U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s address to the Heritage Foundation President’s Club Meeting on Oct. 22:
Thank you all. Thank you. Well, good morning, everyone. So I’ve got a prepared speech, and then I got some thoughts. (Laughter.) And I’ll mix them in this morning.
I want to thank Kay and the entire leadership team at Heritage for having me here this morning. We were talking backstage about the gala tonight, and I reminded them that I’d been to the gala a number of times when I was a member of Congress. This is an important institution here in Washington, D.C., delivering on behalf of America, and I value it, and this administration values it, and I know so many leaders all across the United States Government value it as well.
And it’s also great to be here. Everybody remembers the Bob Dylan song, “Shelter from the Storm.” It’s good to be with you all. (Laughter.) And I know there are a bunch of friends here, too, that – people that I’ve known an awfully long time who are here with us this morning, too. I want to thank you all for supporting this really important institution. Heritage has indeed schooled many generations of free market believers in free societies. I was a trustee on a think tank back in Kansas called the Kansas Public Policy Institute. We would read Heritage reports all the time to try to make sure we were getting it right, and trying to get it right for the state of Kansas in the same way you all here are doing that for Washington.
The last time I had the privilege to speak in front of a Heritage audience was in May of last year. I had been the Secretary of State for a number of days. Yeah, I was already missing the CIA. It was a much quieter – (laughter) – much less public space.
Look, we had just pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. I’d laid out 12 conditions, including that Iran end its ballistic missile program, release U.S. hostages, stop financing terrorism – radical stuff, crazy. Stop taking hostages and shooting people in Europe.
The Washington Post ran a headline that said, “Mike Pompeo gives a silly speech on Iran”. The New York Times similarly reported, quote, “In Hardline Speech, Pompeo Criticizes Iran’s Behavior”. That was actually partly true. (Laughter.) I was criticizing their behavior. There’s much more hardline. And you’ve seen that.
Now, compare that to the headline from the Heritage org that ran the same day, which says, quote, “Pompeo Stands Up for the Iranian People in a Major Speech”. And in fact, if you go back and look at the remarks, that’s what I was attempting to do. (Applause.)
And, indeed, I say that – that’s the tone for what I want to talk about today. We were standing up there for the Iranian people. Thank you for getting it right. Thank you for helping me tell the story that sometimes doesn’t get told in other places.
That was my first speech – my first major speech as the Secretary of State. And as I said, that central idea, that animating principle that we laid out there about doing our best to help the Iranian people be successful, I think it set the stage for the work that I’ve done what is now in this last year and a half.
It also set the stage for the way that we’ve tried to conduct foreign policy. I’ve continued to deliver tough messages that recognize a set of basic facts about the way the world is, because we can’t achieve good policy unless we recognize the reality of what’s going on with the ground.
It’s what Vice President Pence did last week when he and I traveled to Ankara, and I’m sure we’ll talk about the situation there when I sit down with Kim.
As with Iran, you’ve probably heard one version of that story. But the story that didn’t get told begins with the truth that our administration inherited a mess in Syria. The previous administration had allowed the caliphate to take root in – not only in Syria, but in western Iraq, approaching the outward parts of Erbil.
It was the Trump administration, with the help of the SDF fighters and 70 nations that built a coalition – something that never gets talked about – the work that we did to build out that team united around the destruction of the caliphate in Syria and Iraq was important and effective. Kurdish forces there, the Arab fighters that were part of the SDF were great warriors.
We also are mindful that our NATO ally Turkey has legitimate security concerns there. Indeed, the United States has designated the PKK as terrorists for an awfully long time. We take those concerns seriously. And so we were working, the State Department in the lead, along with our brethren at the Department of Defense, to build out a safe zone in the region, to try to mediate between the two.
President Trump warned Turkey not to invade. Sadly, they conducted the incursion. And when President Erdogan went ahead, he sent a diplomatic team to try and avert disaster. You’ll see here in just a few hours the 120-hour window will arrive. I’ll talk more about the status, but some progress has certainly been made.
The truth was – the truth was that it was not in Turkey’s interest as a NATO ally to continue with that incursion. The truth was that [the] invasion set back our shared fight against ISIS. We think now we’re in a better place.
The truth was that President Trump was prepared to cause and raise costs for Turkey in the event that they continued their incursion. So the President used America’s economic might, our economic power, to avoid a kinetic conflict with a NATO ally. And as President Trump tweeted that very day, “There needed to be some tough love in order to get it done.” (Applause.)
It is a complicated story to be sure. The success of the outcome there is not yet fully determined. But it’s a microcosm of what we do every day as the Department of State and I do as America’s chief diplomat. My responsibility, for a start, is to help countries see the world for what it is.
And there’s no shortage of truth to be told. The truth is that Iran is the aggressor, not the aggrieved. The truth is that China is a strategic competitor at best that uses coercion and corruption as its tools of statecraft. (Applause.) The truth is that we can’t rely on failed strategies to convince Chairman Kim to give up his nuclear weapons; there’s still much work to be done. And the truth is that we won’t achieve peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan without every party at the table. The truth is, too, that restoring democracy in Venezuela is in our hemisphere’s interest and we should expend considerable effort to achieve that. (Applause.) And the truth is that every nation has a responsibility to share the burden of these global mission sets to achieve security around the world. (Applause.)
I know the Vice President’s going to talk about that more tonight, but delivering these messages – and many others – sometimes isn’t fun. I sat in a very cold room in Brussels that was colder after my speech than before it. (Laughter.) It certainly hasn’t made me popular with the talking heads. You can just google “Pompeo” and read all about it. (Laughter.)
But I must say, as I stand before you today, I’m confident that we are succeeding and we’re awakening the world to these very threats that I just outlined, and more too. So today, I want to just tell a little bit of the story myself.
It begins with showing up, like we did last week in Turkey. I’ve been to some 55 countries now, and many of which were passed over by my predecessors.
I’ve been to Latin America six times, a place in the Western Hemisphere that had been too long neglected by senior leaders in our government. I’ve been to Colombia and Peru and to Ecuador and Paraguay and to Brazil. I’ll be back down to South America in just a couple weeks with the President in Chile.
I went to Finland in May to bring real truth about what’s going on in the Arctic, about Chinese and Russian land grabs and militarization in that region.
And I traveled not just to Australia, India, and Thailand to present our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, but I also had the opportunity to be the first Secretary of State in history to go to Micronesia, and when there, I talked about the important interests that the Micronesian people have in ensuring that China is something about which they are fully aware.
I had the good joy to go to Hungary and Slovakia and to Iceland and to Montenegro, all of which hadn’t had a Secretary of State visit in way too long.
And then I traveled for the first time as the Secretary of State, because it’s the first time it was possible to travel, to North Macedonia, a pro-America stronghold in the Balkans.
I guess that the number of Americans that know about this work is few and far between, and that’s okay. But the truth is the story about what the Trump administration is doing needs to be told. That’s my job. It’s why I’m here today. It’s why I travel here domestically probably more than many secretaries of state have done so, too. I think it’s important that the American people get a chance to see what it is their taxpayer dollars are being used for by the United States Department of State.
But showing up only matters if you’re there for a purpose and that you’re willing to tell the truth when it’s tough and that you’ll continue to speak to them about things that are hard. It’s a lot of fun to go into a meeting and tell them what they want to hear and talk about what great allies you are and toast and cheer and compliment each other on the important work you’re doing together. It’s much more important to speak about the things that are difficult, where there are disagreements and truths that need to be told.
We’ve apparently taking over the truth-telling role from the NBA. (Laughter and applause.) Take – if you go back and look, too, I knew when I was seven years old I was going to be in that league, and it’s just too bad. (Laughter.)
Take Iran as a good example. I referenced this at the beginning. Ever since I gave that “silly” speech, the conversation’s turned. Hundreds of private companies are on board with our sanctions. There was this threat that European companies would stay in Europe. I was told so many times, boy, American sanctions alone won’t work. You should ask the ayatollah if that statement is true.
And after the regime bombed Saudi oil facilities, Britain, France, Germany – the E3 – released a statement. They said that they believed it was clear – quote, “clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack… the time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear programme.” That is a very different position than they were in before American diplomacy began to put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran and its corrupt, kleptocratic regime. (Applause.) The world is learning, too, that Iran responds to strength, not supplication.
Iran is only one chapter, too, in the story. Look at the way President Trump has changed the global conversation on China or consider the numerous instances of American principles returning to multilateral bodies, thanks in large to bold strategies of this administration.
We’ve put together an enormous coalition – I’m incredibly proud of Foreign Service officers of the State Department – put together a coalition called the Lima Group, dedicating themselves to restoring democracy to Venezuela. Fifty-plus countries now recognized Juan Guaido as the duly elected leader of the Venezuelan people. This was good, solid diplomatic work, hard fought and done with the elan of the American State Department.
We convinced ASEAN to declare its support for sovereignty and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific as well.
We’ve reconvened “the Quad” – the security talks between Japan, Australia, India and the Untied States that had been dormant for nine years. This will prove very important in the efforts ahead, ensuring that China retains only its proper place in the world.
And I’m very proud, too, we hosted more than a hundred nations for the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the largest human rights conference ever held at the State Department ever. We’ve done it for two years running. (Applause.) It’s underreported. If you google the Trump administration and human rights, you are unlikely to see MSNBC report on this amazing work that brought leaders from all faiths to Washington, D.C. to talk about the critical nature of the fact that this first freedom, this freedom we have in the United States of America, is powerful and important, and sets the trajectory for nations all across the world.
Just recently, 20 nations joined us at the UN in a letter that claimed that abortion is in fact – is fact – and just – excuse me – rejecting the claim that abortion is a human right. (Applause.)
This is not to say it has been without cost, that we’ve awakened every sleeping mind or snuffed out every fake news story. Far from it.
And based on the news coverage that – when I talk to folks back in Kansas where my – our friends are, our family is, our church is, I talk to them. I don’t fault them. Sometimes they don’t have the story right. Sometimes they’ll not see that America is in fact a force for good around the world. Our job is to make sure we tell that story, and when I say “our” I mean mine and yours.
Here’s the other story: A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit my ancestral home in a little town called Pacentro in Abruzzo. I know most of you are from there. (Laughter.) There are about a thousand people in Pacentro, and there were 1,050 people on the street. It was a really great experience personally to go back to where my grandfather was from. My dad never had the chance to get there.
But I was walking these cobblestone streets, and there were kids waving American flags. I’m not going to read the text to you; it’s not politically correct. But there were people that had been on the planet for a while grabbing my hands, local officials eager to welcome me. They wanted America to be present and to help them, and they knew we were a force for good.
This was incredibly representative of what I see every day as I travel the world. All around the world people are happy to see the American Secretary of State. They want to know that America’s there. They want us to forcefully advocate for the things they know that they believe in or know that they ought to, and their government ought to believe in.
And I believe firmly that because we’re doing this hard work of diplomacy, many of our friends and partners are beginning to see the world with new eyes.
For now, that’s the story. I’m confident that our record backs it up – and that history will reflect that as well. I wish you all the best of luck. Thank you all for being here with me today, and I look forward to taking some questions.
May God bless Heritage, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, joining the Secretary on stage, Heritage’s Executive Vice President Kim Holmes.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all. Thank you.
MR HOLMES: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning.
MR HOLMES: Good morning to all of you. It’s really a pleasure and honor to have all of you here this morning. It’s an honor to have you as well, Mr. Secretary. We follow what you do very closely. We’re very proud to have you here this morning. And we only have a very little bit of time and I want to use it as wisely and as efficiently as I can. So I’m going to launch into a couple of questions.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That sounds great. Thank you. I appreciate that. I’ll try and be efficient as well.
MR HOLMES: Yeah, good. (Laughter.) And the first is – is that I have spent the last couple of years, as I mentioned to you in passing just a minute ago, traveling to Europe on a speaking tour, explaining to Europeans mostly what the Trump administration is doing and also where America is heading in the world. And it’s the question I most often get: Where is America heading in the world? Is this a new era that we’re in? Does the Trump administration’s foreign policy represent a change from the past? If so, what’s new? And how is it adapting to the new conditions and the new era that we are now in?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So I get this question in Europe too.
MR HOLMES: I bet you do.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And what I remind all the leaders with whom I meet is that the West, for an awfully long time, since 9/11, has spent an awful lot of resources on the counterterrorism fight. It was completely appropriate. We frankly have done this collectively incredibly well. We should be proud of that and we should not let our foot off the gas or our foot off the radical Islamic terrorists’ throat. But the challenges, the big challenges that the world faces today, are different from that, or at least additive to that.
And I remind them that a nation unprepared to speak to their people candidly about the risk that their nation faces is a nation that will ultimately succumb to those risks. And America will never let that happen. President Trump will never let that happen. You see it in not only defense budgets but you see it in all of the elements of American power we’re bringing to bear. I remind every one of these countries that without a strong economy, without free markets and economic growth and well-being, a nation’s capacity is limited, not just their capacity to field an army or to fly an airplane, but their capacity for the world to understand that this is a nation that has true ability to impact outcomes. We see this all the time in how the United States interacts economically. We use those economic tools to the benefit of the American people, and I think to the benefit of the world, and I remind them of that.
So it has changed. The changes that have taken place in China is something that the – all of us sat on for too long, didn’t do nearly enough. When I say all of us, I’m – served in Congress for a handful of years. I didn’t do enough. But we now can see this very clearly, and we see the challenges clearly, and we want the world, including Europe, to understand these risks. It gets shorthanded – I guess the word “Huawei” gets shouted a lot, but it’s so much bigger and deeper, and the challenges so much greater than that.
So we need to align collectively to ensure that this idea that we’ve had as the central tenant of how the world will engage – there’ll be a set of rules; there’ll be a set of standards; there’ll be free trade and free commerce – all the central principles that animate what our founders talked about in our Constitution need to undergird the world for the next century, for our kids and grandkids. And so in that sense, I think the Trump administration has taken a very realistic view of the world, to call them like we see them, to push back against those threats that are real.
We’ve been restrained, too. I talked about this in some remarks I gave at Claremont. We’ve recognized that we can’t be all things everywhere, all the time. No nation has the capacity to deliver that. And that means not that you abandon the field, but that you calibrate your resources to effectively address the relative risks. You do this in your business every single day. We do it in our families every single day. We assign resources against problem sets to match the threat.
I think that is a – that those two things undergird a set of changes that I think this administration has set in motion. But I am confident that the next administrations will come into office and they’ll see these issues the same way because they’re right. And I’m confident that American policy will go deliver American capabilities around the world to support our friends and allies and continue to ensure that America has a next century that is as successful and prosperous for our people.
MR HOLMES: Do you think the old guard in Europe is getting it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Do I think the old guard in Europe is getting it? Europe’s a big place. (Laughter.)
MR HOLMES: That’s why I asked.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That was efficient.
MR HOLMES: That was very efficient. (Laughter and applause.) Good.
Mr. Secretary, you mentioned in your speech the importance of religious liberty. Conservatives in this room – the Heritage Foundation, certainly – believe in the importance of protecting, preserving, and advancing religious liberty. But as you know, not every country around the world values religious liberty the way we do, and it’s certainly – if you go into international organizations like the United Nations, it is not valued as much as we would like it to be. Can you say a little more about why this religious liberty is so important to you and to the administration? And what is groundbreaking in the approach that you’re taking?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll start with – the first question is about why it matters. Facts and data – there is correlation between autonomy, human dignity, respect for every citizen, religious freedom as a component of that, and successful governments, the capacity to have stability. And you can see nations that have more religious liberty tend to view the world much closer to the way the United States views the world. So we have a selfish interest that’s wholly apart from the human rights aspect of this, we have a geostrategic interest in expanding religious freedom. Today, the data is that about 80 percent of citizens of the world live in places where there is either no religious freedom or their religious freedom is limited in some significant way.
Our approach has been – and you can see this in the remarks that nearly every Cabinet member gives; you can see it in the ministerials. We’ve invited from all around the world of, goodness, nearly every faith to come to Washington to talk about this. And if you travel to visit a U.S. embassy and meet someone on our team, an ambassador or whomever, I would have failed as a leader if they don’t understand that this is a real priority for this administration. I think you’ll find that they all do. It’s deeply consistent with the way we’re trying to deliver foreign policy around the world, too.
We’ve done our best to call out the absence of religious liberty in countries all across the world, even from our friends. If you read the Human Rights Report that we put out every year, it is a compendium not just about religious freedom, but about human rights violations around the world. It is this remarkable document – no other country does this. We identify every single incident where we found some violation of human rights. So we do it; we list our friends. They call me immediately and say, “What the heck are you doing?” But it’s about creating a catalogue so that the world will know where this is taking place.
And we watch countries all across the world. They’re watching what we’re doing; they’re watching how America does this. They’re watching how President Trump addresses this set of issues. And I am convinced that the work we’re doing will enhance religious freedom for millions and millions of people around the world.
MR HOLMES: Thank you. (Applause.)
One last question. And I know that in July the Commission for Unalienable Rights was released. And I know this is a commission and a cause that’s very important to you personally. It was – took some time to get it up and running. Not everybody sees human rights and the tradition of natural law and natural rights that you and I and the founders and many people in this room do. Can you say a few words about why that commission is so important, and also what’s new about it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I personally have just had this as something I’ve cared about for a long time, since I was a young soldier and was studying just war theory and the central ideas about how human beings had an obligation to interact with each other. It also rises – I’m an evangelical Christian and so I see this in my faith life as well.
But when I came to State Department, it became very clear to me – and I had seen this in my time in Congress too – people throw around the word “rights” an awful lot, and bad actors around the world couch their tragic behavior, their evil behavior, in the language of “rights.” And then I watched the State Department not have clarity with how it spoke about rights. There wasn’t a standard for how we were going to think about that as we sent our – these amazing young Americans out to the field to interact with their counterparts all across the world. I wanted to make sure that they had a grounding in what were these rights, the ones that truly mattered and were real. And so I started thinking about this early in my time. It took me too long to get going, but we’re in a good place now.
We’ll kick it off tomorrow with our first public hearing and we’ll invite people – there’ll be those who just think we’re all wet. So be it. We’ll have a good, candid discussion. But the idea is to take and reground the rights that we talk about in the traditions of America – what was in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution – and to take another look at them. We all know about the Human Rights Declaration back from 1948. State Department was very involved in that. We want to go lay down with clarity not only what these human rights are, these fundamental rights are, but from what it is they are derived, how we got there, because we think that’s very important to understand as well. We’ll put out a document that I think will be a true marker for the world to talk about human rights in the right way.
When you see Venezuela get on the Human Rights Council at the UN, it cries out for a re-examination of these fundamental first principles. And it’s not about policy, it’s about understanding these first principles in a way that are consistent with the American tradition, and that’s the mission set that I’ve asked the Unalienable Rights Commission to engage. And we brought scholars from across the political spectrum together. They’ll think, they’ll work, they’ll talk, they’ll write, and we’ll see what comes forward.