Donald Trump named General Rick Waddell as the Western Hemisphere Director on the National Security Council (after his predecessor, Craig Deare, was fired for criticizing Trump). Early in his early military career in the mid-1980s, he served in Honduras and write a book about that experience. The title, In War’s Shadow: Waging Peace in Central America, immediately gives you a feel for Waddell’s proclivities.
Waddell’s intelligence comes through. He’s a really smart individual. But he reveals a rigid vision of the political world that seems untouched by counter-evidence and is accompanied by quite open contempt for those who disagree. This might make him an excellent Trump official.
Early on, Waddell sounds positively Trumpist. Our “wavering allies” are “leeches” (p.36) and as he looks at rich Latin Americans at the Miami airport, he notes that as an “ardent nationalist” (p. 37) he is comforted by the fact that they seem to “have respect for America” (p. 37). Even the education system in the U.S. “declared war on teaching” by not providing enough curriculum on the glories of past battles like Inchon (p. 5). Thankfully, the election of Ronald Reagan brought back flag waving (p. 13). Yes, he specifically mentions flag waving. If you stray from rigid patriotism too far, you produce “drivel” (p. 35) and are beneath his contempt. If you don’t show enough religious fervor, you’re part of “the decline in the spiritual nature of young Americans today” (p. 70). As the book progresses, you hear loud and clear his disdain for the press, which overstates scandal (the “nasty ol’ military [p.81)]) and never gives proper credit for the peace and democracy we were spreading to Central America. Throughout the book he veers off into bitterness about the media. He even attacks CNN for “bald, bold-faced lies” (p. 122). Trump could not have said—or tweeted—it better.
In short, all the way back in 1992, Waddell already dreamed of Making America Great Again.
He takes pains to lambaste the “radicals” who espouse dependency theory, which he says believes the Honduran economy is controlled by the U.S. “for the benefit of overweight housewives who wanted cheap bananas” (p. 49). That is a novel description of dependency theorists, somehow simultaneously inaccurate and sexist. Instead, for Waddell underdevelopment is due in part to “ignorance” (p. 49) A much simpler explanation, to be sure. He was also “depressed” at Congress’ refusal to fund the Contras, which was due to the “typically misinformed, vote-grabbing Democratic congressman” (pp. 117-118). Liberals don’t like protecting the U.S. of A.
For Waddell, the idea that U.S. actions could be considered imperialist is ridiculous. The U.S. government was just protecting its national security, which made it perfectly acceptable to station troops in the country and pour enormous amounts of money into projects the U.S. deemed necessary. He consciously tries to be culturally sensitive, such as condemning the pejorative term “Hondos” for Hondurans, but he is utterly unquestioning of the U.S. presence there in the first place. He expressed bitterness that President Reagan would not get “accolades” for it (p. 67). As an independent entity, Honduras seemed barely to exist. That the U.S. was doing Honduras a big favor by being there goes without saying.
Waddell believed that if U.S. troops were to be stationed in a country, they should work with locals on infrastructure. That collaboration was necessary, he believed, because “[i]t would be no good to create a welfare mentality” (p. 58) by having American soldiers do all the work. And in general he’s dismissive. Noting that the Hondurans wondered why there was so much money for GI entertainment but less for working on projects within Honduras, Waddell just notes that they “refused to understand the legalities of congressional authorizations” (p. 95).
Vietnam seeps into every page. The war was poisonous because it weakened discipline, undermined patriotism, and made the Army soft. At least back in the 1980s, he believed it had not recovered. This is the fault of the 1960s protestors, the liberal media, and the loss of traditional values. This galls him.
Low intensity conflict had a major impact on Waddell, who kept writing about how the Army needed to adapt to new realities of conflict. As he concludes with satisfaction, “all too often freedom still proceeds from the barrel of a gun” (p. 205). And he’s now advising the president on Latin America.