Unlike other members of Donald Trump’s inner circle who have been publishing books in recent weeks, former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s Battlefields: The struggle to defend the free world is remarkably free of dirt on the president.
But that didn’t stop Stephen Colbert from trying to get it out of him when he appeared The Late Show Monday evening.
The host’s first attempt came after McMaster spoke out against Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying, “If you’re a dictator and you have people around you who tell you how good you are and what you want to hear, and I think they do.”
“It seems like a terrible form of government to have a guy who says he’s the only one who has the answers and surrounds himself only with people who say exactly what he wants to hear,” Colbert replied with deep sarcasm. “Can you imagine having such a government, sir?”
“Well, we fought a revolution because we didn’t want to live under a monarchy,” McMaster said, knowingly or ignorantly ignoring the obvious Trump analogy. “And I think we should still celebrate, Stephen, that we are not a monarchy.”
“We should,” Colbert replied, “but there are some people who think it wouldn’t be a bad idea based on their behavior in Washington, D.C. right now, do you agree, general?”
McMaster laughed in response, but once again refused to call his former boss directly, instead advising American voters to draw lessons from the founding fathers. “What I hope for Stephen is that we restore our faith in our form of government, in our democracy,” he said. “Let us take at least a minute to be grateful to have a say in how we are governed.”
Hitting what appeared to be a brick wall, Colbert took another route, directly quoting McMaster’s book in which he wrote: “Defense begins by exposing the Kremlin’s efforts to sow dissension within nations.” Noting that the president called Russian interference in the US election a “hoax,” he asked, “If you still believe it, is Trump undermining our defense by questioning whether Russia is doing it?”
“Yes, I think any leader who doesn’t recognize the nature of the threat is playing into their hands,” McMaster said, framing his criticisms broadly while condemning Trump’s specific actions. “In what I describe Battlefields this is how President Putin’s playbook combines disinformation and rejection. We don’t want to help them with the rejection part, so we have to pull back the curtain, strip it and then also make sure we don’t stake them for success with the divisions we are seeing in our society. “
What Russia wants to do, he continued, is “drag us down, polarize and pit us against each other and reduce our trust in who we are and in our democratic principles and institutions and processes.”
“So, I mean, my advice to any leader would be not to be our worst enemy,” added McMaster. “Let’s not make it easy”
“Undermining our faith in our democracy would be doing things like saying ‘this is going to be a rigged election’ and ‘if I don’t win, the only way it will be is if it’s rigged’ and ‘we will never know who actually won'”, Colbert said, quoting President Trump directly. “Are these the things the Russians might want to hear a president say?”
“Absolutely, I am,” McMaster replied. “These are things we should all avoid saying, absolutely.”