FULL EPISODE: 11/14/21 Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.) on China, Iran and cyberwarfare

Published: Nov. 13, 2021 at 6:50 PM EST
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.), the former top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan and author of the new book “Risk: A User’s Guide,” for Gray TV’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, November 14, 2021.

Gen. McChrystal addressed the potential of war between China and Taiwan, the risk posed by cyberwarfare, the future of the Taliban, and Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

On China and Taiwan, McChrystal told Van Susteren he believes there is a “risk of real war.” When asked what he would advise the White House on the issue, the retired general said he would tell the president to “focus very much on building our military capacity” and if that show of force did not dissuade China, he would recommend that we defend Taiwan.

Gen. McChrystal also said the threat posed by cyber warfare could be worse than nuclear; predicted the Taliban “will either change how they govern or they won’t last very long”; and suggested the U.S. will ultimately not be able to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. On the Iran nuclear deal abandoned by former President Trump, McChrystal said: “I probably would go back to that deal if I could get something acceptable.”

Advance excerpts are below.

On China and Taiwan

Greta Van Susteren

China and Taiwan. Is there a risk of a real war there?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Greta, there is a risk of a real war, just because China has been aspiring to get control of Taiwan for the last 72 years, since 1949. We may have become a little over-confident because it hasn’t happened, but things have changed dramatically.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

We’ve all watched China’s growth economically, but I would tell you China’s growth militarily is significant. We are now at a point where China can contest the United States for control of the waters around Taiwan, and therefore threaten our ability to defend Taiwan were that to be the United States’ choice. Because that has changed so much, the fear is that leaders like Xi Jinping, president for life, who have made a personal commitment to regain control of Taiwan, they might feel the opportunity there. And so that creates a new amount of uncertainty and serious risk.

Greta Van Susteren

Well, President Jinping mentioned, he said just as recently as July, he declared that those who get in his way of China’s ascent will have their heads bashed against a great wall of steel. Doesn’t sound like he’s interested in diplomacy of any sort.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Well, he’s got a great way of putting things, but think about it: That’s a head of state making a comment like that, that while it wasn’t specifically directed at the United States, clearly we’re one of the audiences he wanted. That’s pretty stunning. And you also think of leaders who hook their personal credibility to something like this. You add a geopolitical calculation, but then you put a personal part on it and that makes it more unpredictable yet.

Greta Van Susteren

I know we should always look through the eyes of the people we’re dealing with, whether it’s China, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, whatever. But I look at this and I think to myself, “Why does President Xi even care?” Why does he want Taiwan? Why is that so much the crown jewel for him?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

There’s just a case of national pride. The idea that part of China, remember it was taken over by Chiang Kai-Shek, their hated enemy for two decades before the fall of China, and so it’s an emotional thing. It doesn’t matter that Taiwan may actually be better for China in the current economic and political setup than it would be swallowed by China. That doesn’t drive. Logic isn’t always the most important thing about foreign policy.

Greta Van Susteren

In looking at where we are now, what do you see as reasonably foreseeable? Or what do you expect is going to happen with us vis a vis China and especially with Taiwan in the equation? What do you think is going to happen?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Yeah, I’m not smart enough to tell you whether it’s likely to go into war in the near term.

Greta Van Susteren

Well, what worries you then? What worries you?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Well, that’s two questions. In that particular area, it is simply that China is growing in ambition, growing in capability, and we’re likely to have a constant push and that’s going to hit a point where we, the United States, are going to have to make a decision. We’ve had an intentional policy of ambiguity onto whether or not we would defend Taiwan. We may be pushed away from that. At some point we may have to make a decision that we are either going to say, “No, we are not,” or, “Yes we are.” And if we are, we’ll see whether that would have the desired effect to convince China not to, or whether it would just get them more and more resolute in terms of pursuing a war.

Greta Van Susteren

That would be very disappointing, of course, to Taiwan if we looked the other way and said, “We’ve decided we don’t want to do this.” Taiwan has been dependent upon us for decades.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Yeah, but you think about it. Any ally of the United States around the world that has been dependent upon our partnership for a long time always has to do that equation. And what they don’t want us to do is ever have the conversation back in the US that says, “We like Taiwan, but it’s a long way away and it’s really not all that important and we could probably still buy chips from someone else. So it’s not worth the effort.” Once our allies think that we have made that calculation and we’re unwilling to do the partnership that they have counted on for so long, then they’re going to have to recalculate and make different political decisions themselves.

Greta Van Susteren

Well, that’s a tough place for anyone to be. But if you were advising a president today, would you tell the president to defend Taiwan at virtually any cost or be willing to walk away from Taiwan?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Yeah, in the moment right now, I would say focus very much on building our military capacity so that our ability to defend Taiwan or to punish China so much that attacking Taiwan is not worth it, they’ll make that calculus. I think that’s the first thing I tell them to do, and that’s going to be expensive and it’s going to be hard. I think that if you asked if we then thought we couldn’t dissuade the Chinese, I would probably recommend that we defend it.

On cyber warfare

Greta Van Susteren

It’s not just defending with wars and battles that we have and frictions with fighter planes. It’s also that we have cyber warfare and we have countries, especially China, stealing our technology. How do we protect that risk?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Well, I think we need to have a completely different approach to our cyber security and cyber defense, I’ll call it. For a long time, we thought of nuclear warfare as the ultimate destructive power. I would argue cyber could be even worse because if you can get inside a nation and you can undercut their ability to distribute electricity, make the banking system work, communicate all of the things that a fabric of any modern society relies upon, you can bring it to a screaming halt.

Greta Van Susteren

Haven’t we though been involved in a little cyber sabotage ourselves offensively? I think back a couple years ago with Iran. We’ve taken the first shot.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

I think every country has done things like that. And we’ve always looked at cyber as spying and we’ve said that’s intelligence gathering and it’s okay because it’s not real war. I think we are at a point now the problem is it’s very similar to war and the effects could be worse than kinetic. Before we used to use the term “hacking.” And we thought that people who went in and stole information or hit certain things were clever. I think we’re going to have to take that off the table because it’s just too dangerous.

On Afghanistan

Greta Van Susteren

Obviously 20/20 hindsight is very powerful, but going back to early October 2001, should we have seen the risk of staying in Afghanistan until late August this year, especially in light of the fact the Soviet Union had fought for or 10 years unsuccessfully, should we have seen that risk? And by not recognizing that, really let the nation down.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Yeah, Greta, I would take that on because I was in the military and we did see that risk. In fact, there was incredible discussion about that. We all had read books, “The Bear Went Over The Mountain’ and what not about Afghanistan. So we were a bit daunted by the danger of being in Afghanistan, the great game graveyard of empires. But think about the other risk. Had we gone in, in October, September, October, 2001, toppled the Taliban government, sent Al-Qaeda to flight and then immediately pulled out. What we would’ve had is almost an ungoverned no-man’s-land type postapocalyptic-like type society.

Greta Van Susteren

Isn’t that what we have now? Isn’t that sort of what we have now? No?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Afghanistan had been at war for 20 years when we went in 2001. The Soviets, then a civil war, and then the fight against the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. So society was torn asunder when we got there. Had we left, you would’ve had the previous warlords who had been part of the mujahideen, remnants of the Taliban, and I think you would’ve had something that was even less organized than the Taliban-run regime. Now if we were willing to allow that part of the world to be ungoverned spaces, almost like Somalia got to be at one point, I think we could have done that, but I think it would’ve been morally wrong. And I think it would’ve been geopolitically stupid as well.

Greta Van Susteren

Well obviously I note the 20/20 hindsight and it’s a lot easier to look back .. But now I look at it and it seems to me that we are essentially in the same place we were in early October before the bombings started in 2001 as we are now with the Taliban taking control. We’ve now got China doing some trade with Afghanistan. They haven’t recognized Afghanistan, but I see that as next. And also the fear that they’ll take over the Bagram Air Force Base and the air base there. And I see China moving in as we talk about risks. We have now created this risk, at least in my thoughts.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Yeah, I don’t really think so. A couple points. One, if they take Bagram, so what? What’s China going to do with Bagram? Bomb Iran? What do we care? So I don’t think that is critical. Afghanistan’s not the same place it was in the fall of 2001. Two decades of American and Western intervention there created a full generation of young people. Almost 50% of Afghanistan’s population wasn’t alive in 2001. And so women in school, young people had opportunities. It’s a different place now. It’s not where we want it. And I’m as disappointed by the outcome as anybody that I know. But the reality is it’s a different place, the Taliban have got a much harder challenge this time. And of course the Taliban have got to make a difficult decision if they want to be part of the world community, and they may, they’re going to need outside funding and help. And that means they’re going to have to ameliorate their behavior in internal governance a bit. I can’t guarantee they’ll do that, but the reality is, I think there’s a lot of pressures that weren’t there from 1996 to 2001.

Greta Van Susteren

I guess it’s because I see some of these stories are rather alarming about what’s going on with the women and people fleeing that it’s hard for me to think that the Taliban is really Taliban 2.0. It seems to me to be the old Taliban back.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Yeah, I’m not convinced they’re 2.0 either … I think the Taliban are under a different kind of pressure. So I think they will either change how they govern or they won’t last very long. I don’t know what the replacement is, but I don’t think that regime in this environment will be survivable.

On Iran

Greta Van Susteren

Turning to Iran. Is Iran and its search, quest for a nuclear weapon. Is that a risk or does the Iran deal, if we go back into it, does that put the lid on it and how do you measure that risk and how do we manage that risk?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

I don’t think you ever completely put the lid on that risk. Iran would like to have a nuclear weapon. If I was Iranian, I would like to have a nuclear weapon. If I was the president of Iran, I would advocate that we have a nuclear weapon because when a country becomes nuclear-armed, it gets a different status in the world. That’s just the reality. It may not be a good thing, but that is the reality. And so it’s a logical, rational aspiration on their part. They also have the aspiration to be a regional power, which they have fast approaching because of their operations, many with the regular forces around the region.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

So I think the best we can do is try to balance Iran’s actions and unacceptable actions with our own counteractions. I’m not sure that we are likely to stop Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon. We know they have the expertise now. And so all you’ve really got to do is do a sprint to produce a weapon when you’ve got that. So I think that us pretending that we will permanently deter them is probably unrealistic. At the same time, I wouldn’t encourage it. I wouldn’t speed it up. So I think we’re in one of those situations where we just have to make the best of it over time and continue to adjust our policies as we go along.

Greta Van Susteren

Well, the first deal was the 2015 deal. The clock is running on that deal. President Trump took us out of that deal. Would you recommend going back into that deal because we are getting pretty much to the end of that timeframe anyway?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Ret.)

I probably would go back to that deal if I could get something acceptable. It’s not going to be great as we said. This is not one of those agreements where people walk away from the table happy. I would certainly try to get one, but I wouldn’t accept anything that wouldn’t get us enough to make it worth it. But I think if you look at our European allies, for our credibility and relationship with them, I think it’s important that we be open to the idea of a nuclear agreement and that we not close the door because we lose a lot of influence with potential allies if they think that we are not least being reasonable players.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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