United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined me this morning:
HH: Joined now by the United State Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Merry Christmas, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for joining me this morning.
MP: Good morning, Hugh. Merry Christmas to you as well, sir.
HH: I want to say first of all, last week when you were in Europe, one of your predecessors at the CIA passed away. We heard a lot about President George Herbert Walker Bush as Vice President and as President. But what did you know of H.W. as it was reflected at Langley where you led?
MP: Boy, it was, he is widely revered there. You know, my first encounter was I was a soldier that served. I patrolled the very wall, the border that he brought down when I was a young soldier back in the late 1980s. He was my commander-in-chief. And then I had the chance to get to know him a little bit when I was the CIA director. He was most generous with his time and his thoughts about how to make that institution instructive, powerful and useful to the president of the United States, and to make it work well on behalf of the American people. He was a gentleman. He was generous. And I always enjoyed my conversations with him.
HH: You know, a lot of people said going to the CIA would render him ineligible for the presidency. But do you think generally being the director of the CIA is good preparation for being in the top job?
MP: You know, I think being the director of the CIA gives you insights into the way the world really works on the ground in some of the most difficult parts of the country, and I think that background served President Bush very well as he moved into his role as commander-in-chief.
HH: Now Mr. Secretary, Heather Nauert has served you so wonderfully well. And congratulations to her going to the UN. But here’s my question about the UN. On Friday, that body failed to officially condemn Hamas. How much good can even a great appointee like Heather do when a body is that dense?
MP: Boy, it’s a fair question, but it matters. It matters who we have there representing us for sure, and I look forward to Heather’s confirmation. And I think she’ll do wonderful work for the State Department and for the United States and for the President. You know, your point about Friday afternoon is consistent with the points that I made when I spoke, goodness, it’s now been a week on back in Brussels. These institutions don’t work the way they were originally intended to work. They now have been, in some cases, hijacked by bad actors. And President Trump’s leadership in the world is aimed at taking these institutions and making sure that they’re fit for a purpose, that they still continue to serve their original ends. The UN is a prime example of that.
HH: Now I want to come to the Brussels speech, because I think it was significant, and in the funeral of H.W. Bush, it was lost a littleeffor bit. Before I do, the breaking news is that Prime Minister May has cancelled the Commons vote tomorrow on Brexit. If there is a hard Brexit, Mr. Secretary, do you think the United States can quickly get a free trade deal done with our oldest ally to ease the transition to an outside of the EU UK?
MP: There’s a long history of our two countries working incredibly close together across every front of our relationship, certainly trade included amongst them. If there’s a hard Brexit, I remain very confident that the United States and the United Kingdom will continue to have a special relationship. It matters certainly to them, but it matters a great deal to us as well.
HH: While you were in Brussels, you received a surprise visit from Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel to talk to you about Operation Northern Shield. Have you indicated, has President Trump indicated, full support for Operation Northern Shield, which is designed to stop Hezbollah from using tunnels along with the IRGC from Iran to invade Israel?
MP: The United States fully supports Israel’s right, and we do our best to support their capability to defend themselves from Iranian aggression. These tunnels are Iranian-connected Lebanese Hezbollah efforts to violate the most basic premise of national sovereignty, and that is digging tunnels onto someone’s terrain. And so we support Israel’s right to defend itself, including the exercises on the Israeli side of the border that they now are calling Northern Shield.
HH: Now I’ve got to say your speech in Brussels last week would have been earthshaking had it not been for George Herbert Walker Bush’s funeral. I quote as you announced the withdrawal of the United States in 60 days from the INF Treaty: “These violations of the INF Treaty cannot be viewed in isolation from the larger pattern of Russian lawlessness on the world stage. The list of Russia’s infamous acts is long – Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, election meddling, Skripal, and now the Kerch Strait to just name a few.” Mr. Secretary, that is the greatest brushback of Russia since Reagan in Berlin. Did you get any reaction from Mr. Putin to that?
MP: They didn’t think we had it quite right, which gives me great confidence that in fact, we did get it right. Look, what I was intending to do there was articulate President Trump’s efforts around the world to continue the tradition of American leadership to keep the world prosperous and the people around the world secure. It is a model that depends on national sovereignty, and depends on calling things out when they no longer make sense. And so the INF Treaty is but one example. It was formed in the late 1980s. It may well have made sense then, but it no longer made sense for America to be the only party to that treaty that was complying with it. And it no longer made sense not only for America, but for Europe and the world. And so we’re fully engaged in doing everything we can. We want to make sure Europe is safe, but that treaty no longer provided assurance in the same way that it did in the 1980s. And when that’s the case, President Trump is going to make sure we call that out.
HH: So you do a tough as nails speech, and then Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin looks out and he sees Paris on fire, Greece riots, Italy fighting with the EU, the sclerotic EU bureaucracy driving the United Kingdom to the edge of political crisis. Can your speech, and can the United States deter him when he sees Europe, in essence, in chaos?
MP: Well, the speech certainly sets down the marker. But what Russia understands, of course, is action. They understand actual responses. The United States under President Trump has been incredibly strong in doing that. We’ve provided defensive weapons systems to the Ukrainians. We have sanctioned senior officials inside of Russia. The list of our efforts to restore and deter Vladimir Putin is long. There still obviously remains a great deal of work to do.
HH: Now Mr. Secretary, you also noted in your speech about the INF that “There is no advantage, no reason the United State should continue to cede this crucial military advantage to the revisionist powers like China,” talking about China’s new missile capability. In the ’60 campaign, John F. Kennedy scored Richard Nixon for a missile gap. Do we presently have a “hypersonics gap” with China?
MP: Well, I don’t want to say much about gaps, because they have a long history of being misunderstood. Here’s what we can say with absolute certainty. The Chinese continue to build up their capabilities – their satellite capabilities, their hypersonic capabilities, their artificial intelligence capabilities, the capacity of the PLA to conduct operations not only in their territory but in a more expeditionary fashion. The United States has a duty to defend itself, and we need to make sure that we have the resources and the right set of leaders and capabilities so that we don’t find ourselves in a place two, five or fifteen years from now where we no longer maintain the capacity to keep America safe and secure against all threats, especially including the one that the Chinese are building.
HH: Now how is, in fact, the Chinese action different in kind from that of Imperial Japan in their greater East Asia co-prosperity sphere? Are they acting as aggressively in these years as Japan did in the early 30s?
MP: So they have taken actions that are very aggressive. And indeed, in some cases, they have misled us. You’ll recall that in the Rose Garden, President Xi confirmed that he would not militarize these, I’ll call them islands, but these outposts in the South China Sea, and then in fact did. And so we now know that the intention of China is to continue to build out, to continue to expand their capability. And President Trump and President Xi talked about this some when they were together in Buenos Aires, and we are determined to make sure that America is prepared across every battlefront. I didn’t mention cyber previously. Each of these battlefronts is a place the United States must be sure we maintain our capacity to be the premiere capability in the world.
HH: And let me conclude, Mr. Secretary, and thank you for your time, is the People’s Republic of China the greatest threat to the West now, greater than Russia, greater than Iran? Is it our hundred year or two hundred year threat? And do we have to think about it in those terms?
MP: I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. Over the five, ten, twenty-five year time horizon, just by simple demographics and wealth, as well as by the internal system in that country, China presents the greatest challenge that the United States will face in the medium to long term.
HH: Mr. Secretary, Merry Christmas. I appreciate you taking the time. Congratulations on a big speech last week, and I hope it gets much, much broader repetition and broadcast.
MP: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you, Hugh.
HH: Merry Christmas.
MP: You bet. So long, sir.
End of inteivew.