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McMaster calls US ‘weak and divided’ and warns China has ‘window of opportunity’ to exploit instability

Then Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster speaks at the U.S. Naval War (NWC) College in Newport, R.I. on March 22, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl/Released)
September 21, 2020

President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor and retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster warned in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday that China and other competitors see a window of opportunity to exploit weakness stemming from internal divisions in the U.S.

Speaking with 60 Minutes in an interview to promote his forthcoming book, “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World,” McMaster said “I think our competitors view us as weak and divided. I think they see an opportunity. I think China thinks it’s winning.”

“China sees an America that is divided against each other,” McMaster continued. “They see an America that is reeling from a triple crisis of COVID-19, of the recession associated with COVID-19, and the civil unrest and racial division in the wake of the horrible murder of George Floyd, and over issues of inequality of opportunity. And so, China is acting, I think, now much more aggressively because they think it’s time to do it. They have a window of opportunity to exploit our weaknesses and to come after us. I think Russia feels the same way. I think other adversaries could feel the same way.

Asked if the relationship between the U.S. and China could be described as similar to the U.S. relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, McMaster said, “It’s tougher because our economies are intertwined in a way that gives tremendous coercive power to the Chinese Communist Party.”

McMaster said China’s strategy, using the intertwined markets of the U.S. and China, is to entice the U.S. “with the lure of access to their market and short-term profits, and then coerce us. Coerce us to adhere to their worldview and to make concessions that allow them to achieve competitive advantage against us.”

McMaster also described Russia’s interest in exploiting the divisions within the U.S.

“Whereas China wants to harness its strength and create exclusionary areas of primacy and challenge America, Russia knows it’s too weak to do that,” McMaster said. “What [Russian President Vladimir Putin] wants to do is, he wants to drag all of us down, right? He wants to polarize us, pit us against each other, reduce our confidence in our democratic principles and institutions and processes.”

McMaster served in the Trump White House until April 2018, when Trump replaced him with John Bolton.

At the time Trump announced McMaster’s replacement, he said, “I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, [John Bolton] will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster, who has done an outstanding job and will always remain my friend.”

Describing his new book on 60 Minutes on Sunday, McMaster said people wanted him to write a tell-all book focused on the “palace intrigue” within the Trump White House, following a line of books from former Trump administration officials critical of the president. McMaster said he instead wanted his book to start a “respectful discussion about these very serious challenges to our security, our prosperity, and our influence in the world.”

McMaster did criticize Trump’s February U.S.-Taliban peace deal as, in effect, “partnering with the Taliban against, in many ways, the Afghan government.” 60 Minutes interviewer Scott Pelley also noted McMaster said in his book that “the president cheapened the sacrifice of the 2,300 Americans who have died in Afghanistan so far.”

Bolton also departed from the Trump White House in September of 2019 after serving in the national security advisor position for about a year and a half. Bolton has also been critical of Trump and has written his own book about the administration, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.”