Schieffer Series: 2018 State of the Union Address
February 2, 2018
H. ANDREW SCHWARTZ: Good evening, everybody, and welcome to another quiet evening in the nation’s capital. (Laughter.) I’m Andrew Schwartz here at CSIS, and I’m very pleased to welcome you to our Schieffer Series.
Our Schieffer Series is made possible by generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. We thank them for all their support in this ongoing series, enabling us to make all this possible.
I’d also like to thank Texas Christian University, TCU, and the Schieffer School of Journalism, who’s been our partner in this.
And without further ado – I know you all want to hear from Bob and our panel – I’d like to introduce Bob Schieffer.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Thank you, Andrew. (Applause.)
Thank you all very much. This is kind of a different – a different take on things, because today what we’re going to do is talk about the State of the Union.
So what is the State of the Union? The president had his say last night. The pundits have given us their take on it. And I guess if this were a trial, I would suppose this would be the point where we would call in the expert witnesses because for sure there’s no better place to gather up some experts than here at CSIS. So I think, in addition to talking about this last night, it gives us a chance to really show off some of our real experts.
The newest member of the CSIS family is Sue Mi Terry. She’s senior advisor to the BowerGroupAsia. She’s a former Korea analyst at the CIA. She’s a former Korea director at the National Security Council. She’s considered one of the world’s top experts on Korea. And she has a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School at Tufts.
Dr. Kath Hicks is our senior vice president of the – and the Henry Kissinger Chair, director of CSIS International Security Program. She was the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy and plans during the Obama administration, has held many prestigious academic and government posts, and holds a Ph.D. from MIT.
Heather Conley is a senior vice president at CSIS, director of the European Program here. She also headed the team that authored “The Kremlin Playbook.” And if you don’t know about this book, you want to read it because it gives you a real rundown. What she did, she and her team, they analyzed what the Russians are doing all across Europe, and you’ll find some very similar things going on there. She has served in various spots at the State Department, was special assistant to the coordinator for assistance to the newly independent states when the Soviet Union fell in.
And finally, down at the end, joining me as one of the men on this panel – (laughter) – is William Reinsch, who holds the CSIS Scholl Chair in International Business. For 15 years he was president of the National Foreign Trade Council, where he led efforts in favor of open markets from 2001 to ’16. He served as a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. And he spent 20 years up on Capitol Hill, most of that time working with Senator John Heinz and later with Senator Rockefeller.
So what we heard last night was not the dystopian view of America that was painted by the president during his inaugural speech. This was President Trump the optimist. Yet, this was the speech that The New York Times described as remarkably devoid of new policies. That sounds a little bit harsh, but when I went back and looked I discovered that it was a full hour into this speech before he proposed a plan that he wanted the Congress to take up, and this was the infrastructure plan.
So I thought what we would do here is just to start off I would like to ask each of you: What was your takeaway from this speech? What did you like? What didn’t you like? And how do you think it was viewed, or will be viewed and is being viewed, by our allies around the world?
So, Sue, you want to start?
SUE MI TERRY: Sure. I mean, I mainly focused on the foreign policy side, which was very short. There was not a whole lot of foreign policy there. I was so surprised, and I think our allies will be surprised about that too.
And, you know, 50 percent of the very short foreign policy bit was actually on North Korea. So that really showed that the president is still very focused on North Korea as a top priority. But it was really interesting to me on what he decided to focus on. He didn’t really elaborate on the policy side, he didn’t – beyond saying that we’re going to continue with maximum pressure. But what he chose to focus on is the depravity of the Kim Jong-un regime. We could talk a little bit more about that a little bit later.
But it was interesting to me on what he decided to focus on: the human rights issue, bringing Otto Warmbier’s parents and the family, and a defector. That was interesting to me. Without really getting into any kind of policy discussion, I know that our allies, particularly South Korea, was watching every word, particularly, you know, in light of just the – some news about U.S. ambassador to South Korea. So I’m not sure if they came away feeling any better about alliance or feeling any, you know, hopeful about our North Korea.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Mmm hmm.
KATHLEEN H. HICKS: Well, I’ll just look mostly at the defense piece of this, which there was – within the foreign policy set, there was actually a little more on defense than many other areas – for instance, Europe, which isn’t mentioned, which I’m sure – (laughs) Heather will try to fill that void in a moment. But I had more to work with, if you will.
The president did put an emphasis right up front in the defense remarks on his desire to have the – have Congress remove the sequester cap, the cap on growth of defense spending. And that is actually a very important issue within the defense community. It’s a very broadly bipartisan-supported viewpoint, and one that I think everyone from inside the defense community – whether you’re industry of you’re allies or you’re within the military – that was a positive message to hear.
I think the downside is from there really he went on to focus solely on the nuclear aspect of how that money might be spent, and he spoke specifically – one of the few specific instances with regard to spending, it was on the need for nuclear modernization, which again is actually a broadly bipartisan-agreed viewpoint. But he didn’t tie it, I think for the American public, to any sense of why we would be seeking this new funding, why we need the nuclear modernization.
And, in fact, when talking about the threats or other issues related to defense, he really focused on terrorism, the rogue states of Iran and North Korea, and Afghanistan, ISIS, and Guantanamo Bay. So I think if you were off in a lunar orbit and had returned to Earth, you might think you were in 2004 listening to much of that because it just was so removed from the current discussions, I think, around the National Security Strategy recently released, the National Defense Strategy recently released, where a lot of the focus is on the competitive space with China, with Russia. And instead, again, it had this sensibility that was back about a decade or so into issues of detainee policy and terrorism, but then linked it to a pretty large increase in defense spending in nuclear weapons.
So I think you’re left with a real question mark if you don’t follow these issues closely. I think if you do follow them closely, what you’re probably left with is a sense that the president was speaking to the issues that he thinks resonate with the public. Terrorism is the issue that resonates most in the fears of Americans when they think about why they have a military. They’re really – you know, they’re not necessarily connecting the dots to how that military is used. They’re just thinking, you know, they don’t like terrorism. And on nuclear weapons and on overall defense spending, those speak to themes he raised as a candidate and has repeated as a president. And so I think it was really less an orchestration of strategy and more about how he wanted to appeal at a basic level to themes that he had highlighted before.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Heather?
HEATHER A. CONLEY: So what I liked about the president’s State of the Union address is that it was positive, in very stark contrast to his inaugural speech. And he told a story through the eyes and through the stories of the American people, and I think that was incredibly effective. I think sometimes we’ve forgotten to tell a story of why it’s important that we do the things that we do and that human part, so I thought that was very important.
Here comes the “but.” But what I didn’t like, it also did not talk about the world that we are living in. You would not know that this is a nation at war in Afghanistan, in Syria. You would not know. Although the president made a very passing reference to our rivals, such as China and Russia, but there was absolutely no discussion about, if they are rivals, if they are our great-power competitors, then what are we doing? How are we engaging? What are we doing?
And then, finally, the thing that was absolutely absent was allies, whether that was South Korea, Japan, and addressing the North Korean conflict; whether that was Europe and NATO, and how we amplify American power with allies. The president chose to stick to adversaries very briefly, and we really missed a fulsome conversation. It’s just as Sue and Kath mentioned. Our allies are watching this so carefully, looking for signs, and there were no signs given to them last evening.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Bill?
WILLIAM A. REINSCH: Well, I’ll go in reverse order. What I didn’t like on a personal level was all the bragging. You know, he spent the first half an hour taking credit for some things that he was responsible for and some things that probably he had nothing to do with, and you just get tired of it.
What surprised me – and this is sort of the devoid-of-policy comment that Bob began with – was how little – how few proposals there were. Usually with these things you get a laundry list, you know. And people would make fun – I was in the Clinton administration, and people would make fun of Clinton you know. He would have, you know, 87 different ideas in what was actually an even longer speech one year than this one. This one he had five or six things. I mean, there’s a very narrow agenda. He didn’t really talk about the environment. He didn’t talk about housing. He didn’t talk about education. I don’t – there’s a lot of things that just weren’t there, which is a very narrow focus.
In my little corner of the world, trade and economic policy, frankly, what was good about it was what he didn’t say, you know? (Laughter.) He didn’t withdraw from NAFTA. He didn’t attack the World Trade Organization. He didn’t attack China by name. That’s coming, but not last night. He didn’t insult any of our trading partners. He reflected – you know, I had gone – had gone downstairs with notepad and paper. I was going – because I was – a reporter was going to call me after to talk about this. You know, he spent maybe one minute on trade, which we all thought was going to be one of the focuses of the speech because it’s been such a major topic of his for the entire year. He basically repeated what he said at Davos, which is I think a fair and genuine articulation of his views about trade. And it’s – you know, it’s a legitimate point of view, but he didn’t go into any detail or provide any revelations about what he intends to actually do, which is what we were waiting for. But, on the other hand, as I said, that may be the best news of all, you know, that he didn’t come in with anything that was going to really tear apart the trading system.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Great. Now, from here on in I want all of you to feel free to just jump in whenever you think it’s necessary. Don’t wait for me to call on you, and feel free to react to each other.
I think we have to go back to you, Sue, because Victor Cha, who everybody around here thought was going to be the ambassador to South Korea, suddenly we learn that he’s not. What is the deal here? What happened? What was this all about?
MS. TERRY: Well, we won’t know exactly what happened. But first of all, let me just say Victor Cha not only is a colleague, but I’ve known him for a long time, because when I was a CIA intelligence analyst I used to brief him. And so I have long interaction. I used to see him when he was a policymaker, Korea-Japan director at the National Security Council. And there would not have been a more experienced and qualified U.S. ambassador to South Korea. So I think this is sort of a shock to everybody, particularly with our South Korean allies, too.
So we do know that Victor Cha has expressed his views very strongly, particularly on this idea of limited military strike.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Which the administration is calling what, a “bloody nose”?
MS. TERRY: “Bloody nose.”
MR. SCHIEFFER: Which I think is a little bit cute for preventative war.
MS. TERRY: Right. The idea is that if there is some sort of a very limited strike on North Korea that we’re going to make our position clear to North Koreans that they are dealing with a different U.S. administration, that somehow North Korea’s not going to retaliate and that’s going to lead them to get back to the negotiating table, which I think is a big, risky assumption to make.
But that said, I think Victor laid out a case why he’s against a military strike. And he wrote an excellent opinion piece in The Washington Post which was out there today, so I would highly encourage you to read it. Another colleague, Michael Green, has also been talking about this kind of deterrence and containment strategy, that we don’t have to respond militarily. There is another option in dealing with the North Korean crisis. That’s with robust containment, robust deterrence, robust missile defense, regional coordination, and so on.
And I do think – I do think this was a policy difference issue because, as a person who went through a security clearance before, let’s remember that Dr. Cha had top security clearance before because he was – he worked at the White House under the Bush administration. And I just know that at this stage – if something came out, it should have come up earlier. At this stage of the South Korea already responded back with a yes, with the agrément and all that, for there to – for this to emerge, I think this is very disconcerting.
And I think South Koreans are very shocked and sort of dismayed. They were hoping that there was going to be a U.S. ambassador to Pyeongchang Olympics right now. And it’s already been a year that South Korea had to deal with no U.S. ambassador while they’re going through this major crisis with North Korea.
And the fact that it’s not like Dr. Cha was known to be just an engager. I mean, he was actually, you know, pretty hardline for Korean style. So Korean style, well, if this – he’s not hawkish enough for this administration, I mean, what are they looking for? So there is some concern, I do think, with South Korea. So I do think we do nee to work on alliance management and how to sort of, you know, get the South Koreans more comfortable, because I think they’re very, very nervous, to be honest.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask the whole panel: Is there such a thing as preventative nuclear war? I mean – (laughter) – I thought we went through all this a long, long time ago.
MS. HICKS: Well, I don’t think I would describe it as preventative nuclear war. And I think it’s probably not useful to talk too much in the theoretical because there is always the possibility that you see a strike coming and you want to respond, not necessarily in a nuclear way, to prevent a crisis.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, what kind of a strike could you make on North Korea?
MS. HICKS: Well, I’m not arguing for the – please, do not – I do not want to be put in a position of arguing for a strike on North Korea. I was –
MR. SCHIEFFER: No, I’m not saying that. But I’m saying what –
MS. HICKS: I was going to go on to say I think the challenge set here is exactly as Sue started to lay out. As you tick through what those possibilities are, there are none that are risk-free. So, for example, if you wanted to strike an airbase or a site where you thought weapons of mass destruction might – either a missile-launch site or a site where – which would be very foolhardy – you thought there were weapons of mass destruction. Let’s say you wanted to strike a command-and-control installation. So that might be all kinds of things, but it might be a facility at which they have detection systems or, you know, such – (inaudible). The challenge is how to do you think the North Koreans will respond and how do you play through that deterrence calculus. That’s something you have to think about with any adversary.
It’s different how you think through deterrence. You tailor it to each adversary. And I think, as Sue pointed out, it’s very difficult to – you know, to play those scenarios out in ways – if you think the North Koreans are rational, if you will, why that would, you know, drive them to drop the pursuit of nuclear weapons, which seems – might seem to them as highly rational in order to deter you. And if you think they’re highly irrational – excuse me – then you ramp up the chances of an escalation.
As Victor rightly pointed out, I think sometimes we become very desensitized to the idea that things happen over there and there are things here. And I think one of the things he did really well is to point out there are over 200,000 Americans – 30,000 U.S. military, but then lots of civilians who work maybe in Seoul, or they have family, whatever the cause. We are there, if you will, all around the world. And so when you think through these deterrence dynamics, there’s a lot that an adversary can hold at hostage too, and the risks start to ratchet up very quickly.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Heather, did you have anything to add to that?
MS. CONLEY: Well, and I think, again, just to point to Victor’s op-ed piece, he also talks about – getting to Bill’s point – this would – this preventative would – the stock market would drop. This would be a major economic shockwave through important trading sea lanes. And, again, it’s the unintended consequences, you know. When you make contact with the enemy, your plan goes completely awry. And, quite frankly, we don’t have the support of allies for that action. That’s the – again, going back to the allies. But I do think there is greater collective support on maintaining – maximizing the pressure and having us provide that extended deterrence. That is going to work, but we just have to be patient. And the more we flirt with this option, if you will, it may make us feel muscular, but the results would be absolutely catastrophic, and we can’t calculate them today.
And I don’t know if you have a sense, Bill, on the trade and – component.
MR. REINSCH: I don’t – well, I don’t have a lot to say about this. I don’t think we’ve entirely run out the sanctions, economic pressure game yet. That often doesn’t work. I mean, it’s difficult to do, and North Korea’s got a lot of experience with evading them.
But it illustrates the point that you just made, Heather. If you can get everybody else marching with you on something like that, which the Obama administration did quite successfully on Iran, as the Bush administration did well – if you get everybody doing the same thing and applying the same pressure, then you can have an impact. It’s not dramatic and it’s not the “bloody nose,” but you get the results that you – that you want eventually.
I don’t think we’ve run out that string yet. And I think that we probably could do more and do more effectively to get other parties – and it’s not just the Chinese. I mean, the North Koreans are isolated. But, you know, a lot of this – a lot of the stuff that they need and get comes in – it doesn’t come, all of it, across the Chinese border. It comes in by boat from a variety of other locations. If we were willing and aggressive about working with a lot of our other allies, I think we could – we could make more progress than we have so far.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Sue, you wanted to –
MS. TERRY: Yeah, I just wanted to make two quick points. Which is that first of all, I mean, I was a CIA analyst following the North Korean issue for 10 years. And I’ll tell you, one thing that we do not know is how Kim Jong-il, now Kim Jong-un will react. So you cannot assume that he’s going to either retaliate or not. You just don’t know. So it’s a highly risky assumption, because somebody’s intention – leadership intention and resolve is something we just don’t have a handle on.
And I do – I do think there’s an internal contradiction here that also Victor pointed out himself. We keep saying, well, we think he’s too crazy and too irrational, that he cannot be deterred and contained, yet we think he’s rational enough that he’s not going to retaliate after we strike North Korea. There’s some sort of a contradiction here. Either he’s rational or irrational. So I just wanted to point that out.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Just one more question. One of the things that struck me in the speech last night, when he said we will not make the same mistakes –
MS. TERRY: Yes.
MR. SCHIEFFER: – of previous administrations. What was he talking about?
MS. TERRY: So he said compromises and concessions led to provocations and aggression by North Korea, and that he’s vowing not to make mistakes of that. So he – I think he’s really laying out that negotiation or dialogue with North Korea that’s going to lead to denuclearization is not really on the table. I know at some times he said he’s going to meet with Kim Jong-un and so on, but I think that’s what he was saying because he said concession and compromise did not work.
And then, again, he then focused on maximum pressure without, really, more elaborating on that policy, and the focus on depravity of the Kim Jong-un regime. And that was his whole thing. So I felt that he was sort of laying the groundwork or really making the case to the public that somehow this North Korean regime is really – it’s not normal, it’s abnormal, look how horrible this regime is. So I think he’s really making the case for the public, maybe, for future provocations – or future response to North Korea’s provocations.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Bill, you brought up the part about trade. The administration has pulled out of the TPP. I don’t know very much about trade, but what were the – what is the strategic fallout of that? As we’re talking about allies, we’re talking about being together, is the fact that we have pulled out of that now and we’re the only people not out there anymore – because as I understand it, the Japanese have pulled everybody else together and they’re all – they’ve all banded together, but we’re the fellow on the outside looking in on that. Does that help us from a standpoint of national security?
MR. REINSCH: No, it’s a huge – a huge strategic mistake. Trade agreements are never just about trade. They’re almost always about something else. And that one was about the U.S. role in the Pacific. And it was – I mean, there’s a lot of market-access issues and a lot of gains there, particularly for American farmers and for actually building a stronger rules-based trading system, but it was really about the U.S. presence in the Pacific. That signaled mostly to East and Southeast Asia that the United States was determined to stay there and the United States was going to be an effective counterweight to anybody else in the region that wanted to achieve any kind of hegemony, meaning China.
And the only way to read Trump’s decision to pull out is that it reflects a lack of U.S. commitment to the region. I think you can go anywhere in Southeast Asia and that’s what people are going to tell you. And that makes them nervous. And their response, which you can see now – there’s two responses. One, the Chinese have taken it as permission to throw their weight around more than they already are. And the smaller countries on the periphery, because they’re smaller, don’t see themselves as having a lot of choice in the – in the matter, but to develop a closer relationship with China, both in economic terms but also in political terms.
And he not only pulled out, sent the signal, but there has been no replacement strategy. And there’s been some speculation. Last week he said, well, maybe we’ll rejoin, and people are trying to figure out what does that mean. And my first reaction is, well, you know, wait till he says it two or three times. If he says it once, it doesn’t count. But if he says it multiple times – which he now has – maybe there’s something there.
And I think – I mean, the optimistic view is maybe he’s listening to his national security advisors, who must be telling him you have no Asia strategy and you torpedoed the good one, and so you need to come up with something. And, of course, you can’t – he won’t go back to an Obama thing. You know, that’s apparently not something that you do in this – every administration tends to assume that everything his predecessor did was bad, but this administration has done that to an extreme. So they have to come up with something else, and maybe they’re in the process of deciding that maybe we should, you know, restructure it, come back into it – although, as you pointed out, the reaction of the other 11 has been, well, that’s nice, you know, if you want to come back, but we’re going ahead. And we’re going ahead on our terms – which, by the way, are not quite the same as what we negotiated; they dropped some things, and the things they dropped were in the intellectual property area, which was stuff that we want, that our companies want, that are not going to be there. So if we go back in, we can, I think, repair some of the security damage, but it’ll be a weaker agreement and it will not be as economically beneficial for us.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Do you think – and I’m asking all of you this – do you think we can make better trade deals than what we were getting ready to get in the TPP? I mean, I understand at a recent international conference the secretary of commerce was telling the Japanese, look, you’re just not playing fair, you know, with a 40 percent – what is it, 37 ½ percent, what do you call it, tariff on imported beef. Apparently he was unaware that the TPP takes that down to 9 percent tariff on imported beef. I wonder – he does this because he says he wants a better deal, but I wonder if we’re going to get a better deal.
MR. REINSCH: Well, we were talking about that this morning. And it’s baffling, because he said – he said that about TPP, he said that about NAFTA, but he never talks about what the deficiencies are. You know, what did we not get that he wants? So I don’t – I don’t think anybody really knows, you know, what he wants that would be better than what we got.
I mean, the reality is these things are negotiations. Nobody gets the whole loaf, you know. You get – if you’re lucky, you get 60 percent of the loaf. And if you’re really good, you get the other guys to think, you know, they did better than you did, whether they did or not, you know, if you’re a good negotiator.
I think that – I mean, the one thing – Mike Froman and I have had our differences in the past, but I think he’s a superb negotiator and a great closer, and I think he got just about everything he could get out of those guys. I’m not sure that going back you can – you know, we can ask for more. I mean, if you look at the NAFTA negotiations, we’re asking for more. I would be surprised if we get it. You know, it’s –
MR. SCHIEFFER: Do you think there’s any real possibility that he’ll pull out of NAFTA? I mean, I’m from Texas, so we have quite a(n) interest in that since we’re the number-one exporting state in the United States.
MR. REINSCH: Yeah. Texas will be the biggest loser if we do.
MR. SCHIEFFER: What?
MR. REINSCH: Texas will be the biggest loser if we do pull out –
MR. SCHIEFFER: Absolutely.
MR. REINSCH: – because they’ve got so much at stake.
Well, I went to a meeting today with the business community about that, and there is kind of this feeling that we’re over that hump; you know, that there’s been this parade of people going in to the White House saying don’t pull out, economic disaster, political disaster, mostly because the short-term losers would be agriculture because they’ve got – they’ve got the most to lose and it’s the most immediate. And all of these red-state people have come in and said don’t do it, big mistake – Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, all these places. But, you know, the governor of Michigan has been adamant about this, that what he wants to do is not going to be good for the auto industry. And my sense is that, grudgingly, the president has kind of come to the conclusion that maybe they’re right.
Now, you know, I say that at great risk because tomorrow morning there could be a tweet, you know – (laughter) – that says we’re pulling out. But I think that we’re over the hump, at least for a while. The round in Montreal that ended on Monday was civil. The other sides engaged. There is now talk about a negotiation over our demands. We’re not going to get what we want, but at least, you know, it’s going forward. So I think we’ve kind of put that one on the side for a while.
But he seems to think that the best way to get a deal is to, you know, pull out, and that’ll intimidate everybody. And, you know, maybe that’s true in the real estate business, but these are sovereign countries, you know. They got their own armies and they got their own – they’ve got their own rules that they have to adhere to, and they’ve got their own politics. You know, there’s an election in Mexico, and the opponent is – you know, is making – doing very well in the polls trashing the Americans. It’s not – it’s not as simple as he thinks it is.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I want to go back – not about Korea, but I want to broaden that out. The fact that we now have no one confirmed, still, after a year to be the ambassador to South Korea, but that is more and more the case. Has this begun to affect our policy yet, Kath or Heather?
MS. HICKS: Well, I’m actually going to let Heather answer only because I’ve done a panel before with Heather and she, I think, is outstanding on this. I will follow her up, but I’d rather let her start.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right.
MS. CONLEY: (Laughs.) Well, let me – let me put two fingers on what Bill just said, my reflections on the TPP, which gets to the point about when you have a missing State Department what happens.
So my reflections on our pull out of TPP, and really the State of the Union address, we have no positive agenda anywhere. We have a negative agenda. We’ll pull out. We will have a, you know, military strike. But we have no positive what are we doing. And you have a positive agenda and a diplomatic strategy when you have a fully engaged foreign policy and a State Department that is vibrant and engaged, you have ambassadors in place, and you are using all of your tools – your diplomatic tools. You are cajoling. You are convincing countries to follow our lead and to support that. And without that infrastructure, you cannot do that.
And we now, year one into the administration, still do not have that functioning State Department and that working infrastructure to support a vibrant U.S. foreign and security policy. It is missing, and countries are moving without us.
And my other reflection on TPP: No one’s waiting for us. The 11 have moved forward.
MR. REINSCH: Exactly.
MS. CONLEY: The European Union and Japan are signing free trade agreements. The European Union is – everyone’s moving forward. So by the time – if we want to come back, that train’s moved out. They are already engaged, and we will then have to comply with their requirements. That’s what happens when you do not engage, when you are not the leader saying come on, this is how this is going to work.
And you can only do that when you have a connected, interactive, and joined-together interagency. We have a very broken interagency. We have one policy that is being led by the Department of Defense. We have some other policies at the National Security Council. And we really don’t have a visible State Department.
Now, that process is not highly unusual. Interagency processes, that’s World Wrestling Federation. I mean, you get in there and you really jump around. But at the end of the day, you have a focused policy, the president signs off on it, and everyone implements it. And in our process, we aren’t quite sure where the policy is, and then many times the president contradicts it repeatedly during the day. And it just has everyone not able to move forward.
And as I said, this is – for me, the missing element has been a vibrant diplomatic strategy for all of these global problems. We don’t have an ambassador in Seoul. We don’t have an ambassador in Ankara, Turkey, which is another huge, massive area. We need our diplomats, our best and our brightest to handle some of these challenges.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, there are a lot of these offices in Washington that are unfilled.
MS. CONLEY: Correct.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I mean, assistant secretaries at the – at the State Department as well.
MS. CONLEY: Right.
MS. HICKS: Well, I would just add, too, it’s – boy, can I pile on. (Laughs.) Heather was talking about WWF. Now I’m piling on. (Laughter.)
You know, yes, you have all the absences. But it’s even worse than that because you have not just a sort of benign absence, you have, you know, virtual if not actualized hostility toward the diplomatic corps. They certainly perceive that. So you have people leaving. You have people sensing that they’re not wanted. You have people who believe that they’re being sort of starved out, if you will, that there’s actually a desire to void the bureaucracy, the deep state, whatever, of Foreign Service officers. And that’s a generational challenge. We will not easily recover from that. It will take a commitment from whoever the next team is, however they are built. They will have to make it a priority if they want to build that back in any kind of timely manner.
And I just also want to add, you know, you look at any – I’m – I watch the military a lot. I love the United States Department of Defense. I think there are a lot of good things that are going on today that DOD is doing. But it is an instrument. It is not the end state of policy. And they know that. And there they are, out there alone. I mean, how is this supporting the military to have them out there alone, executing an Afghanistan policy, which, by the way, seems to have no purpose. And just recently the president said that we weren’t trying to negotiate with the Taliban when, in fact, that was apparently the stated strategy. So there’s a lot of confusion around that.
You have them out there in the counter-ISIS, which he took credit for last night. What is the end state of that? If it’s not a negotiated settlement in Syria, I don’t know what it is.
And then you get to North Korea. The end state for North Korea, I think all of us in the security community believe at some point is, of course, a political settlement, however you want to define that. That’s not going to – the military instrument is important to how you think through the tool set that gets you to the end state, but it’s not an end state, which is why the bloody-nose approach, in and of itself, doesn’t lead anywhere if it’s disconnected from some kind of whatever you want to call it, diplomatic or integrated strategy.
And I just want to quickly say this comes back to the trade piece as well, where, you know, if the president were pursuing bilateral approaches, which I think would fail, you know, we could at least actually test that theory. But they’re not happening. Nothing is actually happening. All we’re doing is at best stasis. That’s the best state of affairs. And as Heather just pointed out, people don’t wait around from us.
You know, I was telling my teenagers the world doesn’t revolve around them. Well, the world’s telling us that right now. With TPP 11, they’re moving on without us. The Europeans in their ways are moving on with their security initiatives and in other areas. And it’s just one year in. I mean, the world is not collapsing around us. Don’t get me wrong. But I think the question is how fast does that ball roll. What’s that momentum? And we are losing that momentum, and others are gaining it.
MR. SCHIEFFER: You know, I would also add to that that, from what I know about it – and I still keep up with it as best I can – the White House itself is as disorganized as the bureaucracy. And perhaps that’s where it all starts. I mean, this recent book, “The Fire and the Fury,” that just came out – I’m not endorsing this reporter’s methods, but I’ll tell you this. He captured the chaos that’s in the White House right now. I mean, there’s just no question about it.
You know, because I covered all the major beats in Washington, people always say to me what’s your favorite beat? I bet it’s the White House, right? And I always say, well, you get some great luggage tags with the White House press office and all of that. But the problem with covering the White House is they all work for the same guy. And I say, you know, when you get up on Capitol Hill, which is my all-time favorite beat, up there they’re all independent contractors, you know. Well, that’s how you get news.
Well, I’ve said that for years. But I’m going to have to change that, because that’s no longer apt, because there are as many factions today in the White House as there are up on Capitol Hill. And they’re all leaking about each other. They all have their own agendas. I mean, you know, they removed one faction when they get Bannon out of there. But you’ve still got four or five. You know, you’ve got the boys over here, and they represent their own agendas, and they don’t particularly like their brother-in-law, who’s married to their sister over here. And that’s another faction over there. When you had Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, that was yet another faction.
So all of this is going on. And, I mean, I can truly say – I’ve been in Washington for 48 years now – I have never, ever seen a White House that operates the way that this one does. And sometimes they get some things done, and sometimes they don’t. But a lot of the time it’s not just arguments over policy. It’s simply unfamiliarity with the process of how the government works. And I think they’re all still, you know, feeling their way on that front. And perhaps that’s too harsh a thing, but that’s kind of the way – that’s kind of the way it is.
So talk about Europe a little bit, because he didn’t talk about it very much at all. And, I mean, I think the fact that there was so little said – you know, all of you have said, you know, you were surprised that he didn’t talk about our allies. That’s so much a part of America, really. How is Europe taking all of this right now?
MS. CONLEY: Well, I think year one a lot of European leaders have come to the Oval Office. They’ve met with President Trump or they’ve met him at various summits and gatherings in Europe. I think they have a sense of, you know, going in – a successful meeting is making sure you go in with understanding the economic relationship, current business activities, purchases, procurements that would involve the U.S., making sure they explain, you know, their close relationship and what’s important to them.
I think the Norwegian prime minister got a little bit more than she bargained for after their meeting. It was a successful meeting. But I think that’s always the challenge. The meeting itself may be successful, but then it gets used in conversations and tweets, and then it sort of goes in a very different direction.
I think there’s just great caution. They just – they don’t know what is coming, so they tend to sort of take a lower-key approach to it. I think the exception to that is French President Emmanuel Macron, who will be coming here for the Trump administration’s first state visit at the end of April. So that will be – I think he, of all the European leaders, has the – has a relationship with the president that he can disagree with the president. He can share with him, you know, his concerns, whether that’s on the Iran nuclear agreement or the Paris climate agreement or on a variety of issues, the Iran issue, but that they continue to have a conversation. So he may have broken the code.
British Prime Minister Teresa May has had a much more difficult time with the president, although the United Kingdom certainly needs a strong bilateral relationship with the U.S. to navigate Brexit.
So I think, on the one hand, that’s – they’re trying to stay low, stay out of splatter zone. Everyone’s focusing on the upcoming NATO summit in July. The last time the president spoke to his NATO colleagues, I think they’re still recovering emotionally from that experience. (Laughter.) But, you know, I think we’re, you know, steady as she goes.
For me, just to caveat the thing that was, you know, the story of this week, it wasn’t in the State of the Union address, but before and now after is on the Russia investigation.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Yeah.
MS. CONLEY: And European allies have been pulled into this. The British have been pulled into this. Others have been – even the Australians have been pulled into the dossier effort. They are watching how this goes and what are its likely consequences, as we all are; so, you know, very concerned.
Look, this week we had – a Russian military jet came within five feet of a U.S. EP-3 over the Black Sea. I mean, this is just – we are, you know, so near a military accident here. It’s extremely dangerous over the Black Sea. And then we had the administration’s decision not to really implement robustly sanctions legislation. So away we go.
But this Russia story will continue. And, in fact, Mike Pompeo, in an interview on Monday, said that he anticipated that the Russians will continue to interfere, particularly at the midterm elections. He expressed confidence that, you know, we will have a free and fair election. But when you have the CIA director continuing to say that Russian influence is shaping our elections, where is the plan to protect the country from that? And that’s always been my question.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I’m glad you brought that up, because that was my next question, because really the Russia – investigation of Russia was really the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room was the bear, the Russian bear. And Kathleen, do you think the country is in danger now –
MS. HICKS: Sure.
MR. SCHIEFFER: – because of just what Heather’s talking about?
MS. HICKS: Absolutely.
MR. SCHIEFFER: People are not quite sure where we are.
MS. HICKS: Well, I definitely think the country is in danger from those who look for our weaknesses and seek to exploit them. And those can be states and nonstate actors. I would put Russia in that category. The question is how and how resilient are we to those challenges? And those are nonmilitary and military.
I certainly think attacks from any state or nonstate actor that tried to cut at the pillars of our constitutional democracy should be at the center of our concern, because it’s really our strength, in the end, as a democracy and to live out what we’ve built in our Constitution. That is the strongest signal for our foreign policy that attracts allies and partners to us. It demonstrates the value of the rule of law and it keeps authoritarian systems, you know, as being less attractive to other players.
So everything else that we’ve added to that, if you will, in the history of the republic, to include our great economic and military power, are very important. But at the base of it all, we have to have those pillars of democracy. So I am very concerned. Russia’s not the only country that concerns me, but it is a country that concerns me. And I think, to the extent that it’s become so politicized that we can’t even think of it in an objective threat way, which I think there are a lot of guilty parties involved in that, that’s a real problem.
And I respect the CIA director very much for coming out and saying this is a challenge to our democracy, which, regardless of who it favors in one particular electoral cycle or whether it’s going at the judiciary or whether it’s going, you know, at other pillars of democracy, free press, it’s eventually going to turn on others, because its goal is not to support one particular faction over time. Its goal is, at a minimum, to create chaos, and at a maximum to support whoever’s going to help them at any given time. So, yeah, I’m greatly worried.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Sue, I’m going to go back; one more Korea question. The Olympics are coming up.
MS. TERRY: Yes.
MR. SCHIEFFER: What do you think the impact of that is going to be?
MS. TERRY: Well, they’re going to have successful Olympics. But I’m not necessarily thinking that that’s going to lead to progress on the nuclear-missile front. So I just want to temper everybody’s expectation. I k now that South Korean government’s number one priority right now is to have successful Olympics.
From the North Korean perspective, there is zero political or financial cost of sending this delegation of athletes. And they’re sending 22 athletes and 230 cheerleaders. (Laughter.) They are vetted, carefully picked, vetted. And I will tell you, they’re going to be most beautiful North Korean women that you’ve ever seen. They’re – you know, they’re a version of Spice Girls. They’re taekwondo demonstrators.
So it’s a win-win for North Korea, because why not? It’s completely funded by the South Korean government. It’s a chance to have a complete image makeover in world stage to show that they’re a normal country. Look, they have all these beautiful women. And you get to maybe create fissure between United States and South Korea. That’s good. It’s also an insurance policy against future provocation and potentially our response, because now they just came to the world stage and did this whole thing.
So from North Korean perspective, this is great. And I’m – I think they’re going to have successful Olympics. I’m glad there’s a pause and a thaw in inter-Korea relations right now. And because U.S. and South Korea have postponed joint military exercises until Olympics and Paralympics is over, which would take us until about March 18th, I think we are OK until then.
The question is, what’s going to happen at end of March and early April, when United States and South Korea resume joint military exercises, which Secretary Mattis said we are going to do? And North Koreans are going to demand to South Korea – they don’t do things for free, so they’re going to make some demands on continuing – as a price of continuing the dialogue and disengagement, they’re going to demand things from South Korea.
So I’m concerned. We have a little bit of pause now, but I’m concerned, come first April, beginning of April, that we’re going to go back to where we were.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Will Trump go? Will Trump go?
MS. CONLEY: No. I think Vice President Pence is leading –
MR. SCHIEFFER: The vice president is going.
MS. CONLEY: – the U.S. delegation to Pyeongchang.
MS. TERRY: Yeah. The vice president is leading the U.S. delegation.
MR. SCHIEFFER: He’ll lead the U.S. delegation.
Well, who has a question in the audience? Here are several. Have we got microphones? Let’s see here. There’s one, way over there. Just – how about right here?
Q: Hi. Steve Winters, independent consultant.
I had the chance to see Victor Cha here at CSIS dozens of times, and the man is a pole of strength and stability and rationality. So this is the first I’ve heard about this shocking event. However, the question I have is, does – do any of the panel have the feeling that this same – opposite, shall we say, trend is – actually could be found in many places in D.C. today, in think tanks and otherwise?
For example, David Ignatius was moderator on a panel quite recently, and as moderator asked the other panelists, is it time to give Putin a bloody nose? And then we’ve had – we use the term the usual suspects just issued their big report on Iran and how we have to get totally – very forceful against Iran.
So it seems to me that it’s not just at the White House or in some limited circles that this other tendency, if you call it that, is apparent. Is anybody else getting this feeling?
MS. HICKS: So I’ll jump out and say I think much of this can be traced back to the events surrounding the Syrian red line, and the dismay about how that all unfolded. Some of that dismay – much of it probably – is focused on a belief that, you know – view, I should say – that the Obama administration failed to enforce the red line it created. Some of it is around allies and the view that the French and the Brits – kind of with the Brits in particular – left the U.S. sort of out there in the cold because their own domestic political processes were problematic. Some is directed toward the Congress because, as you may or may not recall, there was a hefty debate initiated inside Congress, particularly among Republicans but to include Democrats, about the need for an authorization for the use of military force before the president could go into Syria – sort of everything that could possibly demonstrate a lack of preparedness, willingness, capability to deter effectively future chemical weapons use played out in that case.
And the question is what lessons did the community take away, and maybe more to the point you are raising, specifically what lessons were taken away by those who currently have very senior positions in the United States government. And I think it’s fair to say that many people – and I would put myself generally in this category – feel that the Syria example was one of failed deterrence – it was – there were a lot of mistakes made – and that there has to be a better alignment between our rhetoric and our – the reality of what we’re willing to, you know. Deterrence is about will and capability. So we have to have the will and the capability.
And so I think North – the North Korean crisis, which has played out over, let’s just say, roughly six months of intense crisis, has intersected with that reality that Washington is sitting in. And, you know, my strong view is that we have a tendency as a public – a whole – including Washington as a polity – to swing on use of force issues. We swing very far to we want to use them – you know, whether it’s Nigerian school girls, for example – whatever the case is at the moment – maybe it’s humanitarian, maybe it’s like a Syria case – to a post-Iraq, if you will, we are not doing that again. The problem is we swing a lot, and so in a democracy such as we have, it becomes – I do think we become very erratic on those issues, and so you’re very fair to say these issues come up repeatedly, whether you call it a bloody nose, or how do we deal with strikes – that is a real challenge for the foreign policy community and the security community to deal with, which is when is a deterrent message appropriate and when is it fire in fury, and when is it too weak, when is it limp. And there’s no precise answer to that except doing it better is better than doing it poorly.
MS. CONLEY: So I just want to add I think this is also a consequence of a nation at war for 17 years.
MS. HICKS: Yes.
MS. CONLEY: Everything – every problem looks like a nail and we have a military hammer that can fix it. It’s easy, they’re efficient, they are the best in the world.
And what we’ve done over this time is absolutely atrophy all the other tools. We don’t even think about them first. The military strike, the bloody nose is always the first thing; it should be the last thing. That is failure because we can do it other ways, and again, getting back to the State of the Union speech, the fact that the president didn’t talk – that we have 300,000 U.S. forces around the world. They are on the front lines, but we are making sure that they won’t have to be used if we have strong policies.
And I – what I’m concerned about – we have more generals and admirals serving as ambassadors, we have our generals at the most senior levels of our government. The militarization, if you will, I think begins to lend us to everything is going to be a bloody nose strategy, and that’s why we have to swing back to this balance of strong diplomacy, and if we fail, by God, we’ve got – we can take care of it. But that’s the last option, not the first.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Right here.
Q: Hugh Grindstaff.
Yesterday there was a report out that the Russian intelligence chief met with U.S. intelligence. We had the Soviet – or the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the White House by themselves, the spy plane incident, five feet. It seems like we’re not really – I mean, if this had happened in an Obama administration, even in a Bush administration, there would be complaints of holy hell. What are we doing giving in to the Russians?
Could you comment on some of that?
MS. CONLEY: Sure, I can just take that very quickly.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Sure.
MS. CONLEY: And it’s not entirely clear. There have been conflicting reports whether the individuals were sanctioned or were not sanctioned, and that they were meeting on a counterterrorism agenda, and if you will remember when President Trump met with President Putin on the margins of the G-20 in Hamburg, they established sort of a counterterrorism working group of – heaven help us – a cybersecurity working group, and I’m not sure – some of those things have manifested, but this may be an outgrowth of that.
If you will remember, there was a bombing of the metro, it seems, in St. Petersburg, Russia, and we do cooperate. There are times when – I know because I focus on the Arctic here at CSIS – there are times when the head of FSB is really the best interlocutor for our coast guards to talk about how to ensure we have safety and security in the Arctic.
So there are exceptions. I don’t mean to blanket that. But it seems highly unusual – again, there is no transparency about what this is, and in this heightened, politicized – I mean, again, this – for me, the – it’s extraordinary what we’re watching with Chairman Nunes’ – this memo and this release. It’s extraordinary. I think sometimes we – it’s exhausting to be this outraged in this extraordinary – but what’s happening, what’s unfolding before our eyes is the complete polarization of this issue, so I’m not even sure, in some ways, we have the ability to be rational and say, well, this may have made sense to help protect Americans in this conversation, but because we don’t understand, and a lot of leaks and things like that, it’s absolutely unclear. But it seems to me to be focused on counterterrorism, which may be perfectly legitimate, but we don’t know.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. We need – here’s a woman right here. (Laughter.) We have to have –
Q: Thanks. My name is Rachel.
I’m a writer, and I’m also involved in climate activism, and one of the major missing pieces in last night’s State of the Union was mention of climate change. I see this gentleman who just asked a question is carrying a Washington Post from a couple of days ago that highlighted, once again, Pentagon reports on climate events and how that impacts our Department of Defense activities and basically the safety and security of the American people. So would you please comment on that? Thank you.
MS. HICKS: Well, I’ll just state in general – yes, I note – yes, I think it was quite noticeable that climate just wasn’t mentioned. It’s also, by the way, not in the National Security Strategy, which is some 30-odd pages, so it would be hard to argue it was overlooked because they were, you know, trying to be terse. It was clearly left out on purpose. So there is a conscious choice by this administration not to address climate as a national security issue at least.
Let’s move over to the Pentagon. For at least 15 to 20 years, the Department of Defense has been very consistent about the threat it believes that climate can pose. Largely we tend to think of climate as an accelerant of threats. It’s usually the second-order effect. So, for instance, climate can relate to – climate change can relate to drought conditions, which can lead to war. It can relate to food issues that relate to war. It can relate to dislocation, migration patterns, disasters that affect, say, for instance, a major oil-producing – say Nigeria or somewhere, where you then are – think you might have to have a military mission.
So we have long seen it as a challenge in that sense, and also, I think more to the point you were raising with regard to the safety and security of its own service members because they are working and operating in, for instance, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, along coastlines and in areas that are very prone to requiring mitigation – you know, states like Florida that have significant naval presence, Norfolk area, et cetera.
So this is a real issue for DOD. I mean, you can argue about climate one way or the other but, you know, you’re going to have your base operate, and you’re going to have to make sure that the lives and safety of your citizens are protected, their water, the electricity, et cetera. So DOD – I think this is a case where they are going to continue – they can’t call things climate-related, right? You’re not going to put up a request to Congress for money from this administration that’s got like a big climate line, but there are things that you have to do in normal operations and maintenance to protect yourselves, and I think you will see some of that go forward.
I have seen, just today, a disturbing report on a huge decrement in funding for clean energy, which relates to this. So I – you know, I think this is an area where there is a conversation to be had – maybe politely – on Capitol Hill about how the president’s budget is treated once it – once it reaches them.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right, we have one more question. Where – all right, right there. I’m just kind of going around the –
Q: Good evening. Lieutenant Colonel Dan Celada (ph), United States Marine Corps.
Mr. Reinsch, given the current administration’s restrictive trade policies, the weakening of the dollar, and the rollback of regulations on banking and finance, how do you see this impacting the economy a year or two from now?
MR. REINSCH: Huh. A year or two from now?
MS. CONLEY: Are you going to give us stock tips?
MS. HICKS: Yeah, I know – what would – we’re all going to adjust our portfolios on the – on the side.
MR. REINSCH: Well, I gave one to my wife, and she promptly followed my advice, and we’ll see if it works out. (Laughter.)
The actions he is taking now, I think – particularly the tax bill – will lead to, I think, further increase in the deficit. They are – they won’t admit this, but they seem to be trying to talk down the dollar, with some success, which will counteract some of the tax bill’s effects, but over the long term, I think – I’m not an economic forecaster, but I was looking at one today, and people were projecting a pretty good 2018 – not to the level the president has said we’re going to get, but slow – we’re a slow-growth economy, and that’s what we’re going to see. The analysis I was looking at was 2-1/2 percent, something like that, but gradual increase in inflationary pressure, which would mean a gradual increase and interest will rise in bond yields – interest rates. And I think no recession in sight, but a gradual, you know, sand leaking out of the bag possibly after that.
I think the wild card is there are some things that he could do – and we’ve alluded to some of them, like a Korean strike or, from my point of view, a NAFTA withdrawal or a series of very sharp restrictions on trade with China, which I think are coming – that would have serious adverse effect on the market in the short term – I mean, a big dip that would, I think, then sort of roil the economy and create a lot of uncertainty going forward.
But looking out two years from now I would be – I wouldn’t dare to take that one on.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, on behalf of TCU, CSIS, and the panel, thank you all very much. You were great. (Applause.)