Secretary Michael Pompeo speech: “The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future”

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SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, good morning.  Thank you, Thomas, for the kind introduction, the kind words.  Thank you, too, for the warm welcome.  I have felt it everywhere.  I was commenting that I’m going to be here in Germany for two days.  I don’t think I’ve been two days any one place in the last three years, and it has been a blessing and wonderful, and you all have been so gracious to me and to my team.

I want to thank Foreign Minister Maas, too.  He spent the whole day with me yesterday.  It was a great show of hospitality and friendship.  We traveled a good part of your country.

And I want to thank the Korber Foundation.  You all have been so gracious to host us in this beautiful building.  I love your founder’s mantra  ̶  talking with people.  Fantastic.  Not about them.  I wish that happened in Washington.  (Laughter.)  I can handle Twitter storms, too.

As many of you know, I am from the great state of Kansas.  It’s right smack dab in the center of the United States of America.  And we have been welcoming Germans, German immigrants, since the 1800s.  They founded towns that I know people in and have campaigned in, towns like Bremen, a little town called Humboldt, Stuttgart – you know.  (Laughter.)  It’s Germans like those people that I know so well from Kansas who helped build America.

But my personal connection to your great country, and to the German people, began in the fall of 1986, as a younger, thinner, more daring Army second lieutenant, in a place called Bindlach – we’re not far from, by the way.  I am one of millions of Americans who have lived in Germany since the founding of the Federal Republic back in 1949.

My tour, my time on station here, happened towards the end of the Cold War, but my fellow soldiers and I know that we had no idea that it was, in fact, close to the end.  We did midnight emergency drills and exercises within sight of a militarized border.  Would the next patrol – I patrolled the border from the tri-zonal point in Czechoslovakia then, Czechoslovakia up and through Hof and through Modlareuth.  Would the next patrol be our last?  This was very real.  It seems hard to imagine for the young people in either of our two countries.  We didn’t know.

But we knew we had the ultimate advantage.  We had national leaders with a deep faith in God, and human dignity, that had confidence in free peoples, with the courage of their convictions, who also had patience and persistence.  They built our peoples’ resolve.  They made the case to their respective peoples.  They built our institutions and alliances so that we could collectively prevail over communism and over evil.

And behind the Iron Curtain, a brave and noble group of East German citizens refused to remain chained inside a communist system that denied the inherent worth of every individual.  Indeed, they are the real heroes of this story.  I had a chance to meet with a few of them last night in Leipzig.

Together, we won the Cold War: Germany, Germany and the United States, and all of our Allies and partners.  And so it’s why I am really thrilled and happy to be here.  It’s why I’m so proud – speaking mere feet from where the Wall once stood – to celebrate its demise now three decades ago.  Sometimes we need to take a victory lap.  We get caught up in the challenge of the day and we forget the greatness that we have achieved to lift billions of people out of horrific conditions, and that we did so together.

But as we celebrate, as we take this victory lap, we must also recognize that freedom is never guaranteed.  We spoke to this.  It doesn’t just happen.  Today, authoritarianism is just a stone’s throw away.  It’s rising.  And if we’re honest, it never really went away completely.  And I see there’s members of the Bundestag here, business leaders here in Germany.  It’s up to us, all of us.  It’s up to us to secure our freedom and our future together, and that is the subject of what I want to talk about today, how the United States and Germany can do this together, must do this together, for the good of our peoples and for the good of the world.

Now, I know, too, that many of you in the audience today – no matter what side of the Wall you grew up on ‒ won’t forget the horrors of the German Democratic Republic.

In 1961, the Vopos first jackhammered this city’s pavement and laid the cornerstones of cruelty.

Those stones became 27 miles of wall snaking through the German capital, dividing a people.  The Wall wasn’t there to keep the West out.  It was there to keep the East German people in.  That’s how authoritarian regimes operate then.  It’s how they operate today.  They force people against their own will to not have the capacity to sustain themselves and be dependent on that regime.

President Reagan thought that communism was a “disease” and he called it an “insanity.”  How right he was.  We should never forget how many millions of people suffered and died from the communist cause in the 20th century.

Indeed, the bleakness of East Germany was clear to me too, when I was stationed here.  I could see it, although only from a distance, and only a short distance across that border.  But I knew – I was young, I was in my early 20s – but what kind of country needed bricks and barbed wire and machine guns just to keep its people from fleeing, and they needed a Stasi to keep people from talking?  Yesterday, I had a chance to go revisit some of the same ground I walked when I was in my early 20s.  I saw the tools of terror from the perspective of the other side.  I’d never been across that piece of terrain before.  I’d seen Modlareuth, but only from one side.  Yesterday, I got to see it from the other side.

And yet for all of that, for all of that governmental power, all of that authoritarianism, the GDR couldn’t crush the human spirit.  The Germans maintained their imperishable hope of freedom and a better future even under that authoritarian regime.

Countless East Germans – so many of them Berliners, and maybe some of them related to you that are sitting right here today – made the daring flight against the – across the “kill zone” and the Wall.  And a number of them, of course, died trying.  Our Embassy here in Berlin, where the American flag flies proudly today, sits on the land that was once in that “kill zone.”

But East Germans knew they weren’t alone.  They knew they had a partner.

And they took heart from the soaring words of leaders and deeds of Presidents Truman and Kennedy and Reagan.

They remembered the East German uprising of 1953, and the Hungarian uprising just a few years later in 1956, and the Prague Spring of 1968.

And they saw.  They saw kindred spirits all across the world.  They saw them in Poland, the march for Solidarity.

They felt the prayers of Pope John Paul II.

And they saw the courage to be free in the student protests in Tiananmen Square.

And at their back – at their back – was all of us.  It was the wind of Western resolve and power.

That mission wasn’t always easy.  It seems as we think about the challenges between allied partners today, the kerfuffles that make all the news, we think it was the Halcyon times.  There were challenges then, too.  I could recount them.

NATO suffered France’s departure from its integrated military command in the 1960s.  And the United States tried detente with the Soviets, without success, later than that.  Chancellor Kohl weathered political opposition – enormous political opposition and protests when he deployed U.S. nuclear missiles in Germany in an attempt to deter Soviet aggression.  We shouldn’t forget that Mitterand and Thatcher didn’t support reunification at first.  It’s not historic for nations to have differences in judgment at times.

But as Reagan said, two things were absolutely non-negotiable: our collective freedom and our collective future.

We knew that deep down, deep down, a system that was afraid of its own people could never be sustained.  I believe that wholeheartedly today.  (Applause.)  We just didn’t – thank you.  We just didn’t know when it would end.  Neither the lieutenant in the field nor the president of the United States nor the chancellor of Germany knew the moment that it would come, but we knew it was absolutely imperative that we fight for it.  And I think there is a real lesson there.  There’s a lesson there for those of us who think that authoritarian regimes are destined to live forever.  They are not.

In 1989, on the day before George H.W. Bush’s inauguration, Erich Honecker predicted the Wall would stand in, quote, “fifty and even one hundred years,” end of quote.  I had just left.  I left in the beginning of October of 1989 to return to my next duty assignment.  I had no idea that I left just a couple weeks early.  German courage – German courage brought it down 294 days later.  It’s made my visit to St. Nicholas Church last night in Leipzig particularly poignant for me.

The German triumph inspired others to throw off the chains of the Soviet empire, too, and secure their own freedom, their own future, their own dignity.

So here we are on this three-decade anniversary celebrating a monumental victory for mankind’s natural longing for freedom, for this great city of Berlin, for Germany, for the German people, but also for the West ‒ all of us.

All of us had a moment after those days where we lost our way in the afterglow of that proud moment.

We thought perhaps that the collapse of communism in Berlin and Moscow and the rest of the Eastern Bloc was the start of an inevitable trend worldwide.  There were those who wrote about the “end of history.”

We thought free societies would flourish everywhere.  And in some places, they indeed have.  But we, most importantly, thought that we could divert our resources away from alliances and militaries and the things that had secured those very freedoms.

Sadly, we were wrong.  We were wrong about the human condition and the nature of the course that many countries might take today.

Today, Russia – led by a former KGB officer stationed in Dresden ‒ invades its neighbors and slays political opponents.  It suppresses the independence of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.  Russian authorities, even as we speak, use police raids and torture against Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians who are working in opposition to Russian aggression.  In Chechnya, anyone considered “undesirable” by the authorities simply disappears.

In China – in China, the Chinese Communist Party is shaping a new vision of authoritarianism, one that the world has not seen for an awfully long time.  The Chinese Communist Party uses tactics and methods to suppress its own people that would be horrifyingly familiar to former East Germans.  The People’s Liberation Army encroaches on the sovereignty of its Chinese neighbors, and the Chinese Communist Party denies travel privileges to critics – even German lawmakers – who condemn its abysmal human rights record.  The CCP harasses the families of Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang, who simply sought refuge abroad.  We – all of us, everyone in this room – has a duty.  We must recognize that free nations are in a competition of values with those unfree nations.

The truth – this truth – wasn’t quite apparent to us in 1989.  That’s understandable, perhaps.

So today, today 30 years on, we must mix celebration with sobriety.  We must see the world for what it truly is.

And we must recognize who we are.  Our two democracies, the United States and Germany, possess the abundant political and economic capital and the power that can only be garnered by free societies.  We have a duty – each of us – to use all we have to defend what was so hard-won in 1776, in 1945, and in 1989.

And we have to do it together.  We have to do it together because it’s not easy, and doing it alone is impossible.  It’s never easy.  It never is and it never will be.

This is why we make a tough case about ensuring that Germany doesn’t become dependent on Russian energy.  We don’t want Europe’s energy supplies to be dependent on Vladimir Putin.

It’s why we ask for more from all of our NATO Allies, because Western, free nations have a responsibility to deter threats to our people, and that we are only stronger together.

It’s why President Trump asks every nation to help pressure the revolutionary regime in Tehran to get back to the negotiating table and get Iran to do this simple thing – to behave like a normal nation and not conduct assassination campaigns right here in the heart of Europe.

And it’s why I spend a fair amount of my time talking about the risks that are presented to the world by the Chinese Communist Party, its acquisition of sensitive technology firms and Chinese companies’ intent to build out the world’s next networks.  Your own intelligence chief said that Huawei cannot be fully trusted, because it is subject to the power of the Chinese Communist Party.

It’s why we must speak up when we see human rights abuses inside of China, in Burma, in Iran and elsewhere, because if you don’t lead, if America doesn’t lead, who will?

Today, my fellow Americans and I rejoice with the German people.  The Wall is no more.

But let us also not take lightly the threats to our freedoms, the challenges that we all face from regimes, regimes that rule instead of govern, regimes that crush rights instead of protect them, regimes for which this anniversary is a fearful warning, not a cause for celebration.

Those of us who want to spread freedom must confront those that want to spread their vile ideology, to dominate free nations of the world, and to subvert the rule of law, and to undermine the multilateral institutions that matter so much to freedom.  They want to turn them to their own political ends.

We have to collectively move forward, look forward, and face this threat with our eyes wide open if we are to overcome it.  I know that we will.  It’s our duty to decide the terms on which our people will live, and we want them to live in peace and in freedom.

So let’s resolve today – all of us, those of us in government, those of us in business – let us stand together in unity.

Let us stand together as allies.

Let us stand together as dear friends, as we have always been.

We’ve done it before.  I am very, very confident that we will continue to do it, and do it again and again.

I hope God will bless each of you, God will bless this great country Germany and our close friendship together.

And I look forward to taking some questions today.  Thank you all so much.  (Applause.)

MS MULLER:  Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for a great speech.  Fantastic to have you here.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you, Nora.  It’s great to be with you.

MS MULLER:  You mentioned President Reagan a couple of times.  In fact, he once said to an audience very much like this one, “Before I refuse to take your questions, I’ll have a statement.”  (Laughter.)  So I am very happy that you agree to take some questions, and that is a good —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  He might have had the better line than I had.  (Laughter.)  It’s possible.  We’ll see here in just a minute.

MS MULLER:  It’s a good line.  So ladies and gentlemen, just to remind you to write your questions on those little cards.  We will come and collect them, and then we’ll pick the smartest ones and the most difficult ones, probably.  (Laughter.)

So Mr. Secretary, you talked at length about China.  You mentioned this strategic and also ideological rivalry between Washington and Beijing, and I am afraid to say that Marxism was probably a German export to China, but that’s a different story.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes.

MS MULLER:  So I was kind of trying to connect the historical dots here.  We’re sitting in front of Brandenburg Gate, which was for a long time the symbol of the Cold War and became the symbol of the end of the Cold War.  Now, I wanted to ask you whether you think that this Sino-American rivalry, is that the Cold War of the 21st century?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I wouldn’t characterize it as a conflict between the United States and China.  The Chinese people – we have a huge trade relationship with China.  So do German companies.  The Chinese people are an innovative, smart, capable set of people.  It’s the Chinese Communist Party.  And it’s not between the United States and China.  It’s the challenge between the Chinese Communist Party and its authoritarian regime and freedom-loving peoples all across the world.

You all can see it.  Those of you who travel to China can see how President Xi has moved their country in this direction.  You just need to look at the fact that they have put weapons systems now in the South China Sea.  They are using information technology to do credit scoring against their own peoples.  That will extend to every individual whose personal information they get access to.

So as you think about networks, as you think about who is going to control the rules of communications connectivity in the next decades, you should think about whether you would have permitted the Soviet Union to control your infrastructure, your network communications infrastructure.  It’s a reasonable question.

And so this challenge is to take the people who value the rule of law, who want to preserve freedom, who despite authoritarianism, and make sure that we are working together to push back against any regime that threatens its own people and the world with this ideology.

MS MULLER:  That message is very much appreciated, Mr. Secretary.  And I think a lot of people in this room would agree that we as Europeans and Americans have to stand together when we deal with that challenge.  I mean, many opportunities in the rise of China, but also a lot of challenges.  So in doing so, wouldn’t it be better if we were kind of not imposing tariffs on each other’s goods?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes.  We wish you wouldn’t impose tariffs on us.  Yes, we concur.  (Laughter.)  Absolutely.  But President Trump’s been clear.  He’s been very clear.  Our ideal trade relationship with the European Union would be to have no tariffs between either of our two countries, no non-tariff barriers either, no hiding behind some regulatory framework that says somehow that American agriculture isn’t safe for the European people to eat, right?  This is not the way free peoples interact and trade with each other, and this is what President Trump has been driving towards.  We want increased trade with Europe.  We want increased trade with India.

But we want it to be conducted in a way that’s consistent with the history of free trade around the world, where we join together and we don’t try and protect our own industries, we compete freely and fairly.  Sometimes European businesses will be more successful than American businesses.  So be it.  Sometimes an American company will be more successful.  Often, you’ll not know which it is.  There will be shareholders that come from all across the world, from Europe and the United States, so it’s very complex.

But as the sovereign states interact with each other and trade across sovereign boundaries, the idea is that you have fair, free, reciprocal trade with as little trade friction as you can possibly imagine, and allow competition to flourish so that each of our peoples can continue to grow and prosper.  That’s the mission set that our administration is engaged in.

MS MULLER:  Right.  I just wanted to make sure you’re not thinking that we are worse than China.  (Laughter.)  So anyways —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We ought not let the narrative of some of the media out there get in the way of the reality, right?  So that you’re somehow suggesting that there was even a remote comparison in the way we think about the value sets that reside inside the Chinese Communist Party and the value sets that we know and appreciate in Europe, the democracies of Europe, they’re fundamentally different and America knows this.

MS MULLER:  So now over to your questions, ladies and gentlemen, and here’s one about the future of Ukraine.  I’d like to read that one out:  “How committed is the U.S. to peace and stability in Ukraine?  Without any preconditions?”

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Very.  (Laughter.)

MS MULLER:  Very?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Very.  Very committed.  Yes, yes.  It’s a project we have been working on.  I remember I was at the Munich Security Conference when I was a member of Congress in Kansas, and I remember pushing the topic, at this time, was whether defensive weapons system would be provided to the Ukrainians.  This must have been 2015 or ’16.

And I remember, and I remember Germany deciding it was a bad idea and America deciding it was a bad idea, President Obama deciding it wasn’t something he wanted to do.  In fact, President Trump has now not once, not twice, but three times come to provide the tools so that the Ukrainian people can protect themselves from Russian aggression in the Donbas.

We’re proud of that.  We think it makes sense.  We think it makes sense for freedom.  We think it makes sense for Europe and we think it makes sense for the world and Ukrainian sovereignty.  We’re very clear about our position on the invasion of Crimea that happened in the previous administration and how it is we’re going to work to develop a prosperous Ukraine that is less corrupt and capable of moving itself towards the West.

MS MULLER:  Thank you.  Here’s another one about Syria.  So this in German so I have to translate as we go alone.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  You can read in German and I’ll just —

MS MULLER:  No, no, that’s fine.  I’ll —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’ll give it my best shot.  (Laughter.)  Drank a few beers and – am I right?  (Laughter.)  I’ve got a chance.

MS MULLER:  So here we go.  So in Syria, the U.S. exposed the Kurds to the Turkish forces.  That’s what it said.  And it paved the way for Moscow to come in.  So has that done harm to the credibility of U.S. foreign policy?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, I mean, it just – I think that doesn’t frame the question properly.  The United States didn’t do that.  The United States, in fact, provided enormous resources to the SDF and to the Kurds, resources that no other nation, including any European nation, was prepared to provide them.  And we did so alongside of you.  There were French partners that joined us.  There were British partners that joined us.  We’re proud of that work.

We destroyed the caliphate.  When President Trump came into office, they owned real estate that amounted to the size – it doesn’t mean as much – I should have picked a German state – but the size of Ohio.  They owned it.  They controlled it.  They raised taxes.  They governed.  They had schools and hospitals and medical facilities.  This is the terrorists that were beheading people simultaneously.

When we came to office, that was the condition in the eastern part of Syria, the northeastern part of Syria that is – has a Kurdish majority.  This administration provided the resources to the Kurds so that that would not occur.  We’re very proud of that and we’re continuing to provide them support.  We’re doing it because we have a vested interest.  We think Europe has an interest in this as well.  There are hundreds and hundreds of foreign terrorist fighters that are going to have to go somewhere.  We need each nation to thoughtfully consider whether it’s appropriate for them to come back so that they can prosecute them there, so that they don’t roam free, that our kids and grandkids don’t have to fight them again.

And the United States is committed.  Wherever we find radical Islamic terrorism, we’ll continue to stay at it.  You’ve seen President Trump’s actions in the last few weeks.  We’re going to take the appropriate response so that the ISIS fighters can’t get a hold of the oil fields there.

But just as I spoke to in my speech, we need friends around the world who care about freedom and who want to help us fight terror around the world.  We need them to join us.  These can’t be American propositions alone.  They need to be done by all of us who care so much.  Europe has the real risk that if we don’t get this right that there’ll be enormous migration from this region into Europe.

We want – and I think European countries want – them to be able to live in their own country.  We want – right?  They want to live in their own country.  And we need to do the things we can do to take down this terrorist threat so that we can get a political resolution inside of Syria and so that the people, now some 6 million who have been displaced, can return to their homes.

MS MULLER:  Right.  But let me press you a bit more on that Syria issue still, Mr. Secretary.  After that withdrawal happened, I had a —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  But – no —

MS MULLER:  Whatever you —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  That’s the wrong verb.

MS MULLER:  Okay.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  And it’s important.  It’s important.

MS MULLER:  That pullback.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY POMPEO:  It’s not – it’s again – it’s – we are doing – we are performing the mission set.  President Erdogan made a decision to conduct an incursion into Turkey [1].  We opposed that.  So did the German Government.  So did the French Government.  President Erdogan made that decision.  We have made the strategic decision that we’re going to continue the counter-ISIS campaign there.

MS MULLER:  Right.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  That’s what’s happening in Syria today.  We’re there.  Young men and women that work for the American Department of Defense are putting their lives at risk there today.  Young officers that work for me in the United States Department of State are on the ground in Syria today.  We need you all to join us.  If you care, if it matters so much, as the question suggests – and I would concur that the questioner’s predicate suggested it is important, and I agree – we need each country to go to their people and make the case why this is an important challenge worthy of undertaking, worthy of putting people’s lives at risk, our own citizens’ lives at risk.

MS MULLER:  Right.  No, that message is understood.  But still, when the Syria thing occurred, I had the chance to travel to the region, in fact, and I talked to a number of people, and some of them – U.S. allies – and they were kind of concerned.  And they told me, “Nora, we start to think that Russia is maybe the more reliable ally in the region than is the U.S.”  Is that something that concerns you, or are they completely —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, it does concern me.  When people are irrational, it always concerns me.  Yeah, to think of Russia as a worthy partner engaged in the same undertaking that we all are – taking down the threat of terrorism around the world or promoting freedom and prosperity and the economic well-being of citizens around the world – to think that Russia would remotely be a partner anything like the United States or anything like a European country is irrational.  And so yes, I am concerned.  When people are irrational, it always bothers me.

MS MULLER:  Okay.  So here’s another question from the audience.  It’s about Hong Kong, in fact, and I’ll read it out:  “You said freedom will prevail.  What is your advice to Hong Kong demonstrators right now?  Settle for what they have achieved peacefully or continue to struggle?”

SECRETARY POMPEO:  This will be up to the human spirit, the people of Hong Kong.  We have made very clear to the leadership in China that it’s our expectation that the Chinese Government will honor their commitment.  They made a promise to the people in the region that they would adhere to a fundamental system that allowed a difference – there would be one country and two systems.  We’ve asked the Chinese Government to maintain the promise that they made, that they made to their own people.  And as for the people of Hong Kong, they’ll make their own decision.  They’ll find their own path forward.

We have suggested to all the parties in the region that violence is a bad idea, but the struggle for freedom continues.  We see it not just in Hong Kong.  We see it in the streets of Beirut.  We see it in the streets of Baghdad, where peoples are rising up against the Islamic Republic of Iran.  They want to be Iraqi.  They want to be Lebanese, not Hizballah.  They want to be Iraqi, not part of a Iranian militia.

I think that those of us who are freedom-loving peoples all across the world need to support those people wherever we can and make sure that they have the capacity and the tools to achieve the outcomes that they choose to seek.

MS MULLER:  And will the U.S. come to those demonstrators’ aid at some point?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t want to get out in front of any policy decision that we’ve made.  In the end – the world has the obligation to provide the capacity and the guidance – but in the end, these peoples will lead these struggles successfully.  (Inaudible) I was with some amazing people last night who were in East Germany, and they talked about their prayer gatherings, because the churches were the only place that they could go to get themselves away from the stares of the Communists, of the Stasi.  It’s amazing.  It’s amazing what freedom and the yearning for freedom inside those peoples did.  I’m convinced that there are people all around the world who want this same thing, and that we – our obligation, those of us who value those freedoms – our obligation is to provide them the support that they need when we can and where we can.

MS MULLER:  So here’s a very short and concise question.  It’s about NATO:  “Is NATO —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’m for it.  (Laughter and applause.)

MS MULLER:  For the record.  (Applause.)  So I think you’ve already kind of preempted that.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  There you go.

MS MULLER:  But I’ll read it out anyways.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  All right.

MS MULLER:  So is NATO obsolete or brain-dead, or both or neither?  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So yes – (laughter) – so many good answers, so many cameras.  Yes.  (Laughter.)  So 70 years on NATO now, it needs to grow and change.  It needs to confront the realities of today and the challenge of today.  They’re different – they’re fundamentally different.  When German soldiers patrolled the Fulda Gap, it was a different time than it is today.  And so NATO runs always the risk that it will become obsolete – not because the partnership, not because the political commitments will ever become – I don’t think as between – in the transatlantic – those commitments between our countries will ever become obsolete.

But it does run that risk if it doesn’t do the things it needs to do to confront the challenges of today in a way that is effective.  If nations believe that they can get the security benefit without providing NATO the resources that it needs, if they don’t live up to their commitments, there is a risk that NATO could become ineffective or obsolete.  So we need to be mindful.  It’s what I spoke about today.  These things – we can never take these things for granted.  We can never assume that because there is this infrastructure, this beautiful building that sits in Brussels, that it will exist and that it will of its own force, just by the nature of it, will continue to be relevant and important and effective.  We need to work and be thoughtful and challenge the underlying presumptions that we’ve built upon and say, “How do we ensure that this structure is appropriate 70 years on?”  If we do that, NATO and the political alliances that underlay it will continue to be incredibly valuable to each of our peoples.

MS MULLER:  And 10 years from now, we will be sitting here together celebrating NATO’s 80th birthday?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, me in my wheelchair.  It’ll all be good.  (Laughter.)

MS MULLER:  Mr. Secretary, I have one more question that I wanted to ask you.  It’s not about foreign – yeah, it’s a little bit about foreign policy, actually.  So you played basketball during high school, and I am told you played forward.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Power forward, yes.

MS MULLER:  Yeah. So I wanted to ask you what do a – or what does a power forward have in common with a foreign minister?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, so that was a joke.  At 5’11” I wasn’t much of a power forward.  (Laughter.)  Well under two meters, yes.  You learn a lot, I think, playing team sports in that way, because I think you come to appreciate that you can have a star that can carry you a long ways, but if you don’t figure out how to make one plus one equal 2.2 or 2.3, if you can’t build a team that collectively can deliver, you’ll only rise so far.

I think the same thing sitting as America’s foreign minister, as the Secretary of State.  I think the same thing, if – the United States can do a lot.  We’re a capable nation.  We can achieve a lot of good things for our people.  But we need partners and allies around the world to do this together.  It’s a competitive landscape, much like in basketball.  Some years one team has a little bit more power, more capacity, more influence, and a decade later, no more.  That doesn’t happen by chance.  It happens because good peoples gather together to go deliver a team’s outcome, go deliver against a mission set.  In basketball, it’s simple: Score more than the other team.  In national security and foreign policy space, it’s to make sure we understand why it is we’re doing what we’re doing, why it is our value set matters, and then communicate that.

Every leader’s obligation – it’s easy to do, by the way – it’s easy to ignore.  Every leader’s obligation is to go back to their home village, city, state, and make the case for why the expenditure of resources, time, talent, lives, why that’s necessary, to make the case for why if we don’t do it the next generation won’t have all the things that our kids have today.  The same thing is true in sports.  If you don’t make the case about why it is you’re trying to build out a team in a certain way, then you are at some risk of failure.

I think the analogy might be carried a little bit too far, but I do think it’s absolutely imperative that we identify what the competition looks like, what the threats are, what our adversaries are trying to do, and then build our collective efforts to ensure that our way of life, the way of lives that we all care so deeply about, is still around 20, 40, and 50 years in from now.  (Applause.)

MS MULLER:  So it’s really all about being a good team.  On this note, Mr. Secretary, thank you very, very much.  It’s been an immense honor and a great pleasure to have you with us at the Koerber Foundation.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, everyone, for joining us, for actively listening, and for the great questions.  And I can only say let’s keep talking to each other, with each other, rather than about one another.  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Amen.  Thank you all so much.  (Applause.)

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