On the Haaretz Weekend podcast, former U.S. National Security Adviser, Gen. (ret.) H.R. McMaster spoke with Allison Kaplan Sommer about the Ukraine War, the possibility of the United States re-entering a nuclear agreement with Iran, and the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Below are highlights from the interview, edited for length and clarity.
Listen to the full interview:
How do you view Israel's wariness of siding more fully with the U.S. and its allies regarding the Ukraine war, due to the situation on its northern border, and its desire not to antagonize Putin?
I think Israelis ought to be embarrassed by it. I think Israelis ought to demand more from their government leaders. And I think this idea that you hedge with Vladimir Putin to compensate for the concerns about the American administration who might attenuate or lessen their support – that's a long pattern. It's always been wrong. The U.S.-Israel alliance is unshakable because there's tremendous bipartisan support for it.
As a veteran military strategist, were you surprised by how badly this war is going for President Vladimir Putin and his Russian army?
I wasn't surprised at all. My assumptions about how the campaign would go were completely the opposite of Putin's flawed assumptions. Putin entered the offensive with four fundamentally flawed assumptions – first of all, that the Ukrainian people lack the will to sustain a defense against Russia, and that the Ukrainian leadership was weak. The second was that the Ukrainian military would fold quickly, and he'd be able to accomplish this objective quickly as a result. The third was that the Russian military would be able to demonstrate the military prowess to subjugate Ukraine quite quickly.
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You have been extremely critical of what you have described as the “defeatist” posture of the Biden White House and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Do you believe the Taliban's victory there played a part in emboldening Putin and others?
Absolutely. You can draw a direct line from the humiliating surrender to a terrorist organization and withdrawal from Afghanistan to Putin's decision to attack Ukraine. Remember, it was just as we were committing that humiliating withdrawal that Putin published a 6000-word essay in which he said Ukraine is not a viable state and that all Ukrainians would be part of Mother Russia. This is when I'm convinced he decided to invade.