Trump’s Afghanistan Address Echoes Previous War Speeches by H.R. McMaster

President Donald Trump seemed to channel key sentiments previously expressed in policy speeches delivered by embattled White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster
AP/Susan Walsh

TEL AVIV — In his address last night outlining a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump seemed to channel key sentiments previously expressed in policy speeches delivered by embattled White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster about the goals of military conflict.

Trump’s renewed focus on Afghanistan warrants a closer look at McMaster’s own views on the ultimate purposes of conflict, especially McMaster’s stated rule that war is “an extension of politics” and its main goal is to achieve a “sustainable political outcome” over time using such nation-building endeavors as development of civil society and political reform.

While Trump made it clear last night that “we are not nation-building again,” significant portions of the president’s Afghanistan strategy speech echo assertions about war previously made by McMaster.

McMaster outlined his views on the goals of war when he spoke in March 2013 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank that receives funding from billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

McMaster spoke at the event alongside Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, and then the two took questions from the audience. Brzezinski, who died earlier this year, served with Soros on the board of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that says it is “committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.”

At the Carnegie Endowment event, McMaster lamented the “fantastical theory” of a “very fast, cheap, efficient and low cost” war using “advances in communications technologies, information technologies, computing power and precision munitions.” In other words, a war that did not include a sustainable commitment similar to nation-building.

Last night, Trump himself explained that “military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan or stop the terrorist threat arising in that country. But strategically applied force aims to create the conditions for a political process to achieve a lasting peace.”

McMaster argued that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the importance of “four main continuities in war and warfare.”

The military leader defined those four war goals as follows:

1 – “The first is that war is an extension of politics. Of course, this is nothing new and quite consistent with the writings of the 19th century Prussian philosopher Carl von Clausewitz. And what this means is you wage war to achieve political outcomes that address the cause of the war and get you to, again, this sustainable political outcome consistent with our vital interests.”

2 – “The second key continuity is that war is a profoundly human endeavor. … So understanding that human dimension of conflict and, in particular, understanding local conflicts that could occur, how these tribal ethnic-sectarian competitions for power and resources would play out, and then how they would be connected, not just to national politics, but also to the agendas of other countries and organizations.”

3 – “War is uncertain. And we heard a lot about today’s failures to predict the cost of the war, for example. And that’s not – that really is not unusual, obviously for us not to be able to predict the future, the course of events in war, although we continue to try to do it.”

4 – “War is a contest of wills and we have to communicate our determination to see the effort through toward that sustainable outcome consistent with our interests and worthy of the sacrifices and the investments we’ve made in the outcome of that war.”

McMaster’s third pillar of war as “uncertain” might shed light on some of the reasoning behind Trump’s announcement last night about a “shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military options. We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.”

And McMaster’s fourth goal about the “outcome of that war” seems to be reflected in the phraseology and sentiment utilized by Trump during last night’s speech defining the U.S. goals in Afghanistan as including an “honorable and enduring outcome.”

Trump stated: “First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives. The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need, and the trust they have earned, to fight and to win.”

Speaking in December 2015 at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, meanwhile, McMaster stated that it is “critical to put the politics at the center” of war goals and engage in developing a nation.

Watch that speech here:

McMaster stated:

I think Korea’s a positive example. It didn’t look good in 1953, though. You had a country that was ravaged by decades of war, you had a country with no infrastructure, with an illiterate population, and a corrupt government. It didn’t look good. But with sustained commitment over time, development of civil society, development of political reforms, U.S. commitment over time, you have success.

There, McMaster’s comments seem to be at odds with Trump’s statement last night that “we are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

Still, Trump exclaimed that a “fundamental pillar” of the new Afghanistan strategy is “the integration of all instruments of American power — diplomatic, economic, and military — toward a successful outcome.”

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen. America will continue its support for the Afghan government and the Afghan military as they confront the Taliban in the field.”

In his 2014 speech, McMaster stressed the importance of the “political dynamic.”

He stated:

I think in both Afghanistan and in Iraq we didn’t pay enough attention to the political dynamic. For example, in Afghanistan—and we’re trying to overcome all of this now in Afghanistan—but in Afghanistan if you think about the way the military campaign was waged, it was waged really mainly through proxy forces through militias, mujahideen-era militias mainly, and we empowered them with money, with intelligence advisors and with special forces.


McMaster has faced criticism for espousing controversial views and for his ties to think tanks and financing that raise questions about his national security policies.

Last week, Breitbart News unearthed a 2014 speech on the Middle East in which McMaster claimed that Islamic terrorist organizations are “really un-Islamic” and are “really irreligious organizations” who cloak themselves in the “false legitimacy of Islam.”

McMaster, who serves in a critical national security position, seems to be minimizing the central religious motivations of radical Islamic terrorist groups who are waging a religious war against Western civilization.

In February, CNN cited a source inside a National Security Council meeting quoting McMaster as saying that use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” is unhelpful in working with allies to fight terrorism.

Shia and Sunni Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State each openly espouse Islamic motivations, repeatedly cite the Quran and claim they are fighting a religious war. Some of the Sunni groups are violent offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to create a global Islamic caliphate.

Besides his drive to define terrorist groups as “irreligious,” Breitbart News further unearthed a speech following Israel’s defensive 2014 war against the Hamas terrorist group in which McMaster sidestepped a question about whether the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted itself in an ethical manner, instead providing what McMaster admitted was a “non-answer.”

The IDF is known to go to extreme lengths to operate ethically and protect civilians when fighting Palestinian jihadists who use civilians as human shields, launch rocket attacks from civilian zones and house their terrorist infrastructures in densely populated civilian areas.

Earlier this month, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Israel group in the country, released an analysis of McMaster’s policies and reported views, concluding that he should be reassigned outside the NSC after it found that McMaster may be undermining Trump’s stated national security agenda.

The analysis states:

We find it hard to understand how someone who clearly has animus toward Israel, who supports the disastrous Iran nuclear deal, who opposes calling out radical Islamist terrorists, who fires Trump loyalists and supporters of Israel and opponents of Iran, who hires those opposed to President Trump’s policies especially on Israel and Iran, who refused to acknowledge that the Western Wall is in Israel, who opposes Israeli counterterrorism measures, and who shuts down joint U.S. counterterrorism programs that are of enormous value to U.S. security, can faithfully serve President Trump as top national security advisor. President Trump made it crystal clear, both before and since his election, that supporting Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance, abrogating or at least vigorously enforcing the Iran deal while calling out and sanctioning Iran’s violations, confronting radical Islamist terrorism, and draining the Washington swamp were key, distinguishing policies of his administration.

The ZOA’s analysis cited Breitbart News articles by this reporter on McMaster’s background.

Breitbart News reported that McMaster served at a UK-based think tank financed by a controversial, George Soros-funded group identified by the Obama White House as central in helping to sell the Iran nuclear deal to the public and news media.

From September 2006 to February 2017, McMaster was listed as a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), where he served as consulting senior fellow. The IISS describes itself as a “world-leading authority on global security, political risk and military conflict.”

Breitbart also reported that the IISS is bankrolled directly by Soros’s Open Society and by multinational corporate firms doing billions of dollars of business in Iran.

And the IISS quietly took in about $32.5 million in funding from Bahrain, a country whose constitution explicitly enshrines Sharia Islamic law as its governing doctrine, Breitbart News documented.

The funding from Bahrain, a repressive regime with a dismal human rights track record but also an important regional U.S. ally, reportedly amounted to one quarter of the think tank’s total income.

A significant portion of the Bahraini funding reportedly pays for the think tank’s annual conference in Bahrain, the Mamana Dialogue. The original agreement between the IISS and Bahrain to finance the conference contained a clause calling for the memorandum of understanding to remain confidential, according to the document, which was leaked by a watchdog and published by the Guardian newspaper last year.

As a member of the IISS, McMaster participated in the Sixth Mamana Dialogue summit in Bahrain from December 11 to December 13, 2009, Breitbart News found. He is listed in IISS literature as being part of the Mamana Dialogue’s four-person panel that year on “military transformation, intelligence and security cooperation.”

Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.

With additional research by Joshua Klein.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.