SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, all. Good to see you. Everybody having a good day? It’s hard to be unhappy when the weather is this great. I vaguely remember from my time growing up in Southern California that every day was like this. I’m also mindful – Tom, thanks for the kind introduction. I’m also mindful when I get introduced as the 70th secretary of state, that President Trump is the 45th president, so there’s a lot more turnover in my gig. (Laughter.)
And I want to recognize a few special people. Secretary Rice I know is with us. Tom, thank you for being here. My former colleague and dear friend General McMaster is with us, too. It’s always great to get back here and be with you in California.
You have this incredible privilege to study at this remarkable institution. One of your early graduates was a great American for which this institution, the Hoover Institution, was named.
He deserves our praise for revering America in all of its exceptional splendor. He went from being an orphan in Iowa to the president of the United States. He was a brilliant mining engineer. I graduated as an engineer myself. He traveled the world from Australia to China and earned a fortune through his own hard work.
When the First World War broke out, he used his talent to coordinate the effort of tens of thousands of Americans stranded in Europe and helped them get back to America. His success there led him to spearhead the effort to save Europe from starvation both during and after World War I. He embodied everything in the American humanitarian efforts that we kept at and keep at for decades.
In 1948, at age of 74, he spoke at his birthplace on what America had given to him as a poor orphan boy. He said, quote, “I have had every honor to which any man could aspire. There is no place on the whole earth except in America where all of the sons of man can have this chance in life.”
I feel that way often myself. America is a truly special place.
I don’t want to talk about the actions of just these past handful of days and weeks, but the things that our administration has done to try and keep America safe and to protect each and every one of you.
On the 3rd of this month, we took one of the world’s deadliest terrorists off the battlefield for good.
Many of you are probably aware of the millions of displaced persons and those who have been killed in Syria, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the starvation and cholera epidemics in Yemen, Shiite militias destabilizing democracies in both Lebanon and Iraq along the Shia Crescent.
The Iranian regime and its proxies under the direct supervision of Qasem Soleimani have nurtured all of that misery. It’s why thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to celebrate when they heard Soleimani was dead. Many more would have undoubtedly joined them, but for the fear that the remaining Iranian-backed thugs, many of which were at the gates of the American embassy in the days before, would have beaten them or jailed them or killed them.
Right now – you can see it – the Iranian people are in the streets. They are likewise there in astounding numbers in spite of enormous personal risk to themselves. They are burning posters and billboards with Soleimani’s face on them and chanting, “Soleimani is a murderer.” They know he was one of the key architects of their oppression. And the United States is with them in their calls for freedom and justice, in their justified anger at the ayatollah and his minions and what they have destroyed inside of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I want to repeat President Trump’s insistence that Iran not harm a single protestor. I hope everyone will do the same. We’ve called on our allies across the world and the region to repeat this to them.
There is no terrorist except Usama bin Ladin who has more American blood on his hands than did Qasem Soleimani, that killed more than 600 of our American patriots. I knew some of these young men.
He’s the mastermind of the most recent attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, including the mastermind of the attack that took place that killed an American on December 27th of the year past.
He ordered the December 31st assault on the embassy, the people that work for the United States Department of State in Baghdad. And I can assure you that the world is safer as a result of the fact that he no longer poses that very risk.
But I want to lay this out in context of what we’ve been trying to do. There is a bigger strategy to this.
President Trump and those of us in his national security team are re-establishing deterrence – real deterrence ‒ against the Islamic Republic. In strategic terms, deterrence simply means persuading the other party that the costs of a specific behavior exceed its benefits. It requires credibility; indeed, it depends on it. Your adversary must understand not only do you have the capacity to impose costs but that you are, in fact, willing to do so.
I was a young soldier back during the Cold War. You can have the greatest army in the world, but it doesn’t matter if you are not prepared to use it to achieve your strategic objectives.
As one of your scholars here, Victor Davis Hanson, said, “Deterrence is hard to establish and easy to lose.”
And let’s be honest. For decades, U.S. administrations of both political parties never did enough against Iran to get the deterrence that is necessary to keep us all safe. The JCPOA itself – the nuclear deal – made things worse. It enabled that regime to create wealth, it opened up revenue streams for the ayatollahs to build up the Shiite militia networks, the very networks – the very networks – that killed an American and imposed enormous risk at our – to our embassy in Baghdad. Rather than blocking those efforts, the deal put Iran on a clear pathway to a nuclear weapon as well, something President Trump began his remarks by saying would never happen on our watch.
So what did we do? We put together a campaign of diplomatic isolation, economic pressure, and military deterrence.
The goal is two-fold. First, we wanted to deprive the regime of resources, resources it needs to perpetrate its malign activity around the world. And second, we just want Iran to behave like a normal nation. Just be like Norway, right? (Laughter.)
Diplomatically, allies and partners have joined us. They are today patrolling the Straits of Hormuz alongside of us in the Persian Gulf to stop Iranian attacks on shipping. Let us not forget how many ships the Iranians pulled from the straits over the past month.
Germany, France, Italy have all put travel bans on a company called Mahan Air. It’s an Iranian airline that ferries military – Iranian military assets and weapons to the battle zones.
Argentina and the United Kingdom have both now declared Hizballah a terrorist organization.
And you have seen finally, too, the economic pressure that we have put in place to cut off roughly 80 percent of the Iranian oil revenues. We are determined to get at that last 20 percent, too.
President Rouhani himself said that we have denied the Iranian regime some $200 billion in lost foreign income and investment as a result of our activities. This is money that would have in large measure gone to support the very activities that would have put you and your fellow citizens at risk.
And you can see it, too. The Iranian people are increasingly angry at their own government for stealing their wealth and for the sake of violently spreading the regime at enormous cost to them.
On the military side, we’ve warned the Iranians repeatedly – I’ve done so personally myself – that an attack that took American lives would not be tolerated.
And they tested us, as they had tested previous administrations as well many times before. Past laxity had emboldened them.
But on December 27th, at Soleimani’s direction, we changed that. On the 31st, Iranian-backed militias attacked our embassy in Baghdad and we changed that calculus for them.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it perhaps best. Had we not taken that strike against Qasem Soleimani, our leadership – the recommendation that we made to President Trump – we would have been “culpably negligent” had we not made that recommendation, imposed a significant cost on the regime for their bad decision.
Qasem Soleimani discovered our resolve to defend American lives.
And Iran hit back, and we’re grateful that no lives were lost, and we will never downplay the seriousness of any attack on the United States or its forces. But judging from the type and intensity of the strike, the regime certainly must now understand what we will do if they ever again pose risk to American lives. If Iran escalates, we will end it on our terms.
President Trump reinforced that deterrence when he gave a set of remarks this past week. And these days Iran is making noise about leaving the nuclear deal. There’s a reason that the President had as his first words in those remarks to the nation that said, quote, “As long as I am President of the United States, [we will never] – Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” That declaration is backed by the most effective deterrence capability in the world.
And our sanctions will continue until the regime stops its terrorist activity and commits to never having nuclear weapons and permits a verification regime which can give the world confidence that that will not take place.
We now enjoy a great position of strength regarding Iran. It’s as good as it has ever been, and Iran has never been in the place that it is today.
We have re-established deterrence, but we know it’s not everlasting, that risk remains. We are determined not to lose that deterrence. In all cases, we have to do this.
We have to do this to defend freedom and liberty around the world. That’s the whole point of President Trump’s work, to make our military the strongest it’s ever been.
We saw, not just in Iran, but in other places, too, where American deterrence was weak. We watched Russia’s 2014 occupation of the Crimea and support for aggression against Ukraine because deterrence had been undermined. We have resumed lethal support to the Ukrainian military.
China’s island building, too, in the South China Sea, and its brazen attempts to coerce American allies undermined deterrence. The Trump administration has ramped up naval exercises in the South China Sea, alongside our allies and friends and partners throughout the region.
You saw, too, Russia ignored a treaty. We withdrew from the INF with the unanimous support of our NATO allies because there was only one party complying with a two-party agreement. We think this, again, restores credibility and deterrence to protect America.
It doesn’t happen alone. That’s why the President has insisted that NATO members do their part, share their burden. Some $400 billion by the end of 2024 will be added to the NATO arsenal to protect freedom around the world as a direct result of America’s efforts to encourage our partners to reinforce what it is we are all trying to accomplish together.
For years, too, China has restricted access for American products in its markets, while demanding access for their stuff here. I was a small business owner. I had a small office that was in Shanghai. We’ve made clear that we’re going to have a fair and reciprocal trading arrangement with China. We’ll demand it. I hope, here in the next handful of hours, we sign the first part of what will be a significant agreement which will improve the lives of American citizens, raise wages for citizens here at home, and increase the economic relationship between our two countries on a set of terms that work for both China and for the United States.
There is a second mission, too. China has stolen massive quantities of American innovation, innovation created at campuses right like this one I’m standing on – everything from genetically engineered crop seeds to self-driving car technology. They stole it. They didn’t have to invest or take risk.
We’re making progress to make sure that the next part of the deal will improve on the IP protections that are in Phase One of the Chinese trade deal.
I’ll end here because I want to take as many questions from you as I can. Look, we don’t know how the Iranian regime will react as we continue to rebuild deterrence. If we make the right choice and return to a place where we have mutual respect between us, it will be a good thing for the world.
We hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership shares our view, and we hope that we can achieve that for the betterment of security here at home and for stability in the Middle East and throughout the world.
Thank you all for having me here today. I look forward to taking questions from you.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, number 70. Thank you very much. Welcome to Stanford. Welcome to the Hoover Institution. I want the really important and difficult questions to come from the students, but I’m going to take the moment just to ask you one, which is that many of these students are students of international politics, and they have studied precepts developed by a person who is actually a faculty member here, a man named Alexander George. It was called “coercive diplomacy.” And the idea was that you do set deterrence, and you set the terms of what’s not acceptable, but then you open pathways for diplomacy. So can you talk a little bit as the chief diplomat about how you think now about trying to open pathways for diplomacy now that we’ve set the table in the way that we have?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So I could certainly talk about that, but it didn’t begin with these last few days, this effort at diplomacy, and it’s not even just with Iran. I could speak about that in the challenges that we have in Venezuela today, the challenges that we confront in other parts of the world. In every case, we have endeavored to make this first a diplomatic outcome. It is always best to resolve these things through a set of conversations where people express the reality.
One of the risks – and you would know this – one of the risks is that you go have a meeting and you just sit and lie to each other. Right? You say nice things. You have a conversation that’s polite and you go back and you bang heads again. We’ve tried to just be candid. We’ve said, “Hey look, the deals that we had with China for an awful long time, it’s on us. We allowed this to take place. No more. Here’s how we’re going to think about our commercial relationship between our two countries.” We think that’s helped get us to a better place.
With Iran, too. Everyone – there’s lots of talk that says, “Well, there’s no communication.” That’s not true. I think the Iranians clearly understood in – long before these past few weeks, how we’re thinking about the strategic relationship and Iran’s place in the Middle East. We want them to be safe and secure. We want a prosperous Iranian people. But there’s certain things you simply cannot do, including develop their nuclear weapons systems.
In each place, it’s the case that we have first delivered American expectations about how we think they can fit into what works for the United States of America, and we’ve done that through diplomacy.
And then to your point, when that fails, when you – when they move past a boundary that you’ve set, it requires you to respond to that in a way that convinces them that you actually meant what you said.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. All right, over to the students here. I see right here in the middle, in blue shirt, and they will get a microphone to you. And if you can identify yourself and what you’re studying.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Bryce Tuttle. I’m a political science major. Sorry. So you started your remarks talking about supporting the protesters who are fighting for hopefully democracy in Iran. What is your administration doing to fight for the people who are also fighting for democracy in Hong Kong?
SECERTARY POMPEO: Yeah. So you needn’t look no further than the President’s remarks at the United Nations, the remarks that I’ve made repeatedly and other senior American officials as well. There’s a much longer conversation to be had about China, but with respect to Hong Kong in particular, our policy has been simply this: The Chinese Government made a commitment to Hong Kong. That commitment still exists. It sits at the UN as well, so it’s a commitment they made not to the United States or, frankly, even just to the people of Hong Kong. It’s a commitment that they made to the people of the world to honor this central understanding that there would be increased autonomy for the people of Hong Kong, and we have done our best to draw a set of boundaries for what we think would be acceptable.
I think the President talked about this at some length when the protests first broke out and there were hints of violence at the front end of those protests. I think we’ve been unequivocal about our support that says the Chinese Government made a commitment that there would be higher level of autonomy there, and it’s our expectation the Chinese Communist Party will live up to that.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, right here in front, and again, identify yourself and what you study.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for coming here. It’s such a privilege to hear you speak. I’m Gabby Conforti (ph). I’m a junior studying political science. Last week, I was reading an article on the death of Soleimani which stated in death he may have achieved what he never could have in life, which is forcing the Americans out of Iraq. Can you please comment on the future plans for American soldiers and contractors stationed in Iraq? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Thanks. Yes, I’ve seen that mantra repeated. I’ve also seen the mantra repeated that says that the strike that we took would unite the Iranian people around the flagpole. I will let history reflect whether that turns out to ultimately be true. I think the Iranian people’s hearts beat for freedom. And I’m not naive. The Basij and the Iranian thugs will do everything they can to beat these protests back. We saw tear gas; there were reports of violence even past that yesterday. I understand the challenge that is presented both to the Iranians and to the Iraqis, who are looking for a sovereign, independent nation.
And so our view is this: We want to work with all of the various sectarian interests in Iraq. We – we’ve been doing this before. We will continue to do this. How, ultimately, our force posture will be resolved inside of Iraq, we will work along the duly elected leaders in Iraq to get to the right place, but I’ve probably had 50 phone calls with various Iraqis over just these past 10 days – Sunni leaders, Kurdish leaders, Shia leaders from a broad spectrum of the Shia community as well. They won’t all say so publicly, but privately, they all welcome the fact that America is still there executing its counterterror campaign, making sure that Daesh, ISIS doesn’t reemerge in the theater, and providing an opportunity for the Iraqis to gain the sovereignty and independence that most Iraqis want.
We hope that there will be a day when they can move past the sectarian strife that has plagued them since you were the secretary of state and even before that. It is not an easy solution, but we’re committed to seeing that through, caveated by this: I have been fully supportive of President Trump’s effort to reduce the American footprint throughout the region. There’s enormous risk to American lives. As we sit here today, within the last 48 hours, there were strikes at Balad Air Force Base by the Shia militias formerly under the control of Qasem Soleimani. That risk is not behind us.
And so to the extent we can use less American treasure and put fewer American lives at risk, we ought to do that. We ought to make sure we understand precisely what America’s interests are, and we should preserve those. And I think we can achieve both of these goals – reduce our footprint, reduce our risk, while still achieving the American objectives in the region, including in Iraq.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, right here, and then you’ll be next, and then I’m going to look to this side, so put your hands up if you’ve got a question.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for coming. My name’s John; I’m a senior studying economics. One – huge fan as well, but one thing I wanted to sort of ask about was back in April of 2019, there were plans to label the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Back in 2015, you sponsored the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I vividly remember this. Yes, I’m reminded about that.
QUESTION: And so one thing I was just curious about is we – there was a big media flare-up over that back in April, but then we kind of never heard the follow-up on that, so I was just wondering, to the extent you can, if you could comment on where the status of that is currently and if there’s an ongoing effort.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I appreciate the question. I always – full disclosure – I was one of I think eight members of Congress who sponsored legislation asking the previous administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood broadly as a terrorist organization. The administration’s still looking at this, trying to evaluate, trying to make sure that we get it right. It is – it’s perhaps a bit more nuanced than I appreciated as a member of Congress from Kansas.
SECRETARY RICE: It’s always more nuanced when you’re Secretary of State. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s – it’s – that is a very – I’m mindful – all my old friends always throw bombs, and I welcome that but remind them it’s a complicated world.
So we’re still trying to figure out how to get that right. There are undoubtedly elements of the Muslim Brotherhood that are properly designated as terrorists. We just want to make sure that we get it right, that we calibrate this appropriately, that we make sure that we’ve got the legal foundation for this. This is something that Secretary Rice would know. We talk about these designations and it seems as if it’s just a decision that we made. In fact, the work that’s done to make sure that there is a legal basis for this, that there’s a statutory legal basis for this, the work to make sure that we got the dataset right before we designate an individual or a group as a terrorist organization is deep and robust and important. We got to get it right, and we’re working our way through this process as well. I don’t know how that will ultimately be resolved, but I do know there is real risk from the Muslim Brotherhood in many nations throughout the Middle East and we ought to do our part, I hope alongside our European friends as well.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Hi, my name’s Nathaniel. I’m a senior studying international relations and getting my master’s in communications. I was just wondering, given the cold war that’s happening right now in the Middle East between Saudi and Iran, like, how – between Sunni and Shia as well – how does the U.S. and the administration view their policy towards Iran as playing into that cold war? And how do we plan to undermine Chinese economic interests in countries that do have Shia majorities and are ruled by Shia groups at the same time?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I wouldn’t describe it as a cold war. Missiles landed at an Aramco facility taking 5 percent of the world’s oil supply off the market like that, I’d – does not seem very cold. Certainly to the people who were working at that facility, it didn’t. So I think we are – Iran is engaged in a kinetic war against its Middle East co-inhabitants that is real and serious, and it’s part of the problem set that we’ve been confronting since we came in. We took a very different approach than the previous administration. It’s not political. We just had a very different judgment about the risks and how to resolve those risks in America’s favor in the Middle East than the previous administration. Of all the things we did, it’s probably the biggest, sharpest change we made in policy that you can see playing out on the ground.
As for Chinese influence in the Middle East, they want to have political influence there. We brook no ill towards them if they’re trying to have economic engagement. We want the Chinese economy to be successful. But I’ve been pretty clear about the risks that come when there’s not a straight-up transparent deal with the Chinese. And I think you see countries in Southeast Asia, countries in Africa today recognizing that some of the transactions that took place have proven to be debt traps and have put these countries in the political thrall of the Chinese Communist Party, something that they didn’t anticipate, they don’t want, and now they are coming to the United States to help figure out a path back.
And we’re – so we’re mindful as they do these things, kinds of things in the Middle East, a different dynamic, these are wealthy nations as opposed to some of these other countries that needed Chinese money. We try to make sure that they’re aware of those risks. They are sovereign nations that get to make their own choices. We simply tell them how America will respond if they act in a way that we believe is inconsistent with the things that matter most to us.
Does that answer your question, at least in part?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. The black t-shirt back here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, right here.
SECRETARY RICE: She’s right next to you. Yes. She’s right next to you, the black and white t-shirt, yeah. There we go.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Anat Peled. I’m a senior studying history —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning.
QUESTION: — and I served in Israeli intelligence. So I’m struck by the —
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk to you. I got to figure this out. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So you spoke about an imminent threat that was thwarted, but I’m struck by the fact that Americans have little faith in the intelligence agencies, especially since the Iraq war. Why should the American people trust the intelligence about an imminent threat, especially in light of the President’s own distrust for the agencies?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So I’ll just give you my personal analysis on that. It’s – it is certainly that, having had the privilege to serve as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency for a year and a half – the first year and a half of this administration, I watched these professionals do their level best to get it right every day. That’s not the – the Intelligence Community makes mistakes all the time, right? Happens.
But the depth and breadth, the intellect, the capacity and reach of America’s intelligence capability is enormous. They do their level best to present this accurately. We do our best, indeed, to translate their products into a situation where we can talk about this publicly. That is often difficult because we have to preserve the capacity and the resources that were put in place. We can’t risk them to share something with the American people. We have to protect them and preserve them because we’ve still got folks in harm’s way even as we sit here today.
But I can say to the American people you should have enormous confidence in the Intelligence Community that their efforts are genuine, they are real, they are authentic, they are trying to provide good datasets to – now I’m on the other side as the policy advisor for the President receiving this intelligence, informing our decision making. There was enormous work done over the last 12 months to put us in a place where the President had every opportunity to make a good decision when the risk was high. My judgment is the President made the right call. It’s what I recommended to him. There was, in fact, a set of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qasem Soleimani. It was unmistakable. I mean, you heard the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say that if we hadn’t done this, we would have been negligent. It’s not a political act. This is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley.
The Intelligence Community said the same thing. It was their view that the risks were real and growing, and that the actions that we took that day reduced that risk. It never eliminates it, but it reduced that risk. And I hope the American people can see our intelligence professionals for what they truly are. I know that I certainly do.
SECRETARY RICE: One final question right here. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jenny Tangeman (ph). I’m a second-year MBA student. I would just love to hear more – what’s being done on the diplomatic front so that we are able to reduce our military presence in the Middle East in the future?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So there’s – where to begin – lots of work. I spoke, I think, with nearly all of my Middle East ambassadors on Saturday morning. I spoke with Ambassador Abizaid, Saudi Arabia, I spoke with my – Ambassador Richardson in Lebanon, spoke to Ambassador Satterfield in Turkey, I spoke with our ambassador in Bahrain. I – we are working diligently to build out a set of understandings that take down risk. You will continue to see our efforts that relate to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That hasn’t drawn much attention lately. We – still working very diligently on it. Mr. Kushner’s leading the effort. We’re at the State Department enormously supportive of that, to try and take this historic challenge, right. There’s been conflict in the Middle East – how many of you are ancient Middle Eastern scholars in the room? This is – there’s nothing new about this. But we’re trying to create the conditions – and we’ve had some success. I’ll give you examples.
Back in May of last year, we held an event in Warsaw, the first time that you had Gulf states, Arabs sitting with the Israelis all identifying the identical risk to the region. It was historic. We’ve watched these countries work together in ways that they have not done before. There’s still conflict. The Qataris and the Saudis and the Emiratis have their challenges, their disagreements. But our diplomacy is aimed to try and create a set of conditions – as the President says, always in the first instance of protecting the people in this room, protecting America, but also understanding that if we get this right, we can reduce the total effort that America needs to put in this, and that means bringing in countries from all across the world to be part of this collective effort. I think we’ve made progress. There’s – awful lot more to do.
SECRETARY RICE: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us here at Stanford at the Hoover Institution. I want you to know that we know how difficult these jobs are, and whether one agrees or disagrees with outcomes from time to time, I know that you do it in a great spirit of patriotism and love for our country, and so thank you for that. And thank you to the students who all showed up early and had their coffee and donuts so that they could participate. So thanks for being here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all very much for being with me this morning. (Applause.)
The text si available at https://www.state.gov/the-restoration-of-deterrence-the-iranian-example/