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VIDEO: At Pompeo Hearing, Rubio Stresses Promoting Democracy, Human Rights as ‘Vital National Interest’
Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Foreign Relations hearing today on CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be Secretary of State, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Director Pompeo discussed why it is important for U.S. foreign policy to promote democracy and human rights. Rubio identified China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and radical jihadists as the biggest international threats to the United States, and said what these threats share is authoritarianism.
A video of the exchange is available here. A rough transcript of the exchange is below:
Rubio: First, just an editorial statement at the front end. One of the reasons why I’ve been [a supporter of your nomination] — apart from how well I know the nominee and the work he has done in intelligence — is I think one of the critical components to be a successful secretary of state is that when the secretary of state comes to town, leaders and diplomats need to know that this is someone who is in the inner circle of the president, that has the president’s trust and speaks for the administration. And I can just tell you from experience from the work that we’ve done with Director Pompeo that if confirmed when he comes to town, leaders around the world will know that someone who has not just access to the president but is part of the president’s trusted inner circle and speaks for the president and for his policies, is just critical for the success of the secretary of state.
And I would imagine if you’ve spoken as you have to all the living secretary of states, they would have told you that that component of that relationship is so important. And I would say anything that would undermine that obviously is something that would undermine the ability to do the job in that way.
I have a series of quick questions and they’re important because it gives people some context about your views on foreign policy and America’s role in the world which, by the way, predate your time at the Central Intelligence Agency, includes your time in the House of Representatives and perhaps even before that. You still agreed, do you not, on the matter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that the United States has an obligation to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty?
Pompeo: Yes, senator.
Rubio: And you still agree that, far from being a great public service, Wikileaks is more of like a non-state actor hostile to the interest — the national interest and security of the United States?
Pompeo: Senator Rubio, I do believe that.
Rubio: And I think you still agree that Vladimir Putin’s government actively interfered in our presidential elections and — elections at large in 2016 and they did so because it’s part of a long standing theory or belief that through disinformation and propaganda they could win what, quote/unquote, bloodless wars against democracies in the west including the United States.
Pompeo: Yes, senator, that’s correct.
Rubio: Of the five main threats facing the United State — China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and radical jihadists — they all have one common thread: authoritarianism. Would you agree that today the major fault line in global affairs repeatedly is the competition, really a global competition, between autocratic systems of governance and the democratic systems — that that in many ways has played out over and over again in the foreign affairs of this country and in global issues?
Pompeo: Senator, it is with striking consistency the case that the countries that share our vision of the world and share our democratic values are not authoritarian and those that don’t, are not.
Rubio: In that vein, you would again agree that promoting democracy isn’t just a nice thing to do or good thing to do or promoting democracy is not us butting into other people’s business or invading their sovereignty. So it’s more than just a moral imperative, promoting democracy is in the context of that competition as we’ve just discussed, promoting democracy is in the vital national interest of the United States?
Pompeo: Yes, indeed, senator. And our effectiveness at doing that is an important tool of American foreign policy.
Rubio: And there is this ridiculous argument out there when people talk about Russian interference and their efforts and so forth that that’s no different than what America does when it promotes democracy. There are huge differences, are there not? For example, when they interfere in an election they’re trying to influence the outcome. When we promote democracy we’re trying to improve the process, not necessarily who they elect. Sometimes democracies elect leaders that are not as friendly towards the United States.
When they interfere in elections they use government and there is intelligence agencies and the like. When we promote democracy it’s largely through the work of non-governmental organizations who may receive assistance from our government.
When they undermine democracy they do it in secret, they hide it and deny it.
We do it openly. We brag about it. We are talking about it here today. And when we promote democracy we do it at the invitation of someone in those countries, whether it’s a political party, an organization, oftentimes the government itself. When they undermine democracy, they do so against the will of the people of that nation and of the governments in place. There is no equivalence between the promotion of democracy and Russian and other attempts to interfere in democracy.
Pompeo: Senator, there is neither an operational equivalence as you’ve described it, that is the methodologies used are very different nor is there a moral equivalence between the two efforts. They are fundamentally different in every day and America’s democracy promotion around the world is conducting in way that America should be incredibly proud of.
Rubio: One of the first things autocratic rulers do, almost by definition, is they violate the human rights of their people and of course have no problem violating the human rights of others as we’ve recently seen through war crimes and atrocities repeatedly committed by an autocratic government in Syria with the support of autocratic governments in Iran and Russia. Therefore, I believe you would agree that defending human rights isn’t just a good thing to do or just the right moral thing to do which it most certainly is, defending human rights is also in the national interest of the United States of America?
Pompeo: I do believe that, senator.
Rubio: And it would be a priority at the State Department?
Pompeo: It would. Not only do I believe it, I think history would reflect that would be the case.
Rubio: After the end of the Cold War, we had this belief that history had ended and everybody would be a democracy and embrace capitalism as we understand it with free economics and the like. That hasn’t really worked out in the case of a lot of places, particularly China. They have most certainly not embraced democracy, they have actually gotten more autocratic and they have embraced a definition of the world economic order that basically means we will take all the benefits of global trade and global economics, but we do not intend to live by any of its obligations.
So I personally believe that it was a terrible mistake that leaders in both parties have made. Now as part of their strategy you see China doing things like trying to create strategic depth in Eurasia. Their efforts to establish all these different programs: the Belt and Road Initiative, the Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road. They’re not just efforts to create new overland trade corridors, they’re efforts to basically make these nations economically, politically and eventually militarily dependent on and vulnerable to China.
And their maritime borders in the South and East China Sea, you see that they feel vulnerable and insecure. They see American allies in Japan, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan. So what they are working on now is fracturing our economic and defense alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. That’s why they’re investing billions of dollars in building up their navy and their air force to be able to establish air and sea denial to the U.S. military. And ultimately make the argument that ‘don’t count on America’s defense and/or economic partnership because it’s just paper. They can’t live up to it anymore.’
What are your recommendations for the president as far as how important that challenge is otherwise we are going to wake up one day and find out we have been driven from the Asia-Pacific Region?
Pompeo: Senator, as the CIA Director I’ve often been asked what’s the greatest threat to the United States. It’s always hard to prioritize and rank. We have a handful, we’ve got lots of opportunities as well. China certainly presents a strategic challenge to the United States of America. You laid out the various tools and mechanisms that they are using, mostly economic. The United States needs to be prepared to respond across each of those fronts so that we can find the right ground, the right place where we can cooperate with the Chinese, where it makes sense for America and then those places where it does not we can confront them and make sure that it is America’s vision, a democratic vision, that continues to provide strength and resources for the world.