07
March 2024
Past Event
Aiding America’s Frontline Allies: The View from Israel and Ukraine with Secretary Mike Pompeo

Event will air live on this page.

 

In-person attendance is by invitation only.

 

Inquiries: mdewitt@hudson.org

Aiding America’s Frontline Allies: The View from Israel and Ukraine with Secretary Mike Pompeo

Past Event
Hudson Institute
March 07, 2024
The Israeli flag flies in front of the Lviv Regional State Administration building as a sign of solidarity with the Israeli people on October 13, 2023, in Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo by Les Kasyanov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
Caption
The Israeli flag flies in front of the Lviv Regional State Administration building as a sign of solidarity with the Israeli people on October 13, 2023, in Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo by Les Kasyanov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
07
March 2024
Past Event

Event will air live on this page.

 

In-person attendance is by invitation only.

 

Inquiries: mdewitt@hudson.org

Speakers:
mike_pompeo
Michael R. Pompeo

Distinguished Fellow

michael_doran
Michael Doran

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East

Listen to Event Audio

Iranian proxies threaten to overwhelm Israel’s defenses in the wake of the October 7 terrorist attack. Meanwhile, as Tehran supplies Russia with crucial weapons, Ukrainian munition shortages have cost Kyiv both territory and the lives of its brave citizens. In the struggle against the new axis of authoritarianism, the United States has been unable or unwilling to provide its frontline allies with the support they need.

To discuss how America can reverse this calamity and return to a position of global strength, Distinguished Fellow Mike Pompeo, the seventieth US secretary of state, will sit down with Michael Doran, the director of Hudson’s Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East.

Event Transcript

This transcription is automatically generated and edited lightly for accuracy. Please excuse any errors.

Michael Doran:

I am a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. And what else am I? I’m the Director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East, and I’m joined by Secretary Mike Pompeo, the only man who has been both the Secretary of State and head of the CIA. Today it is Thursday, State of the Union Thursday. Mr. Secretary, what’s the State of the Union?

Mike Pompeo:

Oh goodness. If I answer that, it’d be very different than you’ll hear this evening, I suspect. It’s the State of the Union. We’re here at Hudson, so you’ve got people that have a deep distrust of our central institutions. You have at least two hot wars taking place around the world. You have an American economy that has proven incredibly robust, especially relative to some of our peer competitors. But you have the American people convinced that they are in a worse financial from their family’s perspective, their capacity to just afford the basic things of life, convinced that their lives are not as good as they were three or four years ago. So to think pre-COVID. Maybe I’ll... Oh, and a wide-open southern border that scares the hell out of me. So there you go.

Michael Doran:

How do you put that in one word? State of the Union?

Mike Pompeo:

I don’t know how to do it in one word.

Michael Doran:

Okay. Anyway-

Mike Pompeo:

State Department, you can only do full paragraphs. Exactly. Word salads and the like.

Michael Doran:

So, we’re going to talk today mainly about the Ukraine and Israel. Why don’t we start with the, well, actually, if it’s okay with you, let me start with a sort of broader question. Because we’re seeing a lot of, especially on the right, a lot of people are arguing when they look at Ukraine and Israel and other things going on in the world. They’re beginning to argue that the United States is sacrificing the republic to save the empire. There’s a great distrust of any call for action abroad, commitment to overseas, particularly military missions. I know we here at Hudson, we don’t have a line, but there’s kind of a center of gravity here at the institute, I think, which is somewhere in between the George W. Bush commitment to overseas missions and those who are saying, “Ah, no, we have to scale back and we’re sacrificing the republic for the empire.” I would put you in that category of somewhere in the middle. Is that, where would you put yourself in-

Mike Pompeo:

That’s probably right. It’s not easy to answer along a single axis because it’s a bit more complicated than that. Because most, frankly, most of the conflict that takes place in the world today isn’t kinetic. Most of it is the brute force of information propaganda and economics. And so those things get fought out, those conflicts get played out in different ways and you better be full-scale engaged in fighting that. There’s no international boundaries for this, this isn’t something that what happens in Kyiv matters in Denver. These aren’t things that you can walk away from. There’s no isolationist view when it comes to AI.

It is literally the case that these are global phenomenon and you better be prepared to compete in those spaces. When you start to move to things that are more kinetic, as we think about traditional conflicts, we should all be mindful that when our adversaries are prepared to take on risks that we are not, they will, to use the old Southwest Airlines line, they will feel free to move about the cabin. And that’s where we find ourselves today with our adversaries testing on multiple fronts across multiple threat vectors in ways that I think this administration has just, I think they’ve got the wrong end of the stick. They talk about escalation without ever talking about deterrence, and you can’t do that. All you end up with is escalation.

Michael Doran:

Well, deterrence was the subject of a recent op-ed that you wrote with the Vice President Pence.

Mike Pompeo:

With the former vice president. Yeah.

Michael Doran:

And that’s really where I think is the philosophical difference between the Biden administration and people like yourself, is that they talk about deterrence like it’s a slippery slope to war, whereas we would see deterrence as the way of preventing war.

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah. I think that’s exactly right. When you hear the National Security Advisor or the Secretary of State and the administration, when you hear them talk about things we could do in response, it is always, but if we do that, there’s the risk that this will be seen, perceived as escalatory, as opposed to No, this might finally demonstrate American resolve or Western resolve, even if it’s not the US. I think that’s exactly right. We didn’t get it right every day in the Trump administration, but we did understand how to wield both the information space and American power in a way that we didn’t have any wars. I hear this, I love my European friends, but I think they attributed to blind luck the fact that Vladimir Putin took a fifth of Ukraine under President Obama not an inch on our watch, and then went back at it again.

Or they attributed to Blind Luck that Hamas didn’t wander into Israel and commit the most barbaric act that is humanly imaginable or that we had 13 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. They just say, “You all were just lucky because we know you’re bad actors.” I would attribute it to something fundamentally different. It was the perception that we would hold something that they cared about at risk. And in the end, that’s the academic definition of deterrence. And we were pretty good at doing that.

Michael Doran:

When do you think, Democrats used to think about deterrence, it wasn’t a partisan concept. What happened in their thinking that they...

Mike Pompeo:

I don’t know. I don’t don’t know the answer to that. By the way, I don’t know that this is necessarily partisan. You talked about Republicans that are reluctant to provide assistance today to Ukraine to do the necessary. I don’t know.

Michael Doran:

Yeah, it’s true on the right, the people who are saying that we’re sacrificing the republic for the-

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah. It’s interesting because there are multiple buckets of people who are worried about it. One of the buckets is a fear that I share, which is that if we approve $60 billion in support, tell me what it is we’re going to use as a strategy to win. What’s the model look like? What’s the outcome that is disarm? You have a lot of folks say, “I’m not, I’m not going to support that until I understand...” Hey, I may put it in the context of the previous question, and let me just juxtapose two things that are going on today. Israel is invaded by Iran in the form of Hamas. They didn’t just respond by saying, we’re going to go make sure we catch every Patriot missile. They didn’t say, we’re going to go set up a minefield inside of Israel and make sure this doesn’t happen again.

They went into the enemy’s space and are beating the tar out of them and conducting an incredibly capable military operation. Conversely, in Ukraine, what did we tell the Ukrainians? Hey, don’t you dare use any of our weapons systems to hold something at risk. So the mothers in Moscow go to bed every night and tuck their children in, and the mothers in Kyiv today go to the bomb shelter to tuck their children in. If one thinks for a moment, that model is going to deter Vladimir Putin, I just think it’s insane. It’s counterfactual more importantly than being crazy, it’s not true.

And that’s where we find ourselves today, with an administration if someone said to them, Hey, we think we should give them and we should permit them to fire into the outskirts of St. Petersburg, they wouldn’t look like you had three heads. Now, you don’t understand, the nuclear weapons are going to come unsheathed, World War Nine, just so this is something that is just so outside the ken of the modern Democrat political security thinking that you can’t even... I’ll bet that option set has never been presented in the situation room to anybody at any level.

Michael Doran:

Well, while we’re on Ukraine here, we’ve got the bill working its way through the house. And here’s a quote from Representative Brian Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania said, “It’s no secret that we’re in a period of gridlock. This is literally US domestic security and world peace on the line here.” Do you agree with him? What’s your sense about the importance of getting this bill, breaking it loose and supplying the Ukrainians?

Mike Pompeo:

We need to do it. By the way, we need to do it not for the Ukrainians, but we need to do it for the Americans in the first instance. I was actually in Kyiv with Brian two weeks ago, two and a half weeks ago. We were there the day Avdiivka fell. And just as they were changing ministers of defense, so it was a interesting time to be there. And the day when reality of the failure of the American system to produce the systems for them and to permit them to do the work that they needed to do was really sinking in. They were very gloomy. They were very down about their capacity to continue to prosecute against Vladimir Putin. No, I think Congressman Fitzpatrick has it right. This matters to every American that we get this right. We could talk about all the reasons from the fact that we made a promise in 1994 to defend them if they gave up their nuclear weapons, to the commercial impacts if we get this wrong, we ought to do that for ourselves.

Michael Doran:

If you were Secretary of State at this moment and you were faced with this kind of gridlock in Congress and the kind of uncertainty hanging over the war of the Ukrainians, what steps would you be taking?

Mike Pompeo:

I would ask my boss to go on national television at the nine o’clock hour Eastern and communicate to the American people the essential nature of American leadership in the world. Then in particular with respect to the Ukraine file for the United States, why it matters. And I would have him do that relentlessly and exhaustively and over and over and over. That’s what I’d do. Although having said that, if we got to this place when I was Secretary said I’d probably resign.

Michael Doran:

All right.

Mike Pompeo:

No, I mean literally we are patting ourselves on the back as if we’ve done such great work because NATO is all together today, and yet you have tens of thousands of Ukrainians that have been killed. This is not a success story of American policy or NATO policy. This is an epic failure to deter our adversary. And I’m glad that everybody’s now working together and that everybody’s got this figured out, but we ought not to view this as a successful narrative about American leadership in the world.

I promise you Xi Jinping is watching, I promise you. Xi Jinping says, oh, let me get this right. The Ukrainians were invited in by talking about a minor incursion being okay, and then the Ukrainians were permitted to get to the outskirts of Kyiv and then repelled. And now they’re allowed to hold ground and continue to fire missiles into Odessa and to the capital city in Ukraine and hold Ukraine under pressure. Maybe that’s what I’ll do too, someplace, somewhere. We can pick the spot. If we’re not prepared to do actual deterrence, but we’re going to claim, “Gosh, we stopped them from taking a capital.” That is not a particularly successful model and I fear that too many are saying, “Gosh, look how good we’re doing.”

Michael Doran:

Before we move off Ukraine, let me just ask you, is there anything else that you want to add about Ukraine or about Europe?

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah, one last thought that I did see, very optimistic. The capacity that the Ukrainians are demonstrating to innovate real time in the field is really something that the West is going to need to learn from. It’s not just, it gets talked about in the context of small drones and the like, but the tactical capacity to innovate when they don’t have air cover, when they don don’t control the airspace and they’re just about out of artillery rounds and their ability to hold the line against that threat in a complex EW environment as well, is really, really impressive and I think sends a lot of messages about what the next set of conflicts in Europe or Asia might just look like.

Michael Doran:

What kind of innovations are you talking about? You talking about tactics or weaponry or?

Mike Pompeo:

Both tactics, weaponry and even at the operational level. It’s really quite remarkable. By the way, American private sector support enormous amount of it, some European private sector support as well, so non-governmental support. Intelligence, operations as well. They’ve become really good at doing this in a way that is affordable and clever and pushing back against Putin in ways that one probably wouldn’t have thought of two years ago. It’s really quite impressive.

Michael Doran:

I mean, that’s how I feel when I hear people on the right who are saying that this is an unnecessary and dangerous adventure and so on, that these are precisely the kind of allies that we need. The allies who fight and allies who fight innovatively, the Ukrainians, the Israelis and so on, who will do... And also allies who understand our adversaries better than we do. The Ukrainians speak the language of the Russians, they know them really well, they have penetration into Russian society in a way that we won’t. That’s exactly the people that we want to support so that we don’t have to go do it ourselves.

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah, look, I hear some on the left, some on the right, talk about endless wars. We don’t want to be part of endless wars. Two thoughts, one, not a single American that’s been asked for by the Ukrainians to come put their life on the line in that space. And second, you don’t get to decide. The bad guy gets to decide if the war is endless, and you only get to beat the tar out of him and convince him that it’s a bad idea to continue. But those are the only two options. If evil lurks in the heart of Vladimir Putin, I don’t think you can find much disagreement about that, and he decides it’s time to go, I don’t know what to say other than you got to come back over the top.

Michael Doran:

They created the restraintists who want to present the support for Ukraine as some kind of a needless adventure. They created a fiction that there’s a peace deal out there to be had with Putin.

Mike Pompeo:

By the way, we’re about to turn to the Middle East where the same storyline, right? “Hey, somehow if the Israelis would just stand down there, things would be... Somehow the Ukrainians would just... If we just stop things would be okay.” I wish it was so.

Michael Doran:

It’s another part of the mindset that I can’t... I want you to explain it to me where it comes from. I don’t understand it. It’s like they never got beat up on in the playground.

Mike Pompeo:

No, I have an engineering degree, not a psychiatric degree, so where it comes from I can’t explain. But I can do math, I can do simple math. When the bad guys move, you only have two options. Give them what they want or push back and deny them what it is that they want and impose real costs. That’s really it. And the institutions, the pillars, the things that keep peace and create prosperity are the things you do to deliver that deterrence consistently. Because deterrence is temporary. It’s never permanent. No matter how much you do on Thursday, by Friday they can decide, Nope, we’re going to come back at it. And you’ve got to be prepared to be on Saturday to go defend the things that really matter.

Michael Doran:

Yeah, it’s a constant grind

Mike Pompeo:

Constant.

Michael Doran:

Okay. Let’s go ahead and move to the Middle East. Now, you’ve also just come back from Israel. You want to just tell us a little bit about your trip? What were the highlights?

Mike Pompeo:

My wife and I went there really just to hug some friends and be with them and-

Michael Doran:

Dance. We saw you dancing...

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah, I danced with some soldiers. That’s the last time you’ll ever see me dancing in public. My wife made me promise. And then we went down to the Gev to see for ourselves what had happened. I don’t know that we necessarily needed to do that, but we wanted to go see it. And then I met with a handful of the Israeli leaders to get a sense of what was done, all the while in the capitol here we have an administration that is restraining the Israelis oddly, and restraining the Israelis encourages the Iranians. They are one-to-one, you cannot restrain the Israelis without sending the message to Tehran that it is go time.

And so I think you see the result of that. And I’m mindful too. I doubt you hear the president speak about this evening. You still have some number of Americans held hostage by the Iranians, and not too many weeks before that we had paid $6 billion to get back six hostages from Iran. I think there’s probably more than six held today, Americans. And we met with some of those families as well to pray with them and be with them and to try to encourage them, and I don’t know, I imagine we failed at that, but we wanted to be there.

Michael Doran:

This business of restraining the Israelis, it goes to your earlier point about deterring adversaries, because they’re saying they want to restrain the Israelis in order to get a deal with Hamas on hostages for prisoners, and it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them. I have my own theories about why that is, that when they publicly restrain the Israelis, they incentivize Hamas not to cut the deal. So they make the deal they say they want impossible to get because a kind of paradoxical aspect of this thing.

Mike Pompeo:

I think about this as a piece of what we had tried to do with the Abraham Accords, but it’s just almost the reverse of it. So even today, if you go to the Gulf Arab countries, they understand that the threat isn’t from Israel to them. They understand that the threat is from Tehran. And look, they’ve all got their own histories and their own political dynamics internal to each of their own countries. But make no mistake about it, they get that the trouble-causer in the region isn’t in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, it is in Tehran. My guess in their quiet moments is that they’re hoping that the Israelis get all the leash they need to go unhinge, Hezbollah, unhinge Hamas, and demonstrate to the Iranians that your continued action, whether directly or through proxies is just unacceptable.

The Biden administration has upended that understanding for, I could give you half a dozen examples, but upended that and I think the Iranians still feel today like this is still go time, this is still testing time. So I’m worried that the worst is not behind us. What we’re seeing in the Red Sea today, it sounds like I missed this in the news yesterday. It sounds like there were a commercial vessel attacked and some of the folks on the vessel killed.

Michael Doran:

Yeah, the first civilians victim.

Mike Pompeo:

I think this is just the tip of the Iranian effort until they meet a response from the west.

Michael Doran:

So the response that the coalition, that’s the US, UK, Netherlands, I can’t remember who all is involved in it, but the response against the Houthis clearly hasn’t worked because the Houthis are still firing drones and missiles at commercial vessels. If you were Secretary of State and had influence over the national security policy, what would you be telling the president needs to happen in order to restrained the Houthis?

Mike Pompeo:

So at this point, you’ve got to go take out the capability. So I no longer see intelligence, but I am confident that we have a pretty good laydown of the Houthi set of capacities and capabilities. Just got to go take them all. You got to go take it out. Because at this point you’ve lost the capacity to send the message to the Iranians that the cost is too high for this. You’ve got to stop their ability to do it, at least in large measure. Maybe you can never take it down completely, but that would be the model. But I remember, Mike, I remember this issue is not new. I remember having Senator Chris Murphy scream at me, angry that we were going to cause enormous famine in Yemen because we provided under a completely lawful set of rules, we provided the Saudis and the Emiratis with a set of defensive capabilities under the Arms Export Control Act.

And it’s true, I didn’t play by the Queen’s rules, Marquis de Queensbury Rules. I said, we’re going to do this because Congress isn’t going to do it. And I had the full authority to, and we did. And of course, the Biden administration comes in immediately says, “The Houthis aren’t even terrorists and we’re not going to help anybody defend against attacks into their own country.” And here we are. And so I would get back after, in the end, again, you’ve got to hold not their proxies, but the Iranians at risk. And I’ll get one last thought here.

People say, Mike, what would you do? What would the target be if there was a magic target set? There’s no magic target set. Well, the first thing we did was, we all know this, this is what part of this fight on the Ukraine legislation is. And countries aren’t infinitely rich. They’ve got to make allocate... They’ve got to spend money on things they have money for. We had the Iranians down to $4 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Today they have something between 25 and 35 billion in foreign exchange reserves. They’re no longer having to cut the salaries for Hezbollah fighters or not try one more space launch because they don’t have enough money. They’re now flush. And meanwhile they’re trying to kill me on top of all of that with all of this money. And so you should immediately begin going back to the economic sanctions model we have.

Not because the sanctions themselves will stop or change the Iranian mindset or change the regime, that’s a foolish to believe that. But it will do, it will force them to make difficult choices about how they’re going to prosecute their efforts, their terror campaigns. Then the second thing to remember is, imagine under two different presidents you take the same response. It could be an economic response, a sanction, it could be a kinetic action. Let’s take a simple of you take the gas terminals off the coast of Iran and you go after them. Imagine one president who everybody thought, “Hey, that guy’s tough, and that guy is Henry.” And he does the strike. Or a president who thought, “That guy’s pretty weak.” And they do the same strike the same fact. The Department of Defense does the same exquisite job of targeting and taking out this. The response from the adversary from the Iranians would be very different because under one president they would say, “Hey, that might just be the opening act.”

And on the other one they’re going to say, “This guy’s about to declare that he’s done and this is over, and he’s sorry he did it.” And so it’s not about the particular target. It’s about what is it you have now done to change the perception of risk for the decision maker on the other side? And we were always deeply cognizant of that. When we took the Soleimani strike, the strike mattered, it was material, it was a incredibly important decision and a difficult decision for President Trump to make, I’m sure. But what was important about it is all the work we had done in the background against that to communicate what that meant, what we were prepared to do. And if you don’t do that, if you just take the strike and then you go, “Hey, we’re done and we’re sorry, and gosh, can’t believe we killed some Iranians.” You get a very different outcome. The deterrence model changes fundamentally because it is about perception and not actual risk.

Michael Doran:

Perception of intention.

Mike Pompeo:

The adversary’s perception that you’re prepared to defend the things you said you’d defend.

Michael Doran:

Right?

Mike Pompeo:

And you can’t make it up.

Michael Doran:

I can’t imagine under any theory of the case that after all of the public messaging from the Biden administration about fear of escalation, that anyone is sitting in Tehran and is really worried about the United States taking away something from Iran that it holds dear.

Mike Pompeo:

I think that’s right. I think that’s right. By the way, if it weren’t for the Iranians walking away, we’d still be sitting at the negotiating table with them.

Michael Doran:

It’s remarkable the way you mentioned that you’re under personal threat, and there have been some very interesting articles in the paper lately about the Iranians now working through gangs in Canada, in the United States and also here to go after expat Iranians that they want to get rid of, but also people like yourself. And if you read the articles carefully, you can see the messaging that the administration is putting out is the same as the messaging puts out on the Houthis or Hezbollah or whatever, that these are these local gangs that have a connection to, it’s not Tehran is activating the gangs. There’s some kind of murky connection and it’s a law enforcement, it becomes a purely a law enforcement issue in our domestic politics.

What the Iranians are doing in Britain has nothing to do with us. What they’re doing in Canada has nothing to do with us. It’s how do we deter those crazy Houthis, not how do we keep the Iranians from... How do we get the Iranians to restrain? There’s a very willful attempt to distance Tehran from any of the malignant behavior that it is engaged in everywhere. Instead of seeing a network and a pattern, we’re supposed to see a bunch of isolated cases.

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah. That is absolutely true. That is a direct result of the National Security Advisor and his perception. Remember he worked on this problem set in the Obama administration as well. This is a fundamental belief. This is the Iranian Special Envoy now suspended for whatever reason from being the Iranian Special Envoy. This is an article of faith that there are goodwill negotiators on the other side of the table inside of Iran, and if you’ll just work your tail off, you can find the sunnier side of the Iranians. By the way, I would describe that as the same mindset that you’re seeing when we’re starting to talk about building a pier to feed the people of Gaza. Godspeed, I just saw the headline.

Michael Doran:

This is going to be in the State of the... You’re talking about the State of the Union tonight.

Mike Pompeo:

Apparently he is going to talk about the fact that we’re going to open up another way to alleviate the suffering for the civilians in Gaza. Maybe. But my point really is, it’s the same idea because Secretary Blinken talks about a two-state solution. The simple question is tell me who’s going to countersign that? So we know who would sign it in Israel. Tell me the name of the human being that is going to be the signatory for the other side, who’s going to be the guarantor of whatever it is, the Judea and Samaria and people of Gaza sign up for whatever it is they sign up for.

Michael Doran:

Who’s the guy in Ramallah who can guarantee security in Gaza?

Mike Pompeo:

Or for that matter in West Bank itself?

Michael Doran:

Judea and Samaria.

Mike Pompeo:

I don’t know. And until you tell me who that is, it is folly. And that’s really dangerous because the world begins to accept that as US policy, and it puts the Israelis in a bad spot and it threatens the Gulf Arab states as well. Because you have this hallucination that somehow if the Israelis would just accede to a set of ideas inside that we could put this all back in the box when very bad actors to this day would say, no, we want to do October 7th again and again and again. And so people ask me to articulate President Biden’s strategic rationale there, I can’t explain it.

Michael Doran:

So with respect to this, what he’s going to announce in the State of the Union tonight, the maritime bridge from Cyprus to Gaza, and then somehow the United States is going to build a port in Gaza to deliver this humanitarian aid. The Politico report on it had quotes from a couple of officials. One said, “This is America. We are not waiting for the Israelis, we’re going to go do it.” And then a couple of other officials said, “Do it with what? We don’t have the amphibious forces in place to do it. There’s no plan.” And then another official said, “Rest assured there will be no boots on the ground, no American boots on the ground in Gaza.” So how do you build a port without Israeli permission in Gaza, without putting boots on the ground and then deliver aid through it?

Mike Pompeo:

I don’t know. About to see it, can’t wait.

Michael Doran:

What would you imagine the purpose of that announcement is?

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah, they’re messaging Dearborn, Michigan.

Michael Doran:

So it’s to say we care about humanitarian. So it’s a-

Mike Pompeo:

Virtue signaling while you have soldiers in combat is a really bad idea. Because the central thesis of all of deterrence is don’t promise anything you can’t deliver and you aren’t prepared to defend. So we were careful. There were a lot of things that many of us might have said, but we should make a commitment like that X or Y or Z. And we never made it unless we were confident the president was actually prepared to live up to that. So there were a lot of places that we just didn’t, but when we did, I was very confident that we had a president that was going to deliver again. So you think about what he’s saying here. I don’t know. By the way, I’ll bet that’s such a complicated thing. What they’re talking about here, both a physics problem and a legal problem.

I’ll bet that if they go down this path, they will be signing material support waivers. There are laws against providing material support to terrorists. And to the extent this food lands in the hands of Hamas, the Secretary of State will be signing a waiver saying it could turn out that this action, it might be... And this is really fraught. I mean, I live this as CI director, I live this as Secretary of State. These are very complex problem sets trying to do what it is they’re talking about doing. And so my sense is this is for the moment this evening, and-

Michael Doran:

It’s to get a-

Mike Pompeo:

A clip for the local radio station in Minnesota.

Michael Doran:

The message, I care about the Gazans.

Mike Pompeo:

And by the way, we should all care about the people of Gaza. We care about human dignity no matter where people are, we all do. The best solution for the people of Gaza is the core elimination of Hamas and disconnecting from the Iranians. Just like if you are Lebanese and you’re living in a suburb outside of Beirut, the single best thing that could happen is the elimination of Hezbollah. So if you’re really trying to help, if you really care about human dignity, you would be encouraging the crushing of these people who have crushed those people’s lives.

Michael Doran:

What happened? I’m going to ask you a question you can’t answer, but I’m curious to get-

Mike Pompeo:

You’ve already asked seven, so. I haven’t answered any of them.

Michael Doran:

We have all these people now that you and I are about the same age, we both went to high school in Southern California, if I’m not mistaken. I don’t remember people going out, I just saw, just before I talked to you, I came here to talk to you. I saw a young woman in New York who’s part of some climate change movement who started out talking about climate change, then she’s talking about the border, keeping the border open so everybody can come. And then she moves to Gaza, is talking about basically the equivalent of from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free. There are so many young Americans now, college-educated young Americans who are basically going out and expressing support for Hamas, which is a genocidal organization that wants the destruction of the United States, the destruction of Israel. I never imagined that we were going to have... If you asked me 10 years ago, it’s not just that I’m old, right? It’s not just that I’m old. 10 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined what I’m seeing now. So help me understand this. Can you?

Mike Pompeo:

I can’t explain it. I can’t do the logic. I was on Capitol Hill this morning. I don’t go up there very often. But I’ve gone up there to honor our commitment I’d made a while back and I’m walking through the hallway and I don’t know if some hearing was taking place and there were lines out in the hallway. You’ve all been on in Rayburn and seen this before. And they saw me and the group started shouting, “Baby killer blood on your hands. Pompeo is a genocidal warmonger.” If you really wanted to think about who’s delivered good outcomes for Arabs living in Gaza over the last 20 years, we can be sure of two things. It was not Sinwar, it was Netanyahu. Think about what was going on there. In the days of October 6th and fifth and fourth, there were thousands of Palestinians moving into Israel each day working, making lives better for their families.

And then those people who were educated in extremism turned and delivered this barbarity. And Sinwar was thrilled. It was joyous that day. And I don’t see how... I’ve seen nobody dispute those facts that I just described. Most of the families that we saw down in the south when we were there, they would be self-described peaceniks-

Michael Doran:

Oh, yeah. Hippies.

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah, your word, not mine. These would be people who were working deeply against the Netanyahu government and trying to do their part to make lives better. For they were their friends. They were different faiths. They were mostly Jewish, but they were Arabs and Christians amongst them as well. So nobody disputes these core facts, and yet here we are on our college campuses with not only students, but sadly the folks who should know better. The professors are professing to care about the people of Gaza. I can’t explain it.

Michael Doran:

All right, I didn’t think you were going to be able to explain it, but I thought I’d give you a chance anymore. Okay. Why don’t we open it up for questions. We have a gentleman here is ready. You’re so eager to ask a question, I’m not going to let you. You’re too eager. You’re too eager. It suggests you have an agenda that I’m not going to like. Okay, we’ll let him We’ll let him, go ahead. I’ll shut you down if I don’t like the agenda.

Mike Pompeo:

Almost impossible to offend me.

Speaker 3:

All right. Thanks. Mr. Secretary, considering that you were involved in the negotiation of the Doha Agreement, and a lot of people have said that the way that the administration handled the pullout from Afghanistan encouraged Putin. If you had stayed on another year or two managing the pullout, what would you have done differently that could have still sent a message to Moscow, “Don’t do anything.”

Mike Pompeo:

You mean in Afghanistan?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, in Afghanistan.

Mike Pompeo:

So what’s the Moscow piece of this?

Speaker 3:

Well, a lot of people have been saying that because the way that the Biden administration handled the pullout, that it sent a message to Moscow that the US was weak and encouraged Putin to go through with his invasion.

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah. By the way, that’s absolutely true. People ask me all the time, what would’ve happened if you were still there? And I assiduously avoid answering that question because I can’t prove it. So no matter what I say, you can go, “Oh, come on. That’s not how it would’ve really rolled.” But what I can prove is that we didn’t pull out. That I can prove. Right? Do you agree or disagree? I can prove it. We had 2,753 uniformed military soldiers on the ground noon January 20th, 2021. I was there. We have about twice as many non-US NATO on the ground. So I think 7,500-ish total the day we left. There you go.

Speaker 4:

It was a surrender.

Mike Pompeo:

What’s that?

Speaker 4:

The Afghan generals I talked to say it was a surrender.

Mike Pompeo:

What was the surrender?

Michael Doran:

Lets-

Mike Pompeo:

No, I want to finish this thought because I think it’s asinine what you’re saying, but I want to make sure I’m right.

Speaker 4:

No, I’m just saying that from the perspective of the Afghan government-

Mike Pompeo:

Right?

Speaker 4:

That the way that the Biden administration handled the pullout-

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah. Was a surrender. Yeah. Look, I thought you were going to... So look, the Biden administration has said their hands were tied by what the Trump administration did. If so, this would be the only thing we tied their hands on, whether it’s Iran policy or the open borders in Afghan or southern border. Endless reversals of US policy on this one. Somehow they couldn’t find their way, they were just stuck. It’s not true. I can’t predict what would’ve happened. I can only say is President Trump wanted out of Afghanistan. 57 tweets, I think. By the way, he was right to want that. The terror threat had transmogrified over the 20 years. And so we needed to allocate resources differently. That piece is fundamentally right, but we would remind him and he accepted the core proposition that it had to be done well, you had to manage this decline in resources there in a way that preserved our intelligence capabilities, got our folks out safely, got most of our equipment out appropriately as well, and then delivered some form of stability for the Afghan people as well.

Those were sort of the four pillars of the work. That wasn’t just the state but it wasn’t just myself and Ambassador, Khalilzad, but the Department of Defense and the National Security Council we’re all aimed at, and excuse me, we were never able to deliver that for the president. We were never able to say, Mr. president, we can take, we can close Bagram, we can get the last folks out and still deliver those four prerequisites. And so he would say, “Go faster, do more, get better.” And we were endeavoring to do that, but the clock ran out on us.

Michael Doran:

Okay, so now I have a question you can answer, but you won’t. So a little birdie told me, you mentioned President Trump, and it reminded me a little birdie told me you were down in Mar-a-Lago recently.

Mike Pompeo:

That’s true.

Michael Doran:

So are you getting ready to go into the next administration?

Mike Pompeo:

No, I was down there-

Michael Doran:

What job are you angling for?

Mike Pompeo:

I was in Mar-a-Lago for the tequila. Yeah. Everybody knows I drink Diet Coke, so everyone knows that’s a joke. No, I was down there, I hadn’t seen the former president in a while. I still stay in touch with him, but I hadn’t seen him for a while. So I wanted to go down and talk to him about all of these things. And he had some stuff that was on his mind as well.

Michael Doran:

If he wins in November, are you going to go work for him?

Mike Pompeo:

If he asks me to take on a task that I think I can have an impact, I would absolutely serve again. It was an incredible privilege to do that for four years, and there’s a lot of work to do. But no one’s asked.

Michael Doran:

Okay. All right. Well that’s interesting. Sir.

Mike Pompeo:

Great to see you.

Speaker 5:

Great to see you. Mr. Secretary. Turning to Ukraine and Russia. Putin obviously, doesn’t care if human life is lost. And just going backwards, you’ve seen four principle enemies of his die under mysterious circumstances. General Lebed 20 years ago, Boris Nemtsov, and then most recently Prigozhin and now Navalny. If Russia were to get into Kyiv and take over, would President Zelenskyy’s life be in danger?

Mike Pompeo:

Oh, goodness. Yeah. I guess, I haven’t been asked that before. Of course. I think that’s almost certainly true. They might haul him off to the Gulag for a while and then we never saw him again. But this would be the victor and the vanquished, right? If they were in control in Kyiv. So yeah, I think not only his, but all the senior leadership, the military leadership, I think that’s probably true.

Michael Doran:

Madam, here. It’s coming.

Speaker 6:

Hello, Mr. Secretary.

Mike Pompeo:

Hi. Nice to see you again.

Speaker 6:

Good to see you as well. On a related note, excuse me, former President Trump has said that if elected he would bring together Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy to try to settle the war in a proper fashion. Is that feasible and is it advisable?

Mike Pompeo:

The best way to describe this is to talk about the things we did because you keep getting asked about what will happen, and I just think you end up in a bad place because the facts change and circumstances are so hard to describe, because the context for your question is, I can’t answer the context. What will this look like January of next year? All right? So it’s hard to answer that. You said if it was tomorrow, if President Trump came in tomorrow, I suppose I could give you one answer, but goodness knows what’ll happen in the next seven months, or I guess really until January now, nine, 10 months. But of course, most wars end with negotiated solutions, with people sitting around a table and drawing lines and then setting up structures that they hope will prevent further conflict.

That’s what will happen here too. And the question will be, what will be the various powerpoints and leverage points that will be associated with that? And that sets the table for who gets what set of outcomes. That’ll be the case here. I’m sure there’s conversations, I don’t know this, I’m sure there’s conversations taking place already. They might be Track Two or Track 97 or two dudes whispering in a bar in Azerbaijan. I don’t know. But I’m sure there’s conversations already people thinking about, what does this look like?

From my perspective, we should think about the outcomes that we could find acceptable. The first one is it has to be the case that the world perceives that Vladimir Putin lost, or at the very least didn’t gain a material victory. That might be the far edge. I would much prefer the former to the latter, but maybe there will be places in the world that have a different perception. It can’t be the case that anyone in the world can see that the aggression he engaged in gave him a win. That is second and third order problem sets that we can’t even have enough time today to speak about. Second, the solution has to provide something that looks like certainty for some period of time.

So we got 75 years of peace after World War II in most places in Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, you had edge issues. And I say edge, that’s not fair what happened in Georgia. So I’m not naive about the fact that there were conflicts taking place. But there wasn’t a massive land grab invasion for an awfully long time. We should aim for that. And people are like, “Well, can they become part of NATO?” Those seem like secondary issues to me. What is really important is that there is a security architecture established that increases the likelihood that for an extended period, Putin will perceive that the risk is too great to do this again.

So if he said, it’s a little convoluted, but each of those was intentional and think about what ought this to look like. Precisely where the lines get drawn, this is unknowable until we reach that place where everybody decides it is useful to move off. I say to everyone, I don’t see any reason today for Vladimir Putin to negotiate. I can’t see yet the constraints on his continued, what is it called? Special military operation. Any constraints on his special military operation that would drive him today to believe that it was in his interest to give up on his deeper goals and his deeper objectives. We have to give him those reasons.

Speaker 6:

[Inaudible question.]

Mike Pompeo:

Yeah, he needs to see that the West, not just us Europeans as well, are serious about this. And I give you one other dimension. How much Russian energy did the Europeans buy in the last 12 months? It’s like Putin looks at that and says, “You all aren’t serious.” You put these sanctions in place and these things are a joke. They’re great pieces of paper, they give you a story in Politico on Wednesday, but you’re not... The bars in Moscow are wide open. The economy in Russia grew faster than the American economy did last year. So you have to, along... All by the way, the Indians are buying discounted crude oil as a result of the sanctions regime. If you really want to know who’s winning, there you go.

Michael Doran:

And the Chinese.

Mike Pompeo:

And the Chinese. So there’s not a level of seriousness that would demonstrate to Putin that it’s in his best interest today to stand down from anything that he’s doing today. And you can’t negotiate an outcome while that’s the situation. I don’t see how you get there because again, it’s like the challenge with the Palestinians, there’s no counterparty to sign that. No matter what any of us might like. I can’t imagine Putin signing something today. Because he thinks there’s still advantage to be gained.

Michael Doran:

I want to thank you on a personal note for mentioning one of my favorite things in the world, which is whispering in bars in Azerbaijan. Mr. Ward. Is it Dr. Ward or Mr. Ward?

Jonathan Ward:

Doctor.

Michael Doran:

Dr. Ward. Forgive me for mistitling you.

Jonathan Ward:

No problem. Certainly. Secretary Pompeo, I’d just like to turn to China while you’re here. And what would your or four priorities be? I mean, what do we need to do strategically? And also what’s holding us back? I mean, I find that we’re very restrained and losing a lot of time on that entire problem set.

Mike Pompeo:

Oh, gosh, I don’t know how to answer that. Three or four priorities. Rebuild the Navy, strengthen the fleet in the Pacific, put the fear of God in our friends in the region, telling them they got to step up and do a whole lot more. They have to truly, fundamentally rethink their own security architectures in Seoul, in Australia, in Tokyo, in India, the whole region, Philippines, everybody’s got to say, giddy up. Here we go. We’re all together. They have to then have confidence that the United States will have their back when the Chinese challenge that and threaten that because they need to know that. And so I’d put that. And then lastly, this really gets to your first question about the empires and republics. One of the core threats from China is right out here. So it’s not in Taiwan, it’s not in some faraway place, it’s the fact that they operate in every one of our institutions and universities today. The fact that they have an espionage operation of staggering proportions inside the gates, that they are shaping public opinion through-

Michael Doran:

TikTok.

Mike Pompeo:

Through all the... TikTok for sure. But all of the messaging, they’re literally shaping the minds of the next generation encouraging American decline. They’re not just observational. When they say America’s in decline, they’re not just observing that. They are promulgating that. And so there has to be a whole lot of work done here at home to fortify and strengthen our capacity to push back against this Chinese Communist Party narrative here at home. I’d probably start there. So triple the number of FBI officers working on pushing back against Chinese information efforts here in the United States, maybe quadruple or sextuple, or whatever the right word is. So it’s not just about those things that are broad, there are challenges here at home as well.

Michael Doran:

Okay, on that note, I think we’ll bring this to an end. Please join me in thanking Secretary Pompeo.

Mike Pompeo:

Great. Thank you all.

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