McMaster questions Trump’s trade talks with China, says Syria decision “a mistake”
Calling withdrawing from Syria “a mistake” and sharply questioning whether trades talks with China would have any lasting impact, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster cast doubt on the direction of the Trump administration foreign policy Wednesday in Houston and reaffirmed his view that Russia played a role in the 2016 presidential elections.
McMaster — a decorated military veteran who resigned from the top security post last April after an acrimonious year under President Donald Trump — said the United States could lose what little traction it has gained in Syria as it starts pulling out troops from the war-torn country before ensuring an “enduring defeat of ISIS.”
“It’s a big mistake,” McMaster said in Houston at an energy industry conference hosted by the analyst firm Argus Media. “By leaving the northeastern part of the country, you’re leaving 60 percent of the oil reserves, which is a lot of leverage, especially leverage over Russia who doesn’t have the money to reconstruct Syria.”
Leaving Syria, added McMaster, would reduce that influence that United States could have on the political outcome of the years-long civil war.
McMaster, a retired general, told the story of his swift his appointment to national security post in February 2017 when he got a seemingly unexpected call from the White House asking him to fly to Trumps Florida estate Mar-a-Lago the next day for an interview with the president. A few days later, he replaced Lt General Michael Flynn, who was ousted for misleading White House officials about his contacts with a Russian ambassador and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
A military scholar who Time magazine once praised as possibly “the 21st Century Army’s pre-eminent warrior-thinker”, McMaster was often seen as the “adult” in the room who could help modulate the erratic whims of Trump’s foreign policy with his decades of strategic and military experience. But McMaster’s and Trump’s personalities and approaches clashed from the beginning over key policy decisions such as escalating the war in Afghanistan.
The president publicly blasted McMaster last February for saying that there was “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia played a role in the 2016 presidential elections. McMaster, whom Trump replaced with the hawkish neocon John Bolton, maintained his view on Russian’s influence on U.S. politics.
“We’re learning more every day about (how) Russia organized their campaign of influence against the United States, centered around the on the 2016 election,” McMaster said, “ and actually intensifying after that election to polarize us.”
McMaster, 50, now works as a fellow and lecturer at Stanford University in California. He painted a dire picture of geopolitical threats from Russia’s dangerous and sustained campaign to destabilize NATO and the “economic aggression” from China, including trade wars and clashes with American companies’ intellectual property rights.
McMaster cast doubt on whether trade talks with China would amount to anything meaningful. If no deal is reached by March, the United States is set to increase tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods.
“I am very skeptical of those trade talks delivering any kind of enduring agreement that would address the fundamental structural issues associated with Chinese trade and economic practices,” McMaster said.
Those structural issues include President Xi Jinping’s desire to meet his people’s expectations of an ever-expanding economy and the Communist Party’s fear of losing influence and power to free market forces, he added.
China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to finance road, rail, ports and other public works around Asia, Europe and Africa will only consolidate its power in the region as it seeks to control natural resources and energy for its own industrial growth, McMaster said. China continues to one of the world’s biggest importers of crude oil, and last year surpassed the United States as a net importer of crude.
As U.S. petroleum exports grow globally, McMaster said the energy industry could be a strong counterweight against Chinese and Russian influence globally.
“Liquefied natural gas and emerging U.S. exports can have a huge impact on breaking some of these dependencies and, breaking kind of the coercive effect that Russia in particular has over (some European countries,” he said. Many countries in Europe depend on natural gas from Russia.
McMaster also advocated for the industry’s continued technological improvements to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Although he criticized Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, he said China and other major polluters needed to be held more accountable for their emissions.