QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome to The Realignment.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s great to be with you both this morning. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks for joining us.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the reason we wanted to have you on, aside from literally being the Secretary of State of the United States, is that you’re a pivotal figure in what The Realignment is really all about. We see that as the rules and the systems that have undergirded American politics for many decades, how we approach the free market, how we cope with technological change and the great power competition with China, is really beginning to – it’s beginning to change and it’s a sea change in American politics.
QUESTION: Yeah, and I think that we are thinking and wanting to know: How do you conceive of your role in this specific moment? Because obviously, you run the State Department, but also, prior secretary of states, whether that’s John Quincy Adams and also people like that have played a deeper sort of policy, philosophical role. So how do you conceive of yourself?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So that’s a good set of questions and thanks for having me on the show.
QUESTION: Of course.
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are at a real pivotal moment in history, and if you look at the President’s national security strategy, you can see that. It was a recognition that these great power struggles are upon us, and the challenge that the Chinese Communist Party presents to the fundamental principles that undergird the international system.
And so as for my role, I have this incredible privilege to lead the State Department, 70,000 great people, but I also perform an important function for the President: to try to deliver him a set of rational policy recommendations based upon a data set that give him – get him to a place where he can achieve what he’s laid out in that national security strategy, to work as part of the team –Secretary of Defense, myself, Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Commerce, all the people who have an element of American power and the capacity to deliver on behalf of the President’s “America First” vision, to be part of that team to deliver really good recommendations and option sets for the President.
QUESTION: So, Mr. Secretary, you recently gave a speech at the Claremont Institute where you articulated, I think, the closest thing that I’ve seen yet to a Trump doctrine, if there is such a thing, and the point of the speech was how the founders articulated a foreign policy based upon a couple of things: first, realism, restraint, and respect. What did you mean by those three things in particular?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it was an important set of remarks. To your point, this was an effort to provide a first pass at the philosophical underpinnings of what it is we’re trying to achieve. As for realism, we watched previous administrations – this is not political. Presidents from both parties operate on a historical set of assumptions that we believe no longer are functional, no longer are operative. And in each case, we need to go look at them and ask the central question of “Do the institutions that were built around those underpinnings, do they work?” So whether that’s the UN or the World Trade Organization or whatever institution it may be – NATO – are they functional, are they fit for purpose, do they work in our times? These things are now decades on, and it is a very reasonable thing to re-evaluate them, so we’ve begun to do that.
And whether it was the previous administration’s policy on Iran, which was predicated on the idea that if you signed a deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with these clerics, they’d behave normally – that was a failure. We’re realistic and said that doesn’t work. Paris Climate Accord had this theory of the case and we could see that it wasn’t realistic; it wasn’t built on a set of principles that would deliver even the outcomes stated there. So it was the ability to speak the truth about things that are functional, things that aren’t, and try to build a set of policies off a very realistic view.
Second idea was respect. It’s central. We believe the founders had it right. This idea that every human being is endowed by their creator with a set of rights that come from God and that every human has dignity by nature of their humanity is central to understanding how America’s diplomacy ought to work.
And then finally, there’s this idea of restraint that is deeply buried in the founders’ understanding. It’s written, it’s in the Constitution about ensuring that America act in ways that are acknowledging that every nation-state is sovereign, and they have their right to make their own decisions, and trying to have respect for that in every place that one can, and working against a set of principles that use that nation-state as the central animating force of America’s diplomacy and foreign policy around the world to deliver outcomes on behalf of the American people.
QUESTION: So I liked your reference to institutions, whether that’s the UN – these institutions were made post-1945, after World War II. The State Department, the White House played a role in setting those things up. And you also talk about the post-Cold War era, how it was sort of undergirded, and this sort of relates to realism. There was too much optimism about the ability of these institutions to shape regimes, whether they were hostile or whether they were sort of older institutions like NATO.
But something I’m wondering is: How do we balance the need to be realist with the need to also be optimistic? Because I think that’s something that’s true about America in and of itself, right? This is a place where people come here to dream and build things. How do we balance those two things?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t think there’s a balance there. I actually think they are mutually reinforcing. America is a centrally – an essentially optimistic nation built on the idea that the next generation will live lives that are better and more successful. We’re innovative, we’re creative, we work hard, we have faith, we’re a nation of faith. That has, at its very center, optimism, but that optimism has to be girded in a central set of understandings about what’s real and what’s truthful. And you can’t have one without the other. You can’t, in my view, live in a fantasy world and say, “Boy, I hope this works out well.” You have to actually build the systems and processes so that you can structurally achieve those things which you are optimistic will be achieved.
QUESTION: And what you pointed out in that speech was that in the post-1945 era is that many – that the three things – realism, restraint, and respect – were kind of strayed from in post-World War II order. What went wrong exactly? Where did we – where – because there was something there about the rules-based international order and the American leading of that, but where did it go astray? Was it in 1992 in the post-Cold War era? Where would you pinpoint it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So you do – you have three moments. You all have identified two of them. You have the post-World War II set of institutions that were built, built on the central premise of, right, we don’t want to fight these global wars any longer and so build out institutions. They are certainly right for their time, I think.
Then you have the Cold War. So when I was a young soldier in the late 1980s, we saw the end of that, and it was an American success story, and frankly, a success story for the world that said we’re going to take down this communist threat from the Soviet Union.
You then have a third moment. I call it the post-9/11 time period where the international order becomes very focused on fighting terrorism. Every one of those challenges still remains today; none of those problem sets have been completely eliminated. But if you ask where those institutions went wrong, it’s that nations can become complacent, and importantly their peoples can become complacent. If they believe that these central institutions can be left to their own accord and deliver on these outcomes, that will fundamentally fail. If the – if a nation isn’t prepared to expend the resources it needs to defend itself, it will fail.
In America’s case, right, lots of folks talked about this as a republic, if you can keep it. That requires a certain vigilance. And European nations need to do that; African nations need to do that. And as threats arise – today we see this challenge from the Chinese Communist Party. As threats arise, we need to make sure that those institutions are flexible enough and sufficiently robust to deliver on what their people are demanding. And every leader – whether it’s a political leader at the local level, or a state level – has an obligation to make sure to talk directly to their constituents about the need to ensure that there is security. Absent that, all the things we want to talk about for an economy to grow, for individual freedom, they’ll falter. Because there are bad actors in the world. Evil remains. And America needs to have a central role in working to make sure that we protect the American people from those very threats.
QUESTION: And before we get to the future, which you’ve referenced, we have to sort of think about the position of history. So when you sort of think about what your great grandchildren would look at when they’re reading their history textbooks, if you sort of think about the Monroe Doctrine – you look at James Monroe, John Quincy Adams. That was sort of them determining to the European powers that the Western Hemisphere was off-limits. You have Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley saying that the United States was entering the world stage, the post-World War order that we talked about with Harry Truman. How do you think people in future generations are going to conceive of this specific moment and the role that you and the administration played in that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Yeah.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Having said that, there are – and I, in the Claremont speech, laid them out – there are these central underpinnings, this refocusing that we think is absolutely imperative. And it will take time. American bureaucracy moves slowly.
QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: When – and that’s okay. Democracy sometimes demands that, right. It is to be thoughtful about how you move. But if we manage to redirect the American national security establishment to taking on the challenges of today, the challenges that are from transnational migration, the challenges that are presented by a rising Chinese Communist Party, the technological challenge you referred to briefly, right, to make sure that we are capable of ensuring that there is a Western, a rules-based system in the technology world – if we can achieve those things, and redirecting resources and focus and talent, the human capital that America abounds in, if we can do those things well, then someone else will name it, someone else will give it some theory of the case, but we will have turned it in the right direction.
QUESTION: Yeah. It’s one of those things, if you spend your time thinking of that name, you’re probably not doing a great job. But I just wanted to get to a quick thing you said: Government in our system is deliberative; it’s not quick moving. And something that we have to think about in this moment is our system itself, because that system’s under challenge. And I think that 10 years ago you had a lot of people saying: Look at the Chinese Government; they build things quickly; it’s faster moving. People questioned whether our system of government can meet these challenges. How do you think of those sort of, like, deeper philosophical questions about government?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So look, there’s days I wish we all moved faster here – (laughter) – to be sure, including me and my team here at the State Department. That’s certainly true. But I have a core belief that this document that our founders drafted was clever beyond all imagination. It was rooted in history and philosophy that no other country has as its central pillar. We also turn to markets to solve many of our problems and to achieve good outcomes through there.
I believe that those twin pillars, right – the Constitution and this central theory of freedom – will ultimately put America – even if it means we’re slower on Wednesday than somebody else is – will ultimately drive us to success. I think markets fundamentally work. I think we need to make sure that markets are the driving force globally for trade. It’s one of the things President Trump is certainly very focused on. And if we can achieve that, if we get that outcome, America will continue to be the most exceptional nation.
QUESTION: And to that point, Mr. Secretary, I mean, if there’s one area where all the issue areas converge for The Realignment – technology and how we think about free markets in our open economic system – and China, of course, is – actually, the rise of the Chinese Communist Party and so much of the decimation of our own middle class and manufacturing base. So people who are not invested right now in foreign policy generally, they viscerally reacted to the situation with the NBA. And there’s some recent comments by star player LeBron James about this particular issue, and almost an apologism for one of the – the general manager of the Houston Rockets for speaking out on behalf of these Hong Kong protesters.
Now, this is the first instance of – first high-profile instance that we’ve seen of the Chinese Communist Party attempting to exert their power to limit the free speech of an American citizen on American soil. As the chief diplomat of this country, how do you think through such a big and structural problem?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So two comments, and then I’ll try to get to the central premise. First is we have an obligation, each of us, to ensure that every American has the right to speak about the things that they care deeply about. Many of them will end up disagreeing with Mike Pompeo, President Trump.
QUESTION: You’ll take the hit there, yeah.
SECRETARY POMPEO: But we all – we have an obligation to protect that. Second, one of the things I think that’s caught the American people’s attention on this particular issue is some have spoken about this moral equivalence. There’s no moral equivalence between the Chinese Communist Party and the greatness of American democracy. They’re fundamentally different, and we should be very clear about that.
Third, when it comes to businesses and how they interact – this is – these things in the NBA, they’re tip of the iceberg. This has been going on for some time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re right. This has caught America’s attention in a way some of these other incidents have not. We collectively – this includes the private sector of the United States – needs to make sure that the long arm of Beijing trying to reach in is something that they’re deeply aware of, they take account of, and that in the end a short-term benefit, some idea that you can make money at expense of your principles, almost always fails. It almost always leads you down a path which will actually harm the very central underpinning of what it is you were trying to do. And so we’re encouraging everyone who’s engaged in this to come talk to what we’re doing so they can see this is state-directed activity against Americans. American diplomats have a responsibility to make sure that every citizen understands about the risks and the opportunities and give them ideas about how they might respond.
QUESTION: And in your speech you had this line which I like, which is that: “On China, the President has taken action to stop China from stealing our stuff,” right. So that’s intellectual property, and that was a long-running issue we’ve had. But what’s interesting for me is I think part of the reason why a lot of the players and managers and officials of the NBA – Marriot, Blizzard Entertainment – have struggles is because they lack, I think, a language, an understanding of what’s sort of going on here. So obviously, you said it yourself, right. There’s a free market; there’s government. How do you think people and American citizens should conceive of this weird mix of policy, but also wanting to sell shoes? Right? It’s difficult, right? You want to be sympathetic to people.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I completely get it. So I had a business before I came to Congress. We operated in China; we had a little tiny operation in Shanghai. We sold stuff there; we purchased stuff there. So I want business to succeed. It’s a big market, frankly. I want the Chinese economy to grow as well. This isn’t about containing the Chinese economy or harming the Chinese people. What we want to make sure is – and what President Trump has been focused on – is making sure that this is fair, and it’s not. To your point, I use “stealing our stuff.” That’s probably a little bit of slang from Kansas. (Laughter.) But it is —
QUESTION: Well, it’s understandable, something that happens to most people.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. And tragic. I think about the little business that I had, and we had intellectual property, too. We didn’t have patents, but we had engineers doing work. We had a process value that we understood very deeply. And I’ve watched American business go to China and have this taken away from them. And it’s destroyed jobs in the United States; it’s cost the American economy growth and potential. And so our citizens are worse off for that.
When we talk about this, we need to just do it without emotion and just speak about this with great clarity, which says, look, there is a risk if you move your stuff into China today. If you move your product or your workflow there, you need to be cognizant of that. We have a responsibility in the United States Government to help protect your information and your data sets as best we can, and we together can collectively ensure that we get to a situation not just with China, but with other countries who are engaged in this kind of behavior, that denies them the capacity to treat American citizens unfairly.
QUESTION: And in a very high-profile case that was – preceded the NBA was actually the jacket on – so Top Gun, obviously an iconic American movie – the patch on the back of Tom Cruise’s iconic jacket was changed in order to not offend a Chinese audience —
QUESTION: In a sequel.
QUESTION: — in their sequel. And I mean, that was largely seen as a result of Tencent Pictures, which is part of a large Chinese media conglomerate, financing that picture. What is there to be done about it when the commanding heights of American culture seem to be really infiltrated by Chinese capital?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So first things first. We all hope Top Gun 2 is as good as Top Gun. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So we’re going to ask you, do you think making a Top Gun 2 – this is the debate.
QUESTION: That is a big central question, though, obviously.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I will wait and see.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m very hopeful. To your point, yeah. I went and spoke to the NBA board of directors – it’s now been a couple weeks back – and I spoke to them about this. Today, we’re limited. Only 37 movies a year, American movies, can be sold into the Chinese market. And the Chinese – and American businesses have asked can you help us with that. I’m perfectly prepared to help American companies sell into the Chinese market. What I asked in return – or not in return, but the additional point that I made was you can’t allow them to censor your material. It is impermissible. You wouldn’t let the American Government tell you what you could or could not put in your movie. You might let us rate it, right, so that it’s appropriate, but you wouldn’t let us tell you what you could put in your movie, certainly not with respect to political issues, and you ought not let the Chinese Government do that as well.
And we at the State Department have a responsibility to try and help them do that, to try to convince the Chinese Government it’s not appropriate to do that. We also think that the Chinese people are highly capable of evaluating information themselves.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Free markets, free people. That’s the idea here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I have confidence that free people in China will see a movie and they’ll say that was about American power; I don’t like that. Or it was about – they’ll make their own judgments and they’ll be – there’s 1.5 billion Chinese people that – they’ll make their own – they’ll form their – they ought to be permitted that. And we, American institutions, cultural arts institutions, in this case the Motion Picture Association, the movie makers – their creative genius ought not to be denied from the Chinese people. They ought to get a chance to see it, too.
QUESTION: So we’ve been speaking about entertainment, but our sort of last bit on this is: What has been the administration’s policy response to these sort of things that everyone’s talking about now, which is the Hong Kong protest? You have the Uighurs in western China. How are you conceiving of the role we play? Because also this speaks to your – we have to deal with restraint. We have to think of restraint and respect. How do we sort of put those together?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s a – you mentioned two in particular. Maybe I’ll just address those as exemplars of how we’ve thought about this.
With respect to Hong Kong, the President has been unambiguous. In this case, the Chinese have a commitment. They made a global commitment, an international commitment. They made an agreement with the Brits, submitted at the UN, that says they’ll be one country and two systems. So there’s a set of freedoms that they will provide to the people of Hong Kong that are different and apart from any commitment they made to the people in Mainland China. And we have been determined to ask the Chinese Government to simply honor their commitment not to break a promise. We’ve seen this. This is the central problem with the Chinese Communist Party, right? Xi Jinping said, “I won’t put weapons systems in the South China Sea.” He broke his promise. In Hong Kong too, we want to make sure that they don’t break their promise.
With respect to the Uighurs, this is a deeply troubling situation. It is inside of China, and so they have their sovereign rights, but they are engaged in activity that is a massive violation of human rights, and we have a responsibility to speak out with clarity about that. Wherever we find it, whether it’s an ally, whether it’s someone who we don’t get along with particularly well, the United States has an obligation to ensure that we’re speaking to protect the human dignity of every individual.
QUESTION: And we have sort of some lighthearted questions just to finish up here, sir. How exactly do you prepare for a meeting with Kim Jong-un?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Diligently.
QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.) And so also we started our conversation – we were talking about our founders, but one of the most things that’s really changed, obviously, is that the presidents and the secretaries of state at that time – it was much more of a cerebral job, operating out of here in Washington. You, of course, have put probably millions of miles upon your State Department aircraft. How do you cope with that travel schedule? What is that like in order to deal with?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, you just – it’s like everything in life. You get up in the morning, put your helmet on, get back out there on the field.
QUESTION: Yeah. Right.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I have a great team around me, too, who supports everything I’m doing, whether it’s the mechanics of my travel or making sure that I’m ready. The previous question was how do you prepare for a meeting with Chairman Kim. We’ve got a big team helping me gather the information so that I can, in an orderly, precise way, ensure that I’m delivering the American message appropriately.
QUESTION: Of all your predecessors, who do you admire the most?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, goodness. On a question like this, I never – (laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s not —
QUESTION: Top three. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I’ll say this. I’ve had the chance to speak with all of the former living directors. They’ve all been very kind and generous with me. Dr. Kissinger has provided lots of advice. We have good discussions about what he did in China in the ’70s and how that may have changed – how time may have changed.
QUESTION: Of course.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Jim Baker has been incredibly – Secretary Baker’s been incredibly generous with his time, to help me think through bureaucracies, intergovernmental issues, and some of the issues he was dealing with in the Middle East during his time. I don’t know that there’s any one in particular that I think of. There are, of course, amazing men and women who have occupied this position. When you go back to the early days, the founders, these are people one can’t hope to achieve what they did, but you can certainly use them as an inspiration.
QUESTION: It’s a historic chair you sit on and our final question for you, sir: What was the most unique gift that you’ve received as Secretary of State?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, goodness. There’s a whole handful. Just last week, I got this great Martin guitar that we’re hoping – from the good citizens of Nashville.
QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’ll be in the diplomacy museum. I was deeply engaged in diplomacy there, talking to a group of Americans about how we achieve our foreign policy objectives.
QUESTION: Well, that’s excellent. Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Secretary. We really appreciate it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, both.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you, sir.