out. What are we going to do? We're going to sit here and burn coal.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:52:26] Right. And we owe it to ourselves. We owe it to future generations to get to work on it, but get to work with, as I mentioned, it in a realistic way and really whatever we come up with, it's asked to be adapted in China, in India, and across developing economies in Africa and beyond or else, it's not going to solve the problem. Obviously, carbon emissions, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:44] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:52:45] They don't respect the country's borders. The carbon cloud over LA has its origins in China and so we have to recognize that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:52] My family in Germany sent me a photo of a red sunrise. And I said, "Oh, that's what it looks like out here or a couple of weeks ago." And he said, "Yeah, it's the smoke from Silicon Valley blowing over on the jet stream." And that's from a forest fire. Imagine something that lasts 20 years instead of two weeks. I mean, of course, it's going to blow everywhere. We saw that with Chernobyl. I think that was people's first sort of experience of, "Wait, you mean the Soviet union can make a big bungle and it can end up in Germany and Poland and Finland." Like, oh, maybe we should pay attention. Maybe we need to work together on this. When do you think we're going to see conflict over things like water and food security? That has to be right around the corner.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:53:26] Well, and it's already happened in some places, right? I use the example of South Asia and India in particular. And I think what's important about these problems is they're interconnected, right? So you have interconnected problems of energy, environments — and there's also climate change associated with that — then food security, water security, and health security. These are all interconnected. And what happens, I think oftentimes is we say, "Okay. Let's solve like one of those problems," right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:53] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:53:54] And when you do that, you create a ripple effect that makes other problems worse than they were. So for example, food security is an issue and you just divert water into agriculture, then you create a crisis of potable water for your population. So, I could go on with examples, but it is key to look at these systemically. And I think, you know, it's in all of our interests. India has to succeed. I mean, India is a big country with a lot of people. If there's a failure in India, it's going to affect all of us. And India is a democracy. It works in kind of a strange way, but it works. And I think that we ought to work together with India as really — an example, maybe that could be then adopted more broadly, hopefully, by China, especially associated with these interconnected problems.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:39] I think that action by the United States creates Islamic extremism, a hostile Russia, a hostile North Korea, an antagonist China. Oliver Stone made this argument on the show, "Hey, if we just minded our own business, these people have better things to do than bother us. They're just trying to handle their own business." I don't buy that for a second. But can you set us straight on this? Because you're in a better place to say whether or not action by the United States is creating these enemies or if they were there before.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:55:06] Well, Jordan, just think about how arrogant that is, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:08] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:55:11] This is an interpretation that it's historical, but it's also profoundly arrogant because you know what we're saying is, "Hey, others," they have no aspirations of their own. They only react to what we do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:22] Right.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:55:23] They have no authorship over the future. So it's crazy. We didn't cause jihadist terrorism. We didn't cause the Iranian revolution and therefore the 40-year-long proxy war against us. We often hear this in Russia, you know, that we were just so mean to Russia. No, we weren't but we did everything we could at the time to help Russia make that transition from the Soviet Union to a representative government and free-market economic system but didn't work. It just didn't work.
[00:55:50] And in China, you hear the same arguments. "Gosh, if the Trump administration wasn't so mean, then China wouldn't be much better and play by the rules." Really how's that working out with COVID-19, with Wolf warrior diplomacy, with bludgeoning Indian soldiers to death on the Himalayan frontier, with unprecedented cyber-attacks across all sectors against Australia, with a land grab in the South China Sea, with repressing freedom in Hong Kong, with threatening Taiwan. Is the United States making them do that? I don't think so. Are we making them wage a campaign of cultural genocide in Xinjiang? I don't think so. So that it's a profoundly arrogant rotation and it typically is used to justify retrenchment or withdraw from these complex problems overseas.
[00:56:32] But you know, as we know was COVID-19, it's much better to deal with what the problem is over there, you know, abroad before it gets to our shores because then coping with it is usually at a much higher cost. And I think the pandemic is in analogy for that, or an example of that, and so is 9/11.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:51] What about folks who say, "Bring all the troops home? Why don't we just stay out of everything else and become isolationists? Like America was before Pearl Harbor and World War II. Because there are a lot of people that actually say things like that. Usually, people that have friends and family in the surface, so I understand it. They want their family and friends out of harm's way. I'm not blaming those people, but it is based on a flawed assumption that we can just like, kind of unplug everything, and then it's not our problem anymore.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:57:15] Well, and I don't blame people who have this thought because of the frustrations associated with the unanticipated length and difficulty of the cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and what the American people haven't heard from leaders enough is, "Hey, what's at stake, right? Why should they care? What's important about this conflict to them, and then what is the strategy, right? What are we doing?" Not just militarily, but diplomatically and informationally and economically, and so forth to achieve an outcome consistent with our security and our interests at an acceptable cost. That's what the American people deserve to hear. And I think they've only heard that on occasion in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Oftentimes, when we have had sound strategies in place, I think like the surge and the aftermath of the surge, and really, I think, a win in Iraq, a very fragile and reversible when in Iraq, and followed sadly by the complete withdrawal in December of 2011.
[00:58:10] And then I think we had it in Afghanistan with President Trump in his August 2017 speech on South Asia strategy. That again was abandoned prematurely. It's tough for me to see it. I think the stakes are high in these conflicts but the American people deserve better in terms of an explanation of, "Okay, so what? And then what's the strategy?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:27] Why is the United States seemingly behind on cyber warfare? Is it a matter of funding? Or are we actually really great at it, but it's not talked about as much because we don't get caught? Where do we stand with this? Because it seems very clear that this is where China and Russia are playing right now. Probably in the future since they can't really combat us militarily or physically. What is it? What's the term? Kinetic warfare — they're just not up to snuff. They don't have carriers and force projection like we do. Are we behind on that? Or what?
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:58:52] We're ahead on it. We're ahead. We're the best in the world.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:55] That's a relief.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [00:58:55] But there's no reason to be complacent, right? Because if you have adversaries who are determined to disrupt, to attack — you know, we have a big attack surface. It's just like, you can't shoot down every arrow that's coming in your system through a cyber-attack, whether it's for the purpose of espionage or criminality or taking that critical infrastructure.
[00:59:15] So the critical part of this is a good offense is a key part of a good defense. I think we've realized that. We made some adaptations that are important, but then also we have to be cautious of the fact that we're up against some very capable state actors, Russia, China obviously. Iran is getting better. North Korea is getting better. They all have different kinds of competitive advantages with each other. You know Russia is good at cyber-enabled information warfare and a bunch of other offensive cyber capabilities. China is really, really good at cyber espionage and they're getting better at other forms of disinformation and political subversion with cyberspace. You know North Korea is really good at cyber criminality. That's a big money-maker for them, and they're also good at retribution attacks against Sony. Remember —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:59] Right.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [01:00:00] And then Iran has been good at destructive attacks like against Saudi Aramco. They did a cyber-attack. They did that drone attack recently, but even before that, they did a cyber-attack on Saudi Aramco. And they attacked our financial system that denied service for a period of time, which impelled us to make our potentials better. This is years ago. So there, we have to be cautious of the range of state actors and how they're evolving. And this is a contest. Jordan, this is going on every day. Every day, we have Americans in this fight every day. And we have to be cautious of non-state actors now, too. We're trying to get these capabilities. And what's critical about that is, you know, you can deter a nation-state because you can hold something of value to them at risk.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:39] Right.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [01:00:39] With the non-state actor, it's harder to do that. And so I think that this was a big element of what I emphasized in the book is the need for us to really maintain our edge on this. But then also from a defensive perspective, we need systems that can degrade gracefully. That isn't vulnerable to catastrophic failure. We hold that in from the beginning. If we're building sensitive technology with components from China, I mean, that's probably really stupid to do at this point. And so we have vulnerabilities associated with what people think like software and hacking, but their hardware vulnerabilities too. There are all sorts of vulnerabilities. And what these adversaries do is they look at your whole organization. They look at your whole person, your household. And they're just looking for points of entry. They're like a burglar looking for the open window. "How do I get in?" So we have to be much more security conscious than we've ever been.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:28] How do the United States' competitors view us right now in general? Do they see us as weak? I mean, it seems like they do but obviously, you're the expert.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [01:01:37] I tell you, Jordan. I think they see us just weak right now. And I think they see what's going on in our country, the divisiveness. The fact that we're driven apart from each other based on these divisions in our society. What social media is doing to us, but driving us apart with these algorithms to show you just more and more based on your pre-elections? The fact that if you're of one political persuasion, you watch one TV network, and somebody of a different political persuasion watches a different one. And so you're creating two different realities instead of at least some kind of basis for a common understanding and civil conversations across the political spectrum.
[01:02:12] We're doing this to ourselves, Jordan. We got to stop. We got to stop it. And I think everybody has a role. We've got to come together within our neighborhoods, within our communities. I think it's possible. It should be possible to celebrate our democracy, to celebrate that, "Hey, we have a say in how we're going. That we are committed to those ideals that are in the declaration of independence, that are in our constitution, and we can still, we can go that far, but then we can recognize. We're imperfect." This has always been a journey for us. After the revolution, we didn't resolve the greatest contradiction in our constitution until almost a hundred years later, with our most destructive war in history that resulted in the emancipation of four million slaves. Hey, that's good. Put that in a positive column. But then you have the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow in the south. Okay, put that in the negative column. Then you have a long struggle for civil rights. You have women who suffered. Well, imagine that — you know, women can vote and everything. That didn't come until the early 20th century. We have the civil rights movement. You have the dismantling of the legal basis for Jim Crow in the '60s but, hey, we're not high fiving yet, right? We still have more work to do. So let's think about it. Let's just work together to really, to make our Republic better every day. And there are some who don't want to do that. They think that "Hey, you can't even empathize." You're not even allowed to empathize with some people anymore. And it's a real tragedy. It's a real tragedy.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:39] Well, in closing, I want to just get this out of the way, because I'm sure a lot of people were waiting for it and they're going to be disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised you didn't write a book that talked much at all about Donald Trump. It was just not there. It was a book that was about a world in disarray, what we're doing about it, the direction we need to go. I know this was obviously a conscious decision. Your publisher was probably really bummed that you didn't throw in any drama. I'm glad you did because otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to have this conversation on the show because I typically avoid that stuff. But why did you choose that? You probably could have cashed out a nice fat check had you gone the other direction.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [01:04:14] Yeah, Jordan. I begin in the preface saying, "This is the book that nobody wanted me to write," and I really felt like. It wouldn't be useful. I want to make a contribution to bringing Americans together, to help us cope with our most crucial challenges. There are plenty of tell-all's out there. There are plenty of palace intrigue books out and I hope that this book will be more substantive that will bring people together across the political spectrum to have meaningful discussions. Like the one we had today and then use that as a basis for working together to overcome these challenges, to take advantage of opportunities, and just build a better future for generations to come.
[01:04:47] And then the other part about this, Jordan — I served in the army for 34 years, I've been studiously apolitical. I don't want to get dragged down into vitriolic, partisan politics now. And so I hope that the book will transcend that for people and will help get us unmoored from that. And then, the other aspect to this — you know, I was in the position there. What's unique about the National School Advisor position is you're the only person within the foreign policy establishment who has the president as his or her only client. If during a president's tenure and National Security Advisor has the right to tell all. Like what future presidents could ever trust your National Security Advisor. And by the way, I was in uniform at the time who's going to trust a senior military officer. So I think it would have been irresponsible for me to write kind of a tell-all or palace intrigue book.
[01:05:37] And this was more gratifying for me. I worked with a great team of research systems here at Stanford. It was part of my self-education as well. I mean, I really am grateful for the opportunity to have done it. I hope that your listeners judge it to have been worthwhile. And I really appreciate the opportunity to be with you.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:55] This has been excellent. In the book — don't think you got the gist of the book, listening to this. It goes into Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq. Am I forgetting anything? There's probably more.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [01:06:06] Well, except that it's just super readable and fun.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:09] Yeah.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [01:06:11] I know these are just depressing topics, man, but what I want to say is it is a message of positive message. We can emerge from these challenges with COVID. We can emerge stronger. And so Jordan, thank you so much for the privilege of being with you.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:22] Yeah, this was really excellent. I really appreciate your time.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [01:06:24] Well, I appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity to have a really full conversation on events. I mean, I felt like we would connect. I liked the pace of the conversation. I mean, I really enjoyed it, Jordan. Thanks a lot. Hopefully, we can continue the conversation at some point and get together in person sometime.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:38] My pleasure. Have a great week. We'll talk soon. Take care.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster: [01:06:40] Bye.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:43] I've got some thoughts on this one, but before I get into that, here's a quick preview of my two-parter with Erik Aude. This is one of the craziest stories I've ever heard on this show. He was tricked into unknowingly smuggling opium into Pakistan. Ends up in a prison. He's a stunt man and he used a lot of his skills to survive against the police and other inmates. This story is just bananas. Here's a quick bite from that one.
Erik Aude: [01:07:05] Pakistan was just one of many bad things that happened to me in my life. I've had so many things happen and I just learned to get over it. You know you get knocked down six times, you get up seven. And that's the only way I've ever known how to live.
[01:07:17] When I got out of the cab with the suitcases to leave Pakistan, the guy who was there, next time you come back, we'll show you around. We will hook you up with some girls. You have a great time and I'm humoring this guy. I'm like, "Yeah, sure. Next time I come back." I know for a fact, I'm never going back to Pakistan. Country sucks. That f*cking country sucks, and I'm good at finding good things that are very weird.
[01:07:35] So it's early in the morning and I go into international departures and there's this long line curving around the corner. I'm waiting in line.
[01:07:42] And the line goes all the way up this wall to where there's customs tables. And when the customs officer sees me and flags me because I'm about six inches taller than everyone. And I get brought to another room. Finally, the guy who asked me if there was narcotics in my suitcase, comes in, and he's holding these two sandwich sealed things. And his exact words to me is, "What is this?" And I said, "I don't f*cking know what it is.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:04] Yeah sure.
Erik Aude: [01:08:05] He says this opium. I said, "Why are you showing me this?" "Because it came out of your suitcase. I felt like such a f*cking idiot.
[01:18:16] Yeah, because I thought that the DEA was going to hook me up, you know, because they're going to see that I'm innocent. I truly thought those guys are going to be there to help me now because I wasn't guilty. This sh*t doesn't happen to innocent people.
[01:08:29] Three years of my life for a crime I didn't know I was being used to commit.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:32] To hear the rest of one of the most harrowing stories I've ever heard in my time doing this podcast. Check out episode 147 with Erik Aude here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:08:44] What a fascinating show. Fascinating guy, he's huge on reading. He actually said that he packed more books than clothes when prepping for his job as the National Security Advisor. They actually tried to get him to resign by offering him a fourth star. He ended up getting fired by a tweet. That's the world we live in these days. By the way, H.R. McMaster is that not an awesome name for a general. I think it's up there with Admiral McRaven as far as military names go. It really is.
[01:09:10] Not a ton of positive news out of this one. I mean, we discussed a little bit about this, but the terrorists now are stronger than they were on September 10th, 2001 — Al-Qaeda, ISIS, they're an order of magnitude, more capable than previous iterations of terrorists. They really have, unfortunately, regrouped and gotten their stuff together. And as we've seen from the news, they're just not slowing down. I mean, it looks like we're taking care of them, but they're regrouping in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan. I mean, this is a war that is not going to be won anytime soon.
[01:09:39] And in America, the will to win a war or to go to war is only as good as the information that the public receives. And our population seems less informed and ironically, even less educated than ever before, even though we have the Internet and a ton of information, we're less educated than I can certainly remember. This plus outside disinformation, it just seems like a recipe for disaster to me. You know, we have narcissistic interpretations of history, which is often worse than complete ignorance of history when it comes to dealing with places like Iran and Iraq and the Middle East. And Iran uses this conflict with the United States and Israel to divert from their own corrupt alluding and their oppression of their own country. I worry about every country doing that to their own people, to be honest.
[01:10:24] This book was super engaging. If you're interested in what's going on in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, China. If you're interested in world affairs and global conflict like me, you're going to dig this book. It is a huge book, but it's a great read. So big, thanks to General H.R. McMaster. The book is called Battlegrounds. We will link it in the show notes as we always do. And if you buy it, please use the links in the show notes that help support the show. Every little thing adds up there. The worksheets for this episode are in the show notes. The transcripts of this episode are in the show notes, and there's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also hit me there on LinkedIn.
[01:11:03] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems, using tiny habits. This is our networking course. It's a free course. It's at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig that well before you get thirsty. Most of the guests on the show they've contributed to the course in some way. Please come join us and you'll be in smart company.
[01:11:21] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My amazing team includes Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabe Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. Please do share the show with people interested in global affairs, strategy, military folks — I think they'll dig it. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode of this show. So please do share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on this show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:11:58] A lot of people ask me which shows I recommend and which shows I listened to. And one that I often listened to is called The One You Feed with Eric Zimmer and I've got Eric here. One episode you did recently was with Steven C. Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment therapy. Sounds a little woo-woo. But tell us what's going on with this episode.
Eric Zimmer: [01:12:16] Well, it's actually not that woo-woo. Acceptance and commitment therapy is sort of considered the third wave of psychology improvements. Cognitive behavior therapy being kind of the second wave. So it's sort of an improvement upon that. He wrote a book called Get Out of Your Mind and into Your Life, which is an absolute masterpiece. And he just talked so much about exactly what it sounds like we spent so much time coming up in our heads and worrying and fretting and planning and thinking that we're not really living our lives and he has a ton of great tools to help you get out of your mind and into your life. And one thing that he says, I think it's so useful is that one way to judge our thoughts, whether they're good or bad is really whether they're useful. It's not, "Is this a good thought? Is this a bad thought? Is this a useful thought?" And it's so powerful and the whole episode, I think, is really one of our favorites.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:10] And if you want to check out The One You Feed, of course, we'll link to it in the show notes. And you can also just search for The One You Feed and look for the two-headed wolf in any podcast app.
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