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Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is an ‘American catastrophe,’ H.R. McMaster says

To examine the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan and how it impacts U.S. interests, Judy Woodruff speaks to retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. He was national security advisor during the Trump administration and also served as a military officer in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012, heading up a task force focused on combating corruption. He is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we continue our look at the fall of Afghanistan with retired Army General H.R. McMaster. He was the national security adviser to former President Trump. He's now a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

    General McMaster, thank you very much for joining us.

    The core argument from President Biden is that it was not in the interests of the United States to keep troops in Afghanistan any longer, whether it was one month, a year, or 10 years. How do you respond to that?

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Well, I think it's just wrong on a couple of counts, Judy.

    First of all, we were there to preserve our and protect our own interests, our security interests. We know for a fact, right, we know from historical experience that terrorist organizations, when they control territory and populations and resources, that they become orders of magnitude more dangerous, right?

    We saw that with the mass murder attacks of 9/11. We saw it again when Vice President Biden thanked President Obama for ending the war in Iraq. Well, hey, wars don't end when one party disengages. And, of course, in Iraq, we saw al-Qaida in Iraq morph into ISIS, the most destructive terrorist organization in history. And then, of course, we had to go back.

    What I found also that I — was fundamentally, I think, wrong about the president's approach here is that he thinks that a lost war in Afghanistan isn't going to have consequences. We're already seeing the horrible humanitarian consequences, but there will be severe political consequences, in connection with our credibility with our allies and partners and other countries who will wonder how reliable we are.

    But, of course, it will have big security implications in connection with jihadist terrorists who will declare victory over the world's only superpower.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask…

  • H.R. McMaster:

    And, of course, they didn't defeat us. We defeated ourselves, Judy, which is what's so sad about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I apologize for interrupting.

    But I do want to ask you about the terrorist threat, because we hear the president saying this is something that is coming from a number of countries right now on the African continent, in Libya, in Yemen, and he named other countries, and that this is something the U.S. doesn't have to have boots on the ground to watch and to take care of.

    What about that argument?

  • H.R. McMaster:

    It's a pipe dream, Judy.

    The way that we have made ourselves safe really since 9/11 is by partnering with partners across the world who actually bear the brunt of the fight against jihadist terrorists. The president disparaged Afghan soldiers today.

    But we should remember that tens of thousands of them gave their lives to protect the freedoms that they have enjoyed since 2001, but also to protect us, really, from modern-day barbarians. I mean, Afghanistan is in many ways on a modern-day frontier between barbarism and civilization.

    Just right across the border, Judy, there are over 20 U.S.-designated jihadist terrorist organizations. And a victory for the Taliban, a reestablishment of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan, is a victory for al-Qaida and those other groups.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • H.R. McMaster:

    And so how could it be that — I'm sorry. Go ahead, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I apologize for interrupting.

    But I do want to get in several more questions. And what is — and that — one is the president repeatedly saying that Afghan troops — how can you ask U.S. troops to fight for a country when the Afghan troops themselves are giving up so quickly?

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Well, if we think what led to this collapse, really, it occurred across two administrations, the Trump and the Biden administrations, where essentially we had this delusion that we could actually partner with the Taliban against terrorists, when, in fact, we were in enabling a terrorist organization itself.

    And this is the negotiations with the Taliban political commission in Doha. That was always a pipe dream, Judy. And it was a key element of our self-delusion. And then what we did is, we delivered really tremendous psychological blows to the Afghan people, Afghan leaders and Afghan security forces on our way out.

    Judy, if we were going to leave Afghanistan, why didn't we just leave? Why did we make concession after concession on our way out that forced the Afghan government to release 5,000 of some of the most heinous people on Earth…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And some of those…

  • H.R. McMaster:

    … who went right back to terrorism and then, of course, went right back to the battlefield, as we know?

    And then why did not insist on a cease-fire?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, again, my apology for interrupting.

    But some of those concessions, of course, came during former President Trump's administration, when you were there as national security adviser.

    I do want to ask you, General McMaster…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • H.R. McMaster:

    No. No, Judy, I have to correct — I have to correct you on that.

    That was not when I was there as national security adviser. When I was there, I think, the president put into place…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right.

  • H.R. McMaster:

    … the only reasoned and sustainable approach that we have had in Afghanistan, but then he abandoned it.

    And you're correct. I mean, I'm not making partisan points here. I'm saying that this is really an American catastrophe. And it's a catastrophe that was going to have — already, we see profound humanitarian consequences, but it will have profound political and security consequences as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    General H.R. McMaster, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Well, Judy, I just want to say, too, there's a lot more we can do now to stem this humanitarian disaster.

    And I hope that the Biden administration does more, provides safe passage, provides safe spaces to get more Afghans out. And I think that this is what all of us should demand of our leaders at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    General McMaster, we appreciate it. Thank you for joining us.

  • H.R. McMaster:

    Thank you, Judy.

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