WASHINGTON—Military and intelligence analyst Sebastian Gorka sat down with NTD’s Kitty Wang to discuss the U.S. National Security Strategy and the Department of Defense’s National Defense Strategy. In 2017 Gorka served as deputy assistant and strategist to President Donald Trump and is now a contributor to Fox News. NTD is part of the Epoch Media Group.
NTD: Why does President Trump’s strategy return to the focus of a great power competition, with reference to Russia and China, instead of terrorism?
Sebastian Gorka: The truth is, for the last 20 past years the United States really has not acted strategically. The last time it did so was in the 1980s when it won the Cold War. So this National Security Strategy is the first one that really deserves the name National Security Strategy. And within it, it recognizes, for example, China’s objective to become a hegemonic power and recognizes that China has a plan, the One Belt, One Road plan, to become dominant not just in Asia and in the world, and that plan would be detrimental, would be bad, for America, her allies, and her friends.
NTD: The National Security Strategy takes a long-term point of view?
Mr. Gorka: Strategy is by definition from a long-time point of view. And as long as China remains a communist dictatorship which has hegemonic intentions, its desire to expand its influence is not good for anybody except the Communist Party in Beijing.
NTD: Why for so many years have we not focused on the competition with China and Russia?
Mr. Gorka: That’s a very good question. I think it begins in the 1990s with an unrealistic expectation of what was then called the peace dividend. The Cold War is over, Moscow is not a threat, there’s no danger of nuclear war, therefore we don’t need to focus so much or spend so much on national defense or national security.
That was a mistake. Look what happened in the 1990s: Whether it is hundreds of thousands of people killed in the Balkans, whether it is the genocide in Rwanda, or other crises such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or the establishment of global jihadi organizations like al-Qaeda. Basically, we lacked attention. We were not thinking clearly about what national security means after the end of the Cold War.
Then Sept. 11 happens and we have this focus on the Middle East. We don’t pay adequate attention to the Pacific, to Asia, or even to Europe. And we have a neo-conservative administration under George W. Bush that believed America could create democracies in the Middle East through the use of force, and also in South Asia, if you look at Afghanistan. We have seen in the last 17 years just how unrealistic that was.
But now we have a president, we have a commander in chief, who is a pragmatist. He loves America, that is essential to the America-first doctrine. But he looks at the world as it is, not as he would wish it to be, which is very much how the Obama administration looked at the world.
NTD: Do we still have an ideological competition going on today?
Mr. Gorka: It’s a great question. Francis Fukuyama wrote a very famous book in the 1990s called “The End of History and the Last Man,” where he said ideological conflict, ideological competition, is dead, it has ended. We defeated the Nazis in World War II, and we defeated the communists in 1989. He was very wrong. Ideology has not disappeared.
There is a connective tissue between countries like Iran, countries like China, groups like ISIS, groups like al-Qaeda, North Korea, and so on. They don’t share the same ideology, because some are communists, some are nationalists, some are jihadists. But all of them are anti-Western, anti-American, anti-democratic. So in that respect, ideology remains a very strong motivator. And in the case of China, it is absolutely ideological. Absolutely ideological. These are great questions.
NTD: Does anything else stand out?
Mr. Gorka: Yes, I think the most important thing for people to understand, if you want to understand where America is going, really look at this document [the National Security Strategy], read it. I know who wrote it. I was part of the discussions that formed it when I was in the White House. So read the National Security Strategy back to front.
But, just as important, if not more important, if you want to know where America is heading in the next seven years, or if Vice President Pence becomes president, in the next 17 years, then read the speeches of Donald Trump, especially his Warsaw speech about Western Judeo-Christian values and what America stands for, his Riyadh speech about the threat of global jihadism, and also his joint address to Congress, and also I recommend, probably, very soon, his State of the Union. These speeches give the best indication of what “America first” really means, and where America is heading. Your viewers should read them.
But to summarize it: America first does not mean America alone. But it means American leadership is back. And it is important to understand that the president believes a world without American leadership is a more dangerous world.
But he is not an interventionist. He is not an isolationist like Rand Paul and the libertarians in Congress. because he knows the world is interconnected, from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, you can’t isolate a country from the rest of the planet. But he is not an interventionist like George Bush. He believes that invading another country, and occupying, it is un-American. So he is a balance between those two extremes, and his speeches really tell you what he believes.
NTD: Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in outlining the National Defense Strategy on Jan. 19 spoke of three challenges: a safe and effective nuclear deterrent, effective conventional forces, and counterinsurgency. Why does the United States apply this strategy?
Mr. Gorka: Because again we have returned to an age of pragmatism. The president and Secretary Mattis understand that diplomacy without the option to use force is just empty words. Diplomacy, in the face of threats like North Korea, nations that have for 20 years flouted all international regulations on nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing—at the end of the day, you have to send a very clear message to dictatorships that if you threaten democracies, if you threaten the West, at the end of the day we will use force to protect our interests and to protect our people if you push us that far. That is why the emphasis on deterrence.
Nevertheless, conventional capabilities are very, very important because they help us deal with sub-strategic threats. Nuclear war is the highest level of threat. But when there are threats such as insurgencies or terrorist groups in Africa, the Middle East, the Philippines and elsewhere, you have to maintain that conventional capability, especially because America is one of the few nations left in the world, if not the only one, that truly has expeditionary capacity. We can send conventional forces to basically any part of the world. We are not isolated to our close proximity of our national territory.
And lastly, counterinsurgency. As long as there are groups like ISIS, the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Ansar Beit al Maqdis in the Sinai—as long as those are out there, we need to have those capabilities, not to fight ourselves, necessarily, but to help our friends fight the insurgencies on their territory. That’s a far more pragmatic approach.
NTD: What are the challenges for implementing the National Defense Strategy?
Mr. Gorka: The first thing is the last eight years. The last eight years under the Obama administration saw a systematic degradation of our armed forces. This is unclassified. You can read it in the press. The United States Marine Corps had to cannibalize air-worthy aircraft to have enough spare parts for the remaining aircraft. That’s crazy.
We have to rebuild our military’s capacity. We have to rebuild their morale. We had eight years in which it was clear the commander in chief did not trust his own military. When you had the National Security Council making tactical decisions about which targets to attack in the Middle East, that sends a very bad message to the military in terms of the Washington elite not trusting them. That has been largely reversed by the president, but we have to build up morale.
At the end of the day, the other issue is Congress. We have to have a focus on these issues. if you look at the discussion we are having today, it is surrounded by the question of the continuing resolution. Well, if you can’t even finance government so that our military is able to do its job, that sends a very bad message to our enemies or our potential enemies. There is work to be done, but this president will get it done.
NTD: A nuclear posture review will be released soon. What kind of direction should we expect from this review?
Mr. Gorka: I think the most obvious direction has come from statements already made not just by Secretary Mattis, but especially by the president, on the very poor state in the last eight years of the maintenance of our nuclear capabilities. You can read numerous stories about the Air Force having serious issues with maintaining nuclear capability at the highest readiness. So there will be a focus in getting us back to where we were in terms of technical capability and capacity to respond as quickly when needed. These are statements the president has made. Right now that’s all that can be openly said.
NTD: Anything you would like to add?
Mr. Gorka: The most important thing is there really is a lot of fake news out there, a lot of misrepresentation of the president, propaganda from outside America, and even propaganda-type material coming from American news agencies. That is why I always tell people, look, don’t use secondary or tertiary sources. Go to the primary source. Read documents such as the National Security Strategy. Read the president’s own statements and speeches. That is your best indication of what’s really happening and the direction America is taking. Go directly to the primary sources.