Ambassador O’Brien and 15 national security experts, known as The Seminar Members, revealed how the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy developed and they identified several foreign policy challenges facing the Biden National Security Council.
The following is a rushed transcript.
Hugh Hewitt: Good evening I’m Hugh Hewitt, president of the Nixon Foundation. Tonight is the third meeting in the Nixon Seminar. All of the bios of the members of the seminar, that you can see now on your screen, can be found at Nixon Seminar. com, as well as a continually updated feed of their collective writings. When the foundation started the seminar up in February, Secretary Pompeo said he welcomed the opportunity to co chair it, but warned that tonight he would be a night that he could not be there to lead along with Ambassador Robert O’Brien due to a prior commitment. So I asked Ambassador O’Brien if tonight could be a seminar focused on how the national security council actually works, has worked, is supposed to work, and if we could also focus on his future. The NSC, as it is known, began in 1947 and for 75 years has been the principle form used by the President of the United States for the consideration of national security, military and foreign policy matters, with senior national security advisors, and cabinet members. Former NSC advisors form a sort of club as does everyone that has participated in the NSC’s meetings, many of whom are part of the Nixon Seminar. Not only was Ambassador O’Brien the national security advisor, Dr. Nadia Shadlow, and Matt Pottinger are former deputy national security advisors, Alex Gray, a former chief of staff of the NSC. I count not less than a half dozen members of the seminar who have been involved in its meetings or deputies meetings. Ambassador O’Brien is of course qualified to lead this by experience, but we also wanted to show you a sort of professionalism that develops among the bipartisan group of those who serve on the NSC over the years, and I want to use the opening tonight as well to introduce Ambassador O’Brien to our audience more completely, our co-chair, than time has previously allowed. First by this three minute clip which may embarrass the ambassador a little bit but does the job better than I can. It’s by former Utah Governor and Ambassador of both China and Russia, John Huntsman, who said this about Ambassador O’Brien.
Video: It’s now my great honor to introduce Robert O’Brien who is here, and we are so pleased to have you here. Thank you for it. Robert is a remarkable human being, and having worked with — I started counting them this morning, Robert, national security advisors. Probably seven or eight. Robert has a unique quality of being liked by everybody because he’s fair, because he’s smart, because he knows how to coordinate the inner agency process, which is the most important thing a National Security that any advisor can do, surprisingly some don’t. And they get off on their own tangents ideologically and pursue their own agendas. Robert is the arch type when it comes toNational Security advisors. I told him once earlier that he was the closest thing I’ve seen to Scowcroft. Uh, born and raised in Ogden, Utah. In terms of his ability to navigate the interagency process and to serve the president as well as he does, Robert has been the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, where he came to some notoriety. I knew him as SPEHA because everything in government is an acronym. The Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, where he carried the rank of ambassador. What’s remarkable about Robert is the depth and diversity of his background. Things like co-chairing the state departments partnership for justice reform in Afghanistan, no simple task, under republicans and democrats. Being a former US representative to a UN general assembly session, a big deal, in terms of understanding multilateral diplomacy. Senior legal officer that decided claims against Iraq resulting from the first Gulf War. The list goes on and on and on. He’s worn a uniform, a major in the Army Reserve part of the judge advocate corp. And in the private sector confounding Larson and O’Brien in Los Angeles, a nationally recognized litigation firm, and we can all see the fruits of his labor, in the last month or two. Historic breakthroughs and stuff that should be front page news. And Serbian Kosovo, a corner of the world a lot of folks don’t understand and don’t think about, organizing and executing a peace summit there. Robert, we’re grateful for your service to the country. We’re grateful not just for you playing a bureaucratic role, but for you playing a problem solver role, because you were making things happen in ways that do promote peace and stability, which is what this conference is all about. We welcome you, my friend. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here.
Hugh Hewitt: I’m pleased to introduce former national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, in a clip also about Ambassador O’Brien at a previous event.
Video: He helped secure the 2018 release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson, and as of the end of 2019, 22 American hostages, held overseas, had been released during the Trump Administration. Even critics, such as Peter Brugan, can see that when it comes to freeing American hostages, the trump Administration has a good story to tell. Robert O’Brien is an important part of that good story. He is well prepared for the job as national security advisor, the best foreign policy job in government, bar nine, but I may be president — prejudice. He is also one of the most challenging — and we are fortunate to have Robert with us tonight to tell us about it.
Hugh Hewitt: There is former national security advisor and secretary state, Dr. Condoleezza Rice at an event earlier this year.
Video: I especially want to thank Robert for your service over these years and the excellent way in which you conducted yourself in the conduct of American foreign policy, and for the smooth transition to Jake, and to the uh Biden Administration.
Hugh Hewitt: And finally here is the current national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, president Biden’s national security advisor at the same event.
Video: First of all Connie, thank you for uh giving us the opportunity to have this conversation. I want to just start by thanking Robert for the really great partnership he provided through the transition process. It was a strange, and in some ways, turbulent transition, but for his part and Robert, thank you just for everything that you did to help pathe the way for media to come into this for our team to get on board and for us to get up and running at a moment when we faced considerable challenges around the world from both great power competitors and of course the range of national threats as well.
Hugh Hewitt: As you can see from the three clips of former national security advisors and especially in the remarks of national security advisor, Sullivan, Ambassador O’Brien esteemed by the national security community, of course but also that at its best the NSC isn’t about politics, though politics of course impact it, and with a few exceptions it’s alumni share professional courtesy that marks seriousness. The seriousness that comes with everything on the agenda of the NSC. Ambassador O’Brien, with that introduction, the seminar is yours to lead solo tonight, but I have one request. Since everyone, almost everyone always commits to the run the NSC, we have the so called Scowcroft model, could you please begin by explaining slowly for the Steelar’s fans and the USC alumni out there, exactly what the Scowcroft
Robert O’Brien: Well thank you very much for that generous introduction, Hugh, I’m going to call a few people after seeing that and I’m grateful for the — and I thank my predecessor, Jake Sullivan and governor Huntsman for their kind remarks. Uh, it was an honor to serve and uh especially to serve in the same chair that the Condie, and Stephen Hadley, and Henry Kissinger and many other great leaders served in. I’ll have some brief remarks tonight but I think we have a really terrific opportunity uh tonight at the seminar to hear from uh some of the folks who really made the NSC run and um get their take on it. Let me start with a couple rules for a national security advisor, and I think it’s important to realize that rule number one is that the national security agenda and the foreign policy agenda is the president’s, it’s not the national security advisors. And the 47 national security advisors — the act of 1947 makes it clear that the function of the NSC is to advise the president of the United States, it’s not to set the policy but to advise him. So, I think it’s important and I think that Governor Huntsman pointed this out in his comments, that the national security advisor is there to advise the president. The full title is the assistant to the president for national security affairs, and it’s to advise and assist the president and formulate his policy, his agenda, and uh he is or he or she is the person elected by American people to conduct our foreign policy. And our job as the advisor is to facilitate the president and make sure he gets the best options and can implement his own policy. I think the second thing, uh the second important rule is to adopt the Brent Scowcroft model and Brent was the national security advisor under both president Ford and President George H.W. Bush and it was a great air force officer prior to that. And had tremendous experience in government, and had a temperament that was just terrific. Unfortunately, when i took office, I met Brent before but did not have a chance to talk to him or get his counsel because of his health at the time. We lost him while I was in office, and that was a tragedy for the country but he led a great life. But when I look back at the national security advisors taking office, everyone of them says that they’re going to implement the Scowcroft model. It’s kind of a religious incantation or a ritual. Not all of them actually stick to it, I try to stick to the Scowcroft model right up to January 20th, 2021 when we handed the baton, my team handed the baton over to Jake Sullivan and his team and the Biden Harrison administration. And so let me explain at least for me what the Scowcroft model means and uh. So number one is the NSC is not operational and that means that the NSC and senior directors and directors shouldn’t be calling in airstrikes they shouldn’t be talking to captain of ships that are going to launch missiles, uh they shouldn’t be consulting with uh commanders out of forward operating bases, uh they shouldn’t be out operationalizing the president’s policy. We have the state department to do diplomacy, we have the DOD to do military, we have the CIA to collect, and the NSA and other agencies to collect. We have the treasury department to implement economic policy and the other departments and agencies, the coast guard and homeland security and those functions should not be operationalized, and they’re there to probably two exceptions to be operational to maybe prove the rule. One are hostage negotiations where there is a specific role carved out for the NSC, the head of counter terroism at the NSC, and the other is when the national security advisor is going out as a representative of the president to negotiate on behalf of the president and that’s best in consultation and coordination with the secretary of state, but those are the two exceptions of the rule but for the most part it shouldn’t be operational. Number 2: process is important and no one likes bureaucratic process, I hated it when I was the special presidential for hostage affairs, I couldn’t stand having to go to PCCs or Policy Coordination Committee meetings or Deputies Committee Meetings or principle meetings or hashing things out, I just wanted to have action and move forward, but those meanings are important because you want to make sure you have a well thought out policy. That the president receives the very best options from his counselors, his cabinet secretaries, and the agency heads and that snap decisions aren’t made that might lead to mistakes. And so process is important. Number 3, the principles neither day in court. Not the uh, the cabinet secretaries and agency heads aren’t always going to agree on issues and sometimes they’re going to disagree and disagree vehemently. And I thought it was important that in those cases that we crystalize the decisions that we really got to the bottom of what the policy concerns were and then that we made sure that the president in some cases the vice president were able to adjudicate uh the disagreements so that both sides knew that they’d have an opportunity to see the president. That they’d make their best cases, then the president would then make a decision. and they would stick with that decision and hopefully not have the decision re litigated or appealed or that sort of thing. I think number four it’s important for the national security advisor, because of his or her proximity to the president, you have walkin privileges in the Oval Office and the President’s dining room. You have “walk in” privileges to the residence, uh you can call the president day or night and sometimes you have to do that with sad news. For example, if an american service member is killed overseas or there is a terrorist attack or uh so you have constant access to the president. And I think it’s important for your cabinet colleagues to understand that the secretaries and the department heads understand that you are not going to use access to the president. Your proximity with an office that is down the hall from the oval office to push your own agenda. But that you’ll make sure that their views are heard and that you’re an honest broker and that you present their views fairly even if they’re views that you disagree with and that garners respect and I think it helps the entire process. And the reason for that and look, the president may ask you your opinion and I had opinions on various issues, my predecessors, my successor, all have strong opinions. We’ve all lived in the foreign policy, national security world, but I always thought it was important for the president to hear everybody else’s views and then allow the president to ask me at the close of the meeting what my thoughts were or sometimes it would be later in private in a phone call or in a conversation back in the dining room at a later time. Okay so like you heard all the arguments so you heard what everyone had to say what are your thoughts and and when your colleagues understand that you’re going to be fair and present their positions fairly it builds a lot of confidence and trust in the process. And the reason for all this is, and it was my goal every single day was to make sure that we got the best possible advice for the President of the United States. That he had the best intelligence, that he had the best analysis, that he had the best arguments and wisdom and counsel from his cabinet secretaries and um other key figures in the administration that might be weighing in on that issue. And then with that best advice the president could make his decisions and well, maybe the last point of the Scowcroft model is once that decision is made, once the president has spoken and he is the elected leader, none of us uh none of us senior staff, that none of the cabinet secretaries that were actually elected to their positions of the vice president. Once the president made his decision we try to do our best to make sure the agencies and departments all the way down to the lowest operational level, implemented the decision of the president of the united states and uh that was kind of the flip side of the NSC not being operational. And the NSC not getting out of its lane and directly uh working on issues was to make sure that the agencies that had responsibility for those issues did so and did so in a manner consistent with the president’s decisions. So in my view that’s the uh Scowcroft model. I think we did a pretty good job of the time I was in office of implementing it and uh that’s what we tried to do. One of the things that helped us along those lines, it was a decision I made very early on, a decision I made in the first couple days of taking office, and that was to streamline the NSC.
I spent some time very early on with Condoleezza Rice, Secretary Rice was very kind and flew to Washington to see me I think it was the first weekend or second weekend that I was in office and she came into her old office on a Sunday afternoon and spent a couple hours with me and we talked about the size of the NSC. We talked about the fact that back when John F. Kennedy, President Kennedy dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the policy professionals that were at the NSC were about twelve people, and uh he got through the cuban missile crisis with twelve advisors. And we also talked about the fact that when she was in office, facing the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, the global war on terror, her NSC was about 105 to 110 policy professionals covering the whole world. And yet under President Obama it ballooned up to almost 250 policy professionals and her view was, my view was, and several of my predecessors felt the same way as if the NSC had become unwieldy. Uh we wanted to make sure the department and agencies had an access point and knew who they could deal with, knew that that person had access to the national security advisor himself or herself um it limited the numbers of meetings because the more people at the NSC, the more meetings that they wanted to call with the inner agency. And I wanted to have accountability when I received a memo I wanted to see one or two or three names on the memo, the director and the senior director advising on the course of action and I could pick up the phone and call them and reach down into the NSC and someone I knew and hopefully trusted and respected and could ask them questions about what they were sending up to the front office. And we felt that a lean team could really get more done and I think that we showed that the number of principle and deputies committees meetings went up to an all time high during the time that uh I was in office working with Matt Pottinger and Alex Grey. We covered a range of issues in depth that i don’t think had been covered at least in the Trump Administration level, but I think most observers, republican or democrat who watched the NSC perform in this streamline fashion were pretty impressed with what we got done in a year and a half. We increased NATO funding by non-US NATO members that were four hundred billion dollars over ten years. That had a huge impact not just for US taxpayers, but also for our ability to defend Europe and the West against Russia and against China. We brought justice to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, who killed American hostages fully and sought off in the case of Mueller. We negotiated an economic normalization uh treaty with Serbian Kosovo agreement with a lot of help from Rick Grenell, our ambassador to Germany who served as a special envoy for the president in that region. WE brought about the Abraham accords and brought peace to Israel and four of its arab neighbors, it was something that was unprecedented. And we helped develop a new bipartisan consensus on the challenge that the People’s Republic of China presented to the United States and its a challenge we will face for generations. Uh maybe the most difficult challenge our country has ever faced, and those are only a few of the things but it was amazing and maybe a little counterintuitive by shrinking the NSC we actually got more done uh by the NSC. So tonight’s program is going to be unique. I’m actually looking forward to it myself. I don’t think we’ve had a program or I haven’t seen a program like this one before. I have seen a couple of programs before from national security advisors get together and talk but I haven’t seen a program where we have the former chief of staff so we are going to hear from Alex Grey who was the chief of staff of the NSC and he’ll talk about the structure of the NSC and then how it operates. Uh we are going to hear from Dr. Nadia Shadlow who was a deputy uh assistant to the president for national security affairs and uh she was responsible for she was the architect for national security strategy which we used everyday in my time in office. Uh we are going to hear from Matt Pottinger, the deputy NAtional Security Advisor, while I was serving, he’ll talk about the NSP before process and how we run the NSC. Uh, we are going to hear from Kimberly Reed who is the only person I think on the participant here who actually ran a government department or agency so we are going to hear from chairman Reed on her perspective. And then we are going to turn to Congressman Mike Gallagher and hopefully Congressman Mike Waltz if he can join us to get their view from the hill. And then we will have an open discussion with the uh with the members of the participants of the seminar to talk about the NSC, how it operates, what works well, what does not work well, and how it affects American National Security foreign policy. So I’d like to start with Alex Grey, the former white house chief of staff Mark Meadows used to regularly tell me that Alex Grey was the best chief of staff in washington and uh to carry some favor with Mark I’d say he is the second best, isn’t he Mark? and uh Mark would laugh and say no no he’s the best and that’s uh North Carolina drawl and uh I agree. Alex was a terrific chief of staff and often times the NSC looks like its moving along and performing very smoothly uh as we are going forward and it did run very well but to use a nature metaphor, I always thought of the NSC as a duck looks like it was purposefully going across a pond and uh very smoothly and very efficiently moving and yet if you look below the surface, the webbed feet of the duck were paddling frantically to propel the duck forward. And I think there were a lot of daysm, but more importantly there were a lot of nights when we were furiously paddling under the water, under the surface of the NSC and that was Alex. Uh so Alex you and your team, the executive secretary that travel resource management worked hard to keep us moving forward so uh talk to us about a typical day in the life if you can of the national security council chief of staff if there is such a thing. And uh why don’t you explain to us the structure of the NSC and its budget and how you operated on a day to day basis in the front office of the national security council. So Ill turn it over to you Alex thank you.
Alex Gray: Thanks Ambassador um I appreciate the opportunity. So a couple things about the NSC that I think help create the context for better understanding what it is, how it operates and how it fits into US National security policy more broadly, the national security council is the statutory body that advises the president, its secretaries of treasury, state defense, chairman of the joint chiefs, and some others. The NSC staff are the folks who sit in the old executive office building right across from the west wing on west executive avenue and they’re the ones who when you hear the NSC colloquy referred to that’s usually who we are talking about, its the staff. And there are a couple things about the staff and the institution of the NSC that help um kind of set the context for why it is the way it is. The first is that the budget of the NSC traditionally in Washington terms is basically engligible. It’s basically about ten million dollars and because the budget is so small, there is only at any given time about 20 people who are employees of the NSC who work in policy jobs. So there may be folks who we got a whole host of really talented and impressive people who are on the operational side of the NSC, the human resources, the IT, the records management, but in terms of policy professionals, the people that we think of as formulating the policies that make it to the national security advisor and to the president at any given time there really are only about 20-25 of them who are — their paycheck comes from the executive office of the president. The rest of the NSC which policy professionals whose under Ambassador O’Brien it was about at the end of his tenure it was about 107 policy professionals when he left office. Those folks are over ninety percent drawn from the departments and agencies of the US government and we call them deputies. They serve a year to two years. They’re brought from their agencies and most of them serve what we call NSC directors. NSC directors are the backbone of the NSC; they are the working level subject matter experts. They’re drawn mostly from the state department, The defense department, and the treasury department, and the intelligence community but they come from a whole range of agencies. We say from the labor department to the health human services energy and they work in directorates that are regional and functional. So we have all the geographical regions of the world covered, but we also have everything from counter terroism to intelligence to defense policy to weapons of mass destruction and much more.
And it’s those folks who come from their agencies and their departments and you know a year to two years at the NSC that are the kind of the first line of defense for policy at the White House. So what they do everything from leading the basic level policy process whis is called a sub PCC, or policy coordinating committee, they develop the — working with the inner agency colleagues they share those meetings which are the equivalent to a director is a deputy assistant secretary in one of the other departments and they send up options and papers to their senior. And their senior is what we usually call a senior director. And the senior directors are traditionally not always but traditionally they are political appointees. And so those are the folks along with the national security advisor and his front office who are usually the employees of the white house rather than deputess. and so it’s these Senior directors who are senior director for Asia, senior director for intelligence, so on, and they are the equivalent of an assistant secretary in a department or agency. and it’s these folks who are kind of the middle level, middle to senior level policy folks who are a lot of they share policy coordinating committees or PCCs. and a lot of the real substantive formulation of policy gets done at that level before and really only after that its the deputies committee shared by deputy secretary, and well shared by the deputy national security advisor and attended by the deputy secretaries of the departments and then up to the principles committee uh chairman of the national security advisor and staffed by the secretaries of the departments. So that’s really the structure of the NSC, and a large part of why it’s so lean and its staffed mostly by folks of the inner agency is really because the NSC has a tiny budget in Washington terms.
Um a couple of things to just think about in terms of the size of the NSC- so we talk about the NSC- and it’s fluctuated in size and the ambassador right sizing it to where it when he left which was a little under one hundred ten folks um that doesn’t count the very impressive and very and very sophisticated support staff that the NSC has. We’ve all heard of the White House situation room. We don’t count that that that number — that’s a whole separate part of the NSC and we left that unchanged in terms of numbers and they do an amazing job and we had records and access management folks and we had the resource management team which functioned as the NSC’s HR department and we had a whole host of other kind of support elements that were essential to do the work of the NSC day-to-day. And I think having spent a year and a half as chief of staff, one of the things that is often talked about as a challenge of the NSC is the inherently small size and the limited budget and the reliance upon detailed staff. I would actually take the converse view. I think it’s one of the strengths of the NSC because it really requires the national security advisor in his office to really require it to operate within a traditional structure of how the NSC was conceived. Going back to Kennedy and Eisenhower, which is an advisory staff for the principles and for the president, not as an operational node to the government. By having a limited budget, by having a limited staff, it really forces us to go back to first principles. So I think that in my experience that’s one of the hidden strengths of the NSC was that we had to operate in that manner to some extent and it allowed us to really be effective for the president and to come up with some of the achievements that the am bass door mentioned.
Robert O’Brien: Thank you Alex that’s great. I always felt like your putting hamburger helper in the budget and somehow always stretching it to make sure that we can accomplish our goals especially with foreign travel. You did a terrific job. And thank you for that summary. I think for folks even for folks within the government, um and folks of that contact with the NSC, they weren’t aware of some of those issues, so thanks for that presentation. I’d like to turn next to Dr. Nadia Shadlow who is a friend and was the deputy national security advisor, and my other good friend H.R. McMaster um served earlier in the Trump administration, and in December of 2017 president Trump did something that was relatively unique for a first term, for the first year of a first term president, he issued the national security strategy. And that national security strategy number one, refocused US attention, refocussed the attention of the entire agency but also the NSC on the area of great power competition. The competition between the United States, China, Russia, and um really a new era for this country. And we used that strategy almost everyday while I was national security advisor a couple years later as a took office and it was really kind of the Christmas tree that stood and all the policies and things and the ornaments that we put on that national security strategy. Nadia, I know — you’re modest about this but you were the architect of — the national security strategyN and got it ready for the president, if you will can you can take us behind the scenes. How did you develop that document um a lot of cooks in the kitchen on the u-s- strategy for national security. All the different departments of the agencies um folks within the white house executive office of the president. How did you corrale the inter agency to get it done and then how did you write it so it didn’t look like a document that was done by a committee and then without devoluming any confidences of your communications or HR communications with the president, how was it presented to the president and how did we get that document done, and you know in eleven months which was something that was pretty remarkable.
Nadia Schadlow: Thanks Robert and it’s great to be here and to see everyone and to see friends many of whom are on this actual call were key to the development of the document so um Matt and Alex and even you know congress, you know me and Mike Gallagher talked about it when he you know — so there are lots of contributors to the document. I’ll start with a little bit — first I’ll step back a little bit and explain why I think strategy overall is important, and then I’ll go into some of the specifics. So um not only as you mentioned early on in the call, The 1947 security act created the national security council but it also mandated, it actually did mandate in early national security reports from various administrations. The Nixon administration actually used to issue what were called State of the Worlds.” They’re very interesting, very well written, very interesting. I urge people to go back to some of the state department archives to look at them, it’s worth it. Um in 1986, the Goldwater Nichols act which was designed to help the Department of Defense work together more effectively, the services, whether or not it did that I’m not sure, but nonetheless it also reaffirmed that an administration needed to get a national security strategy out. Um president Reagan issued his in 1987 and then every administration has done so, so I sort of knew that going in because obviously I wanted to read past documents and understand a bit about the process. But also I needed to understand why they’re important overall to maybe there’s some skeptics out there. Well, first, they set the strategic direction for our country, they’re important because they describe the world as it is or they should and that’s what the 2017 strategy did. And you need to describe the world correctly or present a correct diagnosis of a problem because that’s the first step towards solving it or making progress on it. So that description is important. Um second they transmit this so the citizens of a country and that’s also important and that’s also somewhat debated. Um when we were going through the process of developing this document, lots of people said, “Well Nadia, who are you writing this for? Who are we writing this for?” And I said well the American people, but that’s not really obvious, some wanted it written so that it would appeal to the bureaucracy, some wanted it so that it would appeal to allies or partners. Now it doesn’t mean you don’t address those audiences, but I think it’s a different type of document if it’s designed to speak to the American people. And that’s important especially because it’s the American people and their congressmen and women, and their senators who need to take the decisions to actually make the changes that we needed to make. Right? So it was important that there was a baseline understanding of what the United States was facing. And third, the process of strategy forming itself requires coalition building. Right? I think that’s an under appreciated element of strategy. Eisenhower did say it, there’s that famous quote, but it really is important that planning process and it’s even more, it’s coalition building. Because only with those coalitions do you get actual implementation. Right? Because that’s what Ambassador O’Brien said early on, the NSC- can’t implement anything, it has no money, virtually no staff, no resources. Implementation comes down to all the departments in the agencies. The defense department, the state department – as Mary knows. You know all the agencies are responsible for implementation and I’m sure Kimberly Reed will talk about that too. So basically that’s why strategy making is important, and I think it plays the same role for businesses as well. But it’s important. And then fourth there were also related integrated plas on various regional and functional areas. So they’re important too. The strategy is the overarching document, but underneath that there’s specific plans. Matt knows, and Alex knows with the Indo-Pacfic strategy which I also urge you to take a look at it was declassified at the end of the Trump and it’s there on a website somewhere. So all of those elements make strategy important. Now the Trump administration strategy I think was especially important because it really shifted the country in a different strategic discretion, for its critics that was horrifying. For others it was a welcome sort of – it was a necessary shift. There are four fundamental assumptions in that document. The first was that the bet that we made on China in 2001 that China could become a responsible stakeholder in the international system, had not panned out. It had expanded its power at the expense of our power and the power of our allies and our partners. So that was a fundamental shift. While the previous administration many, many actually share that assessment, the White House chose not to to call China a strategic competitor so that was a big difference in the document. And there are reasons for that that we can get into. Um second the Trump strategy recognized that political liberalization and the growth of transnational organizations had not tempered rivalries still competition going on in these organizations. They depenneded and they were driven by the desires and the powers that are part of them. Right? International organizations exist because countries provide them with the resources and countries are part of those organizations. So they’re driven and they’re a part of that great power competition that we have seen. Third, the Trump strategy recognized that globalization and inter economic dependence were not on mitigated goods. That they generated inequal ties and vulnerabilities and then needed to be discussed and changes needed to be made. And finally it also brought out that technologies, especially digital technologies, were perhaps at this point not so much benefitting democratic societies, but favoring authoritative states. Previously, President Bush, President Clinton had hoped that these technologies would help democracies flourish, and that individuals derive more power and I think the balance has unfortunately shifted. Although that’s debatable. So, to sum up fundamentally, the strategies set a different strategic direction for the United States. Now going in, um not everyone as you can imagine in various parts of the bureaucracy were going to be happy about challenging some of these assumptions that I mentioned right? So that was the key issue, so what I wanted to do early on was to be inclusive. I think lots of the bureaucracy at the State departments and USAIT, the treasury department, even at DOD were very nervous about what the Trump administration was going to do coming in. So the first thing we did was say let’s have meetings at the working level, as Ambassador O’brien said, the PCC level, the policy coordinating committees, these are sort of the working level meetings, let’s bring people together to talk about some of these themes. To help them understand what we were thinking and why. Um so that’s what we did. We had meetings on the concept of sovereignty, that was another key element of the document because right, President Trump believed that sovereignty was a really important feature of the international system. And it’s not good for democracies to lose their sovereignty um so that was a subject of the meeting. In addition, to China, Russia, functional areas such as defense, missile defense, there are about twelve different topics we covered. Now we could have gone on and done much more than that but we were quite cognizant of the time pressure that we were under. As we were hosting these — as we were hosting these meetings at the security council, we also went out and spoke to department secretaries and again this was part of coalition building. Um we went to meet with the secretary Ross um with secretary Perry, with secretary Madis was in the White House a lot so we met with him but we were keeping them informed of what where thinking was and also soliciting their views and we were also cognizant of that political element to all of this. So we made sure to understand the views of everyone at the same time, early on, we decided to structure the document around four main interests, key American interests. Now you would think that most national security strategies would begin with what are America’s interests but actually many past ones don’t. You have to find them. They are sort of in there, but they are kind of buried in there. We decided to structure ours around what became known as these four pillars. Protect the homeland, increase economic prosperity, preserve peace through strength, and advance American values. And we began to talk about that and I remember even Christian White on this call came in and we were also reaching out to the media and to others to explain what we were thinking. Now every administration wants to do those things. Protect the homeland, preserve peace through strength, advance American values. But the difference is in the how. How they do it. How they think about that problem set. That’s what the difference is. So as I mentioned the Trump administration thought about all of these areas in a different way from the previous administration. While this was going on we began to draft each of these four pillars. Okay? What did the president mean by promoting American prosperity and growing American prosperity. What did he mean by preserving peace through strength? Advancing American values. Each of these pillars had a description and we did as you mentioned Robert, we really did try to make the distinction as clear as possible. Um so the beginning of the document which is just a few pages I happen to have it here, on my desk, it’s not that long right? It’s really not that long. And if you really just read the first sort of seven eight pages. Which I even think my son’s high school friends even read a couple of them did. He didn’t read it. But many of them did and many of them would say to me on the sidelines of a game when I was able to get to the game that they understood it. They liked it and that made me feel really good because that was the purpose of it. So we were drafting and at the same time we were communicating, we were communicating directly with DOD colleagues, with the department of the homeland security, um with individuals in the treasury department. Making sure that their inputs were taken into account the whole time. But also drafting ourselves, keeping the “electrons” as it’s known. You know keeping the document on our computers. There are four people in my office total and we kept close control over the document. Because especially at the end, some of you will not be surprised, lots of people try today stick things into the document that shouldn’t have been there. I see Mary smiling because I know having worked at the State Department probably happens, so you saw people just trying to change words, but words that would actually have a significance, you saw people try to go add words but words that would also have significance, so I wanted to make sure at at end we knew what was in there. Because by the end everything is always more rough and you do naturally have less control than you like. Throughout this process as well, General McMaster, the National Security Advisor briefed the president quite often on the contours of the documents. He traveled with him often, and you know Ambassador O’brien when you are on a plane it’s a good thing to get a principle, right? Many of you know on this call know, planes are those times when you can get someone’s attention because there is nowhere to go and no one else can sort of try to get into the meeting. So that was a good time for the National Security Advisor to discuss how the document was unfolding. I also had the opportunity to brief the president, um twice I think on the document. Once I think with slides we were working on the contours of it. Um and then later in more detail. Um we worked very closely with the speech writers as well. His speech writers, so there was a lot of collaboration and I would like to say you know throughout this whole time when there were an awful lot of leaks coming out of the administration for all different reasons, it was one of the few things that was not leaked which was sort of interesting. I think because it was enough sense that people felt that they were a part of it and by the end they wanted to see it. And then finally we also worked quite closely with allies and partners. Um I went to think tanks often. They hosted big events so there was a lot of compunction with allies and partners during that period. And many of the deputy chiefs and ambassadors were in town will back me up and later sort of say hey nadia, you really I mean the Trump administration was communicatinging more with our allies and partners then many instances of the previous administration which again you know in at least in the Washington context, I was conscious of insuring that they come in and they came into the old executive office building. We held meetings on that bottom floor because you can’t — that’s where you are allowed to hold meetings and um and they were appreciative I think, so there was nothing surprising in the document to them in the end. So I’ll leave it there. I’ve talked enough. I think I covered what you wanted ambassador.
Robert O’Brien: Thank you Nadia that was a tour de force and I urge everyone, if you haven’t read the national security strategy of 2017 it’s really a model of clarity, and I can see where your son read it. I’m sure he read it and may not have told you.
Nadia Schadlow:: No no.
Robert O’Brien: I can see why his friends read it and understood it and enjoyed it. It was a terrific document. That was an extraordinary exposition of what it came to be. Thank you. Let me turn it to Matt Pottinger, my good friend, and my deputy, and when I selected Matt to be my deputy, one of the first things that Henry Kissinger said to me before we talked about policies, and he said hey good move. And um so I was pleased to have um that man as my deputy. He became one of the best known ADPI deputy national security advisors probably in history with his work on COVID and China. So Matt, let me take just about five minutes to talk to us about what would happen if an issue showed up and the presidential daily brief um a crisis emerged and you can address either a real or a hypothetical um issue. And show us the map of the house you got the policy process working starting with the sub PCC to the PCC to the DC and how you got things teed up so by the time I got to it, to the chair of principle committee meeting, I left it with you at my side, um. How did that happen? And maybe you can just give us a historical context of how the government made these decisions both before and after the 1947 act and before there was an NSC. Try to do that in five minutes because I do want to hear from Kim Read. And the congressmen as well and some of the other participants. But um I think you probably conducted more deputy committees meetings than more um process of the other deputy and um um for that same period of time the NSC history. so give us a rundown of how you did it.
Matt Pottinger: Ambassador O’brien, thank you so much I’ll keep it short. I took the hint. Um maybe what I’ll do is just tell a quick story because the NSC at its inception was first imagined as a way to constrain the president of the United States. And luckily that plan failed spectacularly and ended up becoming an instrument for the president of the United States to serve you know him and make sure that his intent would actually be painfully carried out. But it goes back to um Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And um one of the things that people forget is that you know by the time that he died in the closing months of world war two, um you know the permanent government, that’s like a polite term for the deep state, okay? Or you know, the career bureaucracy was actually really exasperated with FDR. Um FDR was not a process guy he was not someone that um followed, did a lot of meetings with a lot of process and you know he didn’t have a national security advisor. He didn’t have a NSC staff. He didn’t really even have a chief of staff. Um there were no joint chiefs, um you basically have the department of the navy, the department of war, um which was really the army. And he really liked to do things one on one. He didn’t like having cabinet meetings. He didn’t like NSC style meetings. Um and um he use today to say um you know the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing. He would sometimes assign the same task to the two different cabinet officers. Um and it was just his style. He would basically write his decrees and letters and send them out to his commanding generals in the field during the war. And so by the end of war and twelve years of FDR you know the government bureaucracy was pretty exhausted and they were exasperated. They really wanted to build more processes around the president of the United States. And they also assumed that President Truman wasn’t going to be up to the job. And this is a funny recurring theme in American history. That um you knew it assumes the incoming president isn’t going to be up to the job. And you saw this um with um when President Reagan was elected. You know, the Republicans establishment assumed that he was not up to the task. That he was going to be a lightweight. They try today convince him to bring on Gerald Ford as his vice president so that it would be a quote un quote co-presidency. They said he needs to have Henry kissinger come back in and be his secretary of state. And you know Reagan turned all of this down and I think I did pretty well. He defeated the Soviet union and won the cold war so he did just fine. Um you know, following his own instincts. So even even president Truman thought that Ike you know, five star hero of world war two supreme ally commander wasn’t going to be up for the job because he was going to be too rigid. They even made fun of Ike after Ike took office. They made fun of the fact that he had a chief of staff, he said you don’t need a chief of staff you should be your own chief of staff. You know, what’s the matter with you are you an auto Motton. And so, um so he he himself was a victim of this sort of prejudice of this um recurring theme. That that people weren’t going to be up to the job so the department of defense tried to build an NSC as they built this concept it would really just be the pentagon into the White House. They would be a liaisons officers and so forth but really the pentagon was really going to run policy and the nice president sitting over there in the oval office would kind of take their advice. Well, Truman was a very very smart, very shrewd and tough operator. His awe shucks mid western demeanor notwithstanding, you know, he wasn’t going to get taken for a ride. So you know he really coopted with the NSC and began shaping it into his own staff. And that’s what really became what Ike and president Esienhower up perfecting and what went onto become the Scowcroft model. And you know it only works when it’s really the president’s staff, um and it also really only works when the staff who work on the NSC realize that they aren’t necessary. They’re good, the president is going to be more successful when he has a loyal NSC staff, but we’ve had presidents who have won world wars without an NSC staff. So I always try to remind the NSC staff to be humble about the fact that America has done pretty well even without us. Um um but um with complexity today, it’s preferable to have a staff that’s loyal to the president and is going to be the honest broker. No other department or agency would ever, whatever department or agency is put in charge of something and they try to coordinate it always goes badly because the other department didn’t really want to listen or sub ordinate themselves to another cabinet. So it’s really only the national security advisor and by proxy his deputy national security advisor and then his senior director and directors who have that man date to convene the US government and to be an honest broker and to squeeze options out and to present those options up to the next level. And that’s really what I was doing as deputy.
Robert O’Brien: All right thanks Matt. That was terrific, and terrific history and um it’s always interesting to see how the bureaucracy reacted to Truman, how they reacted to Esisenhower, how they reacted to Reagan and certainly um we saw some of that with president Trump as well. Let me turn to chairwoman Kim Reed. Kim was the chairman of the EXIM bank. So she’s the only person on the video tonight, heading adepartment or agency of the US government. The EXIM bank is an economic um organization so you understand the refrain from the national security strategy that Nadia talked about that economic security is national security. Give us a brief synopsis of how your agency worked with the NSC to promote our economic security. What it was like to sit in principle meetings, run an agency or travel on the plane with us on delegations when were going overseas. And give us your views as a department head which is a little different then the rest of us have been talking so far who are staffers for the president.
Kim Reed: Thank you very much ambassador. it’s great to be with all of you and talk about how important the NSC is to our economic security. Um I was a nominee for two and a half years and finally confirmed in May of 2019 by a 79 to 17 outstanding vote. But during that two and a half year confirmation process as a nominee, I followed closely um what was going on in the White House. And um when the national security strategy came out in December of 17, um I read it fully. And pillar two says promote American prosperity. Promote free fair and economical relationships. And um EXIM appears not EXIM, exports appear fourteen times in the document. Including a really important sentence I knew I needed to embrace and um as I sought to lead EXIM. And that was we will provide Americans with new opportunities to increase their exports and so I had that going in to start in December of seven to finally confirm on May of 19 and it as any new leader would do going into an organization our export import bank as you may know is our nation’s official export credit agency. It has five hundred and fifteen employees. It has technically been shut for about four years because there was not a Senate confirmed board and you need a board to do the deals over ten million dollars. And this agency has at any one time the capability of lending or guaranteeing loans of up to one hundred and thirty-five billion dollars at any one time. So what happened in those four years? Um we now have one hundred and sixteen export credit agencies around the world. The People’s Republic of China has two official, lots of unofficial export credit activities. Also, known as debt trap diplomacy. And um our agency had been shut. Eighty seven year old agency so I show up, I know what the national security strategy says and I did a survey of our great team and guess what? We didn’t have a national security advisor, and we really weren’t plugged into the NSC process that you’ve heard about. And um that probably happened because we weren’t fully operational. So I created the very first national security advisor at EXIM. I recruited a great guy, Jamal Ware, to do that. And so we need to get plugged into these processes that you’re hearing talking about the PCC processes. And started figuring that out and had to focus our deal team Stephen Renna, chief banking officer, and other leaders within our agency. I’m like we need to get plugged into what the NSC is doing. And um worked hard to do that and I really appreciate all the colleagues joining me this evening because um they understood that this was important. Um as we say economic security is the national security. So we started attending those meetings and um and knowing that financing is a key part of equipping partners and allies around the world to buy in the US of goods and services. And actually place that rule. And so I was so thrilled that Ambassador O’brien came on board and the NSC about the same time my role at EXIM started my role. Because Robert and I have known each other very well since the year two thousand two. So I had the great honor of being sure that EXIM was front and center at the White House. And in fact Robert was the very first national security advisor to visit um EXIMs headquarters. Which we really appreciated. And um the am am and I were able to travel to really strategic and important locations: Brazil, Philippines, Indonesia, and even when we’re flying there he would have me do other work and other calls to line up efforts on my own which included being very focussed on nuclears that went into Poland. Um we care about that. Um congress gave us a huge mandate in December of 2019. The longest reauthorization of EXIM in our history, um seven year authorization to give certainty to the world. That they should be looking to us as they choose where they should buy their goods and services. And um with that congress also said, um thank you congressman Gallagher appreciated his support of EXIM and what we could do to be of help. So um lot of diplomacy. Also Abraham Accords played a strong role in that and um I hope that with the Bidenthat they will continue on this trajectory, it’s so important that all the economic agencies are tied into the NSC process where where it makes sense and I think that we developed a good road map for that so. Um thank you.
Robert O’brien: Thank you Kim. You were terrific chairman of EXIM, I always liked traveling with you not just because you are a friend but you also carried a huge check book so when we showed up in these countries I could talk about national security issues and the importance of our alliance but it always was nice to have Kim or a friend who often traveled with us from the DFC that can write big checks and um politicians are the same all around the world if you can bring jobs and bring money, it um helps. You played a key role so thank you. Um
Kim Reed: Thank you, I just want to say one thing Robert. You put together a great team and what I really appreciated was that it went top down in integration so, um thank you for that. Team mates like um Brad McKinney and even our GC, very involved with what you do, and thank you.
Robert O’Brien: Well, that thank Kim. You were terrific. Um a couple people have mentioned um Mike Gallagher, so I think he’s the most important third term congressman of the world and in the US now, and is a great strategy in his own right. And is going to be a future secretary of state, or senator or or governor from Winsconsin, or president, Mike. Tell us from your view at the hill your perspective um um what you think of policy at the NSC. How it gets made. You’re an expert on China, and defense matters, so um how did we do on those issues in the Trump administration. How’s the current administration doing? How’s the current NSC doing? Working through some of those complex issues? Again from congress’s point of view, how can the NSC process improve it’s obviously different down on our end or my view from Pennsylvania avenue then from where you’re sitting. How does the NSC improve the process from your point of view sitting in congress now as a House of Representatives that is Winsconsin .
Congressman Gallagher: Well thank you Robert. Thank you to everyone for those presentations. I just would say at a time when there is not much congress agrees upon, I am continually struck by the amount of bipartisan consensus that remains surrounding the fundamentals of your national security strategy. In other words take Trump’s you know biggest critic and I don’t think you’ll find that person criticizing the fundamentals of the national security strategy. And as evidence of that I would just point to some of the most loud voices when it comes to criticizing the communeist party for their human rights abuses in the Xinjiang province for a while are card caring members of the squad who’s rhetoric is indistinguishable at times for notable Republican hawks. I co chaired the commission US cyber policy, where if you read our final report it’s an — the enfire thing is an argument for waking up to what China is doing in cyberspace. Similarly right now I am involved with congressman Mike Waltz who is actually the most important congressman that um exists right now. On shoring up supply chain vulnerability which is an effort to learn some of the lessons from the pandemic which is to say that we are too dependent on comunist China on the manufacturing of basic things such as advanced farm suitical ingredients, um you know, an increased scrutiny on the manufacturers or semi conductors of rare earth. The list goes on and on and on. So whether it was by design or serendipity, you managed to um produce the biggest shift in US policy since the end of the cold war and get bipartisan buy in to that shift in congress. And I think that will endure no matter what mistakes we might make over the next four years. And I’m reminded of if you examine the NSC transcripts during the eight years of thes Eisenhower administration where Nixon was a participant in the NSC, and on the rare occasion when Eisenhower missed, um chairing in and Nixon would chair in. The NSC talked about this when he campaigned for president. Nixon is constantly teasing out the domestic political implications of geopolitical developments and constantly chiming in to remind Eisenhower of how congress is going to react to various proposals. And I think that is a valuable lens of analysis into at times a member of congress is not sure is being debated in the NSC. And I think it proves that when the NSC takes small steps such as inviting members of congress to the situation room and having a candid discussion with no cameras present, it can go a long way in terms of building buy in for dramatic policy. When Matt Pottinger came to address the Republican conference and just talked about the administration’s approach to China. I still hear comments about that discussion being one of the most valuable ones that hooped behind closed doors. So there’s a variety of informal ways in which I think the NSC can bridge the gap between article one and article two even though at time we sort of think of the value of the NSC is that it isn’t constantly testifying before congress. But I think there’s a world in which you can have those conversations frankly behind closed doors. Finally I’d say as it relates to the new administration I do think there are some in the administration that genuinely believe in the foundation that all of you have built and do not want to destroy that foundation and rather want to build upon that foundation. But I think it’s also fair to say to there’s a split in the administration, and there are some who might prioritize at change as a geopolitical issue above all else and thus might try to adopt a more cooperative relationship with China. Which really doesn’t work in terms of the framework that all of you set out. And then I think the second area that gives me concern is what I view as an emerging rejection of the Abraham accords. In other words, I think if the administration rushes to put the Iran nuclear deal back together with duct tape, that naturally will mess up the defect of line structure you built with the abraham accords and produced chaos in the region and there for the bought in foreign policies could somewhat ironically and tragically suffer the same fate as the Obama foreign policy. Which is to say a well intentioned effort to specify and to focus on China and runs around and because of increasing chaos in the middle east that they can’t manage because they misunderstand the fundamental alliance structure. That being said, it’s too early to tell, um you know my interest as a member of congress is in maintaining that bipartisan consensus that I think you all built. But it’s very fragile right now. And as every administration learns a national security strategy is just a rutter, it’s a rutter that allows you to navigate a lot of very unexpected storms that come your way. And you know for your administration I think that was CoronaVirus. And we don’t know what this administration’s unexpected shock is going to be. It could well be a conflict over Taiwan, it could be the invasion of Ukraine, it could be the Iranians breaking out towards a nuclear weapon, we don’t know. But they will be tested and that’s when we’ll get a sense of to what extent they are adopting. Your over framework or whether they’re rejecting it. And I think they would be wise not to reject it.
Robert O’Brien: Thanks, thanks Micahel and um look I think everyone watching and um and certainly all of us know all the participants in the Nixon seminar understand how important it is if you’re in congress you’re expertise, your wisdom, and your counsel. I really hope that as I reach out to some of my democrat colleagues on the hill, in the house and Senate, I really hope that um Jake and Tony will reach out to you because you bring a just a terrific perspective so thank you congressman. I think we have got Mike Waltz on as well. So we’ll go from marine captain, Mike Gallagher to army colonel Mike Waltz. If he’s with us, and if he’s with us.
Congressman Mike Waltz: Yeah I am. Oh, I’m sorry go ahead ambassador.
Robert O’Brien: No no mike has a unique resume. He actually, everyone on the panel has a very unique res um a and it’s incredible to hue and to mike pompeo and I will take a little bit of responsibility for for it, but we really put together a terrific team and um but you served both at the white house and then you eventually went up to congress, so you’ve served as both an elected representative, you’re currently serving as an elected representative, but you also serve in the white house. Give me your biggest difference — what’s your biggest difference in a way that for in policy national security are formulated up on the little compared to what you saw at the white house working for the vice president working under the Bush administration.
Congressman Mike Waltz: Yeah, no, thanks so much Robert and Hugh for putting this group together. I think it’s, I think we could probably go several hours examining a lot of these issues um you know I just obviously weave talked a lot about the national security act in nineteen forty-seven and the creation of the national security structure, um but you know importantly that also created the defense department structure at that time you had parallel lines tolet president through the department of the army and air services before the air force. And through the department of navy and frankly they really liked it that way. And they didn’t want it that change. And from their perspective they had just won a world war. Really two with that structure. And probably the most controversial piece was a standing intelligent service and given our history of individual liberty and state and local rights there’s a lot of concern in putting a permanent intelligent structure in place. Congress forced that, and saw the need, and saw the need for restructuring because unlike every other war we were going to send all our troops back home and stare the army down that we had just stood up for the war, we had a knew thing to deal with and that was the cold war. And for the first time in owe history, needing that standard military force that standing intelligence agency and so I think congress often has a pretty painful role. Which we all know. But has that powerful forcing function. I just want today take a moment since you had have a unique background in serving the white house, but I also served the Pentagon but I also served secretary of defense under rumsfeld and gates but importantly as a reservist. A reserve special force officer, in between those civilian towers would actually mobilize and go out on the front lines, so I had to be one of the only idiot in there washington that had to go do the strategy that I was recommending so kind awe better make sure you get it right. um and that back and forth was really fascinating and illuminating. I can’t tell you how many times I was out on the ground and we were doing something completely different then what the principles had discussed in the president had authorized. And in the room kind of uniquely and try to go humbly say that I was this isn’t what the president said to do. And then the fascinating part would be to go back to washington, take the uniform off and say hey boss heres how it’s really going on the ground. Um and so you talked a lot about teeing up decisions to the president and and the process for dog that but I sawal most as equally importantly was the NSCs role in insuring that there is policies were executed in the manner president intended through out the massive bureaucracy. And you know I could tell story after story. I know you all could as well. One that really stands out in my mind was the president bush against all odds and all advice decided to double down the surge in Iraq. Um and it just wasn’t being executed by finally brought on the war star if we remember um that title in dug Luke to actually really ma’amer home the execution. Um because it wasn’t being fully executed because a lot of agencies frankly didn’t weren’t fully bought into the policies that execution piece it incredibly important and it’s especially important when it’s outside of the traditional national security structures of state and a defense and the ICS and obviously the competition with China is not whole of government, it’s whole of society. Meaning we are bringing in the department of education with what’s going on with the illicit funding of our education institutions, we’re bringing in DHS and the four hundred thousand; Chinese students or the technology theft, commerces entity list. Um the struggles that we’re having with Wallstreet and the continued investment and even the lobbying against the restrictions that congress tried to put in place. So that true whole of government, I mean one of the questions I’m looking Ford to canning the bideen administration is why they’re China task force is only in the defense department and not a whole of government and not a whole of society task force. Taking a look at all of these issues but finally I would just say most importantly you know bringing it full circle to what I started with. The national security act of forty-seven, I think congress can have an incredible important forcing function on a bureaucracy that’s often solidified and doesn’t want the change. Whether that is platforms, um like the career navy that we had in world war two or the eight ten that survived the gulf war one that was so instrumental. Saved my life on two occasions, in the war on terror, butal most died several deaths in the nineties. Join this with the goldwater Nichols act that pulled together near and dear to my heart, created special operations command and the waive to grenade a. And and um the failed ire anian hostage, um the rescue. We can can go down the lift. The work powers act, the defense production act the, the patriot act, um that where congress has had a role in taking the national bureaucracy, the national security bureaucracy to that next level and I think with mike gal gal leading the charge and both of us served on the China task force are now on the supply chain that um you know president gal gal will take those lessons to the future, but I think ninely where it is uniquely different for us, is that we have very different bosses than everybody in the executive branch. Right? We are directly accountable to the American people every two years and taking boiling these issue down to their everyday lives when many people are just trying to make it week to week you know create a better life for their kids standing in front of the town hall and explaining and everyone make your jokes but why it was so critical how many times everyone of them in that audience touches face everyday how are entire economy is now dependent on what’s up there from agriculture to global logistics, reel time logistics, to our financial sector and how the russians and Chinese know that and intend to intend to take those assets out and there and shut down our modern economy, that had to be defended and that’s why that new branch of the military was so — in complaining that to people um in a way that they’re kind of No, I don’t. ing their heads and feeling okay aboutlet amount of their tax dollars being used. Whether it’s that or whether it’s for in aid. Think used effectively or the size of the military budget that direct account I think is incredibly important. I think can be incredibly frustrating and difficulty as mike knows. But look it’s every two years, it truly is the people’s house. And us refining those authorities and being directly accountable um I think is incredibly important. An incredibly important piece a kind of that policy form all you’llation process. And I think with that I’ll stop. Um Robert. I’m really thrilled to be a part of this group.
Robert O’Brien: Thank you mike and what you and mike Gallagher, congress man mike Gallagher bring to this group is that you were actually elected to office. I just want to make a quick side, as um mike talked about his service overseas, I want to think about who is on the panel, and I’ll leave somebody out, but um mike was a special forces officer in the United States army and a fellow soldiers and, Matt Pottinger and Mike Hallageher and Rains is an intel officer of the navy so we’ve got a number of folks here, and if I’ve left you out I apologize and chime in but weave got a number of veterans and reserved that are with us and I just want to thank everybody again for their service and it’s great to see our veterans in and service members going into congress and going into administration and bringing that unique perspective that they have into the policy world and again thank you for all of you who served in uniform for what you’ve done. Let me go to and I don’t know how much time weave got left but um I want to go to comments or questions from the floor because weave got a bunch of participants here as a look around that have participated in n-s-c- meetings as a um PCCs and deputies and representing their departments so I’m going to turn to Alex and ask him. I think you’ve got some folks teed up that would like to make a comment or that have a question and can you call on who’s up next. I think Ortega may have had a question. If she’s still on the line.
Robert O’Brien: Who do we have next? Christian White? Great, thanks Christian.
Christian White: Thank you Robert. Kimberly Reed I think said a great comment, which is you brought an excellent team to the NSC, but the question is about your predecessors in the Trump administration and frankly in the Bush administration. A Lot of Republicains at times felt that the NSC was working against the president. And just to throw out two examples from the Trump administration, you had Fiona Hill at the beginning of the administration. Came from the left wing Brookings Institution. At one point earlier in our program Nadia said “It’s important to consider politics in National Security.” Of course it is. That means you are considering democracy. We are a democracy. But Fiona, when she came in, I think she told KT McFarlane don’t look at sanctions on Russia through a political lens. It’s just the right thing to do. Which really just saying just ignore the will of the American people. Ignore this guy that went and got elected. Fiona went on to become a fairly outspoken opponent of the President. Another quick example, Alexander Vindman in charge of Ukraine policy, seemed to think that is was illegal for the President to tamper with the interagency process. Now these weren’t your choices, you did a great job at the NSC. My question is, for the next Republican President, is there a way that we can avoid having an NSC, especially if it’s a new Republican President and change in power, to avoid a year or two of having a disloyal or ineffective NSC? What is your thoughts on how the next Republican can get the NSC right?
Robert O’Brien: Well look, I think we had some great folks who were loyal to the president prior to the time I got there. One great example of this is Nadia who is on the program with us tonight, and did a terrific job writing the National Security Strategy. You make a good point and I think that it is a point that Alex made, that Pottinger made, and that the President deserves to have a staff that’s loyal to him, that doesn’t leak, that is going to implement his policies. They don’t necessarily have to agree with the President on every issue, the staff needs to understand that they weren’t elected to anything. They are there as the staff of the President of the United States or they are officers of the government. And the President was elected, and the American people selected him or her to implement their policy. And that’s why I think generally, presidents are entitled to the nominees of their choosing. Whether it’s a republican or democratic president. I think at the NSC the president is entitled to a staff, especially at the senior director level, that he trusts. They may not always agree with him, but at the end of the day understands that he is the president and makes sure the president gets the best advice possible. Staffing up the NSC is a very early task, and should actually be considered during the summer prior to the election. To their credit I think the Biden administration did a good job on that front. They knew who they wanted. Their folks were in immediately. The next Republcian nominee ought to be thinking about their NSC Senior Directors very early on in the process because it’s a critical role. Good Point there. The president should have a competent team.
Alex Gray: Next we have Monica Crowley
Monica Crowley: Hi Ambassador, nice to see you. Thanks to you, and to all of our speakers tonight. So, early on President Nixon realized that the development and implementation of his innovative foreign policies like Detente with the Soviet Union, the opening to China, were going to require a very tight lid. So one of the very first things he did was consolidate decision making in the NSC under Dr. Kissinger which had the effect of essentially marginalizing the State Department. So could you speak to the relationship between the Trump NSC, the State Department, other relevant agencies in that decision making process. How collaborative was it really?
Robert O’Brien: Thats a great question Monica. One of the nice things about having Monica here, and having Chris Cox here, is the connection we have to the Nixon family, to President Nixon himself, the legacy that is the Nixon Library and Foundation – and Monica worked closely with President Nixon, so it’s great having you and Chris as part of this seminar because it ties us back to the reason that we are all here at the library in Yorba Linda. I know most people are remote, but I’m lucky enough to be down here at the library. You know, it’s a good question, and traditionally there has been some rivalry between the secretary of state and the national security advisor because you have these two principal officers of American diplomacy. I was very fortunate. I had worked closely with Secretary Pompeo prior to becoming the National Security Advisor. I think he was one of the people who recommended me for the job to President Trump. So we had a very strong working relationship. We brought a lot of hostages home, and worked on a lot of policy in Afghanistan and the Middle East together when Ambassador sitting- although it was a presidential envoy- I was seated over at the State Department. Spent a lot of time in Mike’s office up on the 7th floor. That background leading into me taking the position I think was very helpful in us cooperating. And look, we had the same goals, we had the same goals at the president, and that was peace through strength. We wanted to make sure that America was strong enough to deter our enemies and assure our allies. And that meant bringing American’s home, bringing justice to terrorists, strengthening our military and strengthening our alliances. And Mike and I had the same outlook on those issues. So, we were fortunate to work closely together. It didn’t mean we agreed on everything, and there were plenty of times when I picked up the phone and may have gotten an earful from Mike if he wasn’t happy about the way some process was run or that sort of thing. I may have had to call him from time to time, but we got along great and we are close friends, and I think that cooperation was one of the things that allowed us to achieve the accomplishments for the President that took place in, especially at the end of the first term of the Trump administration – the Abraham Accords, and other things that we’ve already talked about tonight. We also had some other key players in the Abraham Accords. We had Jared Kushner, and Avi Burkowitz and their team. And so the NSC was able to play and bridging and a coordinating role between Jared and his team and the State Department – and again, there can be some natural rivalries there, but I think we did a great job as an NSC and helping to alleviate those rivalries and get to a result that was good for the President, good for the American people, and good for the world. Things aren’t always personality drive, but I think that relationship with Mike certainly helped at the State Department level. I had a great relationship with my fellow Californian Steve Munuchen and we didn’t always agree on every issue, but there was a lot of respect there and we tried to forester an atmosphere of respect and camaraderie among cabinet secretaries and department heads, so even when there was a disagreement, it was a disagreement on policy grounds and not of personalities. And if we can’t get a case settled we take it to the judge, and in this case the judge is the president. He’d make a policy call and we’d try to make sure that everyone got on board with that policy.
Alex Gray: This is the last question I had.
Robert O’Brien: That’s terrific. I want to thank everyone who participated tonight. Especially for policy nerds and wonks- I hope this is a video that the Nixon Library will get out and the Foundation will get out, and I think it might be very helpful to folks that are studying and would like to go into government and would like to go into National Security, to get a real feel for how the process works at the White House, but also on Pennsylvania Avenue. Special thanks to Alex for sharing your thoughts, Nadia and Matt Potinger – the two deputy National Security Advisors, Kim, our two congressmen – Congressman Gallagher and Congressman Waltz, and for those who asked questions or made comments. I also want to thank the Nixon Foundation and it’s generous donors for making this seminar possible. This is something that was conceived by Hugh Hewitt and the Nixon Foundation, and I think it’s a true public service in the best tradition of President Nixon who loved foreign policy, loved national security, loved his country – and If you get a chance, if your from somewhere else in America – come out to Yorba Linda. It’s a terrific library, a great experience, and you really get to know President Nixon and his family. I want to remind our viewers we will be back at the same time next month – the second Tuesday of every month we are here at the Nixon Seminar – and next month is going to be very special. It’s a program to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the return by President Nixon and the American people, of Okinawa to Japan. And so we will discuss that seminal moment and we will also discuss the current state of the US Japanese alliance, which is probably the most critical relationship in the world right now as we face a rising China that was discussed so eloquently by a number of our panelists tonight. Again, I’m Robert O’Brien. Goodnight from the historic Nixon Library in beautiful Yorba Linda, California. And have a wonderful week everyone. Thank you and God bless.