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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Donald Trump's Foreign Policy

Joe Schmitz, Foreign Policy and National Security Advisor to Donald J. Trump
Cleveland, OH
July 19, 2016

Date: 07/19/2016 Location: Cleveland, OH Description: Joe Schmitz, Donald Trump's Foreign Policy and National Security advisor, speaks to journalists about his candidate's foreign policy positions at the Republican National Convention. - State Dept Image11:00 A.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good afternoon. My name is Jennie Young. I’m with the Foreign Press Center. Thank you for coming today. After our speaker speaks, we will take Q&A.

It’s my pleasure today to introduce you to Joe Schmitz. He is a foreign policy/national security advisor to Donald J. Trump. He served as the fifth Senate confirmed Inspector General at the Department of Defense from April 2002 to September 2005. Welcome, Mr. Schmitz.

MR SCHMITZ: Thanks very much, Jennie, and I apologize for being late. I actually went to the wrong convention.

I’m just one of many foreign policy and national security advisors for Donald Trump. I did serve as the Inspector General of the Department of Defense under George W. Bush, and I did that during two wars and for about four years. I have, needless to say, some pretty good insight into our defense infrastructure. I’ve also spent a career working in international business, representing mostly foreign airlines doing international business in and out of the United States.

So what I’d like to say today, very shortly, just three main points and then I’m glad to answer any questions.

The first point is that kid of the heart of Donald Trump’s foreign policy is to have a strong American economy. It’s kind of a variant of peace through strength, or what some people might refer to on the flip side as avoiding provocative weakness.

So Donald Trump’s foreign policy is built fundamentally on restoring the health of the American economy.

The second point which is central to Donald Trump’s foreign policy is what I like to refer to as the Sun Tzu maxim. Sun Tzu in the Art of War said that in order to win wars, you have to know yourself and know your enemy which is one of the reasons why Donald Trump has been focusing not only on American greatness and those principles that define who we as Americans are, but also on who our enemies are.

The third point in Donald Trump’s foreign policy is not only restoring the strength to the American military but also frankly, hiring the best people to be in our diplomatic corps and in our military service and our homeland security agencies.

So those are sort of the three main points of the Trump foreign policy in a general sense. I’d like to come back to the Sun Tzu maxim and I’d like to recall that, and this is very timely now since what’s happened in one of our, actually more than one of our NATO allies in the last few weeks, when the United States and its NATO allies first signed the 1949 Washington Treaty. We built that treaty upon three foundational principles. Democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. That was in 1949.

Fast forward to 1982. You may recall, some of you, although some of you look like you might not be old enough to recall this, I’m looking at you. [Laughter]. 1982 President Reagan restated and kind of updated those three foundational principles in a famous speech he gave in June of 1982 in the British House of Commons. He referred to individual liberty, representative government and the rule of law under God. And these are what C.S. Lewis would call first things. First American things and frankly, they’re first things for many if not most of our allies.

And as Sun Tzu said, it’s important to understand both yourself and your enemies. So I believe as you see Donald Trump kind of rolling out more details of his general foreign policy you’ll see more focus on those American and allied first things, and you’ll probably also see some more details on who we see our enemies as.

With that, I’m going to open it up for questions and answers.

QUESTION: I am from the National Newspaper from Argentina.

According to Politifact, 76 percent of Donald Trump’s statements during the campaign have been false. Since you’re one of his advisors I want to ask you, does he not know the facts? Or does he just lie as part of his strategy?

And number two, how does he plan a working strategy to smooth relations with Latin American countries if he fulfills his promise of building a wall on the southern border with Mexico which is, as you can imagine, not going to be something that resonates very well with Latin American governments.


MR SCHMITZ: Well, in response to your first question, as far as I know Donald Trump knows his facts very well. That doesn’t mean he knows every fact all the time, but who does? Who does? I mean don’t forget, Hillary Clinton talked about a video after Benghazi. Hardly a factual statement. Okay? That’s the fact question.

Latin America, all I can say is I believe most Latin Americans share those core values I spoke about, and I believe that Donald Trump is reaching out. I’ve spoken to many Latin Americans, both in the United States and south of the border, and a lot of them are supporting Donald Trump.

QUESTION: Do Hispanics voters support Trump?

MR SCHMITZ: Well, my law partner for one, who was born in Cuba. He’s the biggest Donald Trump fan I know. His name is Michael Socarras.

QUESTION: Anyone else?

MR SCHMITZ: Myriad. Too many to mention. To many to mention. We do a lot of, I personally, my law firm does a lot of work in Latin America so we talk to people down there all the time.

QUESTION: Why do you think he has such strong support in Latin America?

MR SCHMITZ: Because he tells the truth and he shares the same core values as most Latin Americans.

QUESTION: Thank you for coming to the Foreign Press Center. This is Lalit Jha from Indian New Agency.

Can you give us an insight into how his foreign policy team works? How often he interacts with his foreign policy team.

And coming to the special consult issue, the platform mentions about securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. What are your action plan to how to secure the Pakistan’s nuclear weapons? What kind of threat it poses? He has also mentioned in previous interviews about it.

And what is his vision for India-U.S. relationship?

So that’s three questions.

MR SCHMITZ: I didn’t quite understand the second question. Could you please restate that?

QUESTION: Okay, the platform mentions about securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. And Mr. Trump has also mentioned about this in his previous couple of interviews to Fox and some radios. So what, why do you want to do that?

MR SCHMITZ: Okay, so the first question was about Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisory team. There are roughly ten of us. Our chairman is Senator Sessions, and we meet regularly but we also talk with each other daily if not hourly. So there’s a lot of interaction between and among his foreign policy advisors. We have met with the candidate himself a number of times. As you might understand, it’s not as important as actually coming up with good ideas and good policies and pushing them forward. My experience is that Donald Trump is a very good listener.

The nuclear question, the first time I did meet with Donald Trump, we went way over because he was listening to a lot of really smart experts on that issue. And you know, that’s a very dicey issue. All I can say is you know, we want to exercise international leadership from a position of strength, and by treating our allies, frankly, better than our enemies.

QUESTION: The other one was India-U.S. relationship.

MR SCHMITZ: You know what? I’m not an expert on the India-U.S. relationship. We have other members of our team that are more skilled in that area. I haven’t heard anything but good things about India in terms of. There’s nothing I can say, really, other than that I don’t know anything that’s really newsworthy to say.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Good morning, Tomaso Zalewski, Polish Press Agency.

Mr. Trump has been saying several times that NATO is an outdated organization. He thinks that apparently, anyway he says that Mr. Putin is a great guy and he’s going to get on perfectly with Mr. Putin. You understand that of course it’s caused great concerns in the Eastern European countries like Poland. So how can you answer to that?

Of course, you know, Mr. Trump is considered an isolationist, you know, in the tradition of the 1930s. There is a slogan of America First, the same as Lindbergh in the ‘30s in [inaudible]. So that’s I think the main question that should be answered quite extensively.

MR SCHMITZ: A, Mr. Trump is not an isolationist. To the contrary, he has discussed the common sense notion of revisiting NATO because it’s been since 1949. I mean I mentioned the founding principles of NATO. Democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. Well, you know, if you asked your common Pole on the street, what does liberty mean? What does individual liberty mean? Do you think you’ll get the same answer you would have gotten 60 years ago? What if you ask a Turk? What does he understand or she understand as individual liberty? I mean these are really, really important first things for our alliance that is just common sense. After a period of 60 years, you know, you want to sort of revisit them and understand who you are and who your enemies are.

I met recently with the German Permanent Ambassador to NATO in an off-the-record meeting, but I’m telling you the Germans are wanting to relook at those things too. I mean we were talking about not just enemies from the East, but enemies from the South. That’s the reality of 21st century Europe and America. Why wouldn’t we be constantly relooking at those issues? Who we are and who our enemies are.

I wanted to answer one other, address one other question you said, because I think you not only mischaracterized Mr. Trump as being an isolationist, and I’ve heard that mischaracterization before. He is not, he’s by far not an isolationist. But there’s something else you said about him and I think the way, I think it was the way you characterized his opinion of Mr. Putin. You made it sound like they were best friends. I don’t think that’s accurate, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Trump is quite well with Mr. Putin. In other words, he never criticizes Mr. Putin for you know, his policies in the Eastern Ukraine and some --

MR SCHMITZ: There are a lot of Germans that are getting along really well with Mr. Putin. Okay? They’re a very important NATO ally as well. And I think what you need to understand about Mr. Trump is he is a very experienced leader and a negotiator, unlike his candidate. You know, if he’s going to have to deal with Mr. Putin he’s going to have to get to know Mr. Putin so he can deal effectively with Mr. Putin. I think that’s all you should read into his statement.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Anna from Brazil.

Trump said more than once about many countries that [rip off] America, so does he see Latin America this way? And does he have any plans at all for the region, specifically for Brazil, which is the biggest country of the continent?

MR SCHMITZ: First of all, I don’t think Mr. Trump or any of his foreign policy advisors see Latin America as just some big blob that you can just generalize about Latin America. I think he’ll treat each country in Latin America separately and with respect. I don’t know what else I can say other than what I said earlier about Mr. Trump wanting to be honest and fair with our allies and honest and tough with our enemies.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] plans for the region, any policies?

MR SCHMITZ: That’s not my, on the team that’s not my area of specialty. You can maybe send an email to my partner. He would probably be able to give you a much more substantive answer.

QUESTION: Hello, I’m a reporter from South Korea, Seoul.

I have some questions about Northeast Asia policy. Mr. Trump has said that he’d like to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on U.S. soil, and has said many times some unconventional idea

that he’d like to renegotiate some of South Korea-U.S. FTA deals and he’d like to make South Korea pay more for the U.S. presence in Korea. So there are many concerns on the Korean Peninsula whether if he become President our North Korean or Northeast Asia will retain its regional stability. And since he’s a successful businessman but he’s not a politician, there are concerns whether he would understand the basic principles of international relations, particularly in Northeast Asia where it’s pretty volatile as we are neighboring with North Korea.

So could you please explain to our viewers about Korea or people in Northeast Asia. Please. Thank you.

MR SCHMITZ: I think my best answer to that question is that Mr. Trump is not only a successful businessman, he’s a successful international businessman. I mean he has been overseas. He understands that other parts of the world have special challenges that aren’t the same challenges we face in North America or necessarily in Europe and NATO.

Speaking for myself, I see Korea as a very, very important ally. I used to represent Asiana Airline, by the way, for many, many years. And I’ve been to Korea many times and I understand the special challenges in Korea. And my best answer is that I think Donald Trump will be hiring people that are, frankly, smarter than me about North Korea and South Korea, and I’m pretty smart.

You know, on the free trade deal, it’s a little bit complicated to get into the weeds of it, but I think you have to understand that Mr. Trump is not saying we don’t want to have trade deals. It’s just like our defense alliances, trade deals need to be reevaluated so that they actually make sense for both parties.

The nature of a deal, it’s a win/win relationship. And sometimes deals over time change based on circumstances that weren’t anticipated by the parties. And that’s all Mr. Trump is saying. We need to constantly reevaluate so that our deals with Korea and with any other nation are win/win deals.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is [Inaudible]. I represent The Hindu, it’s an Indian English daily.

A follow-up question on the Putin issue that a colleague raised earlier. The candidate has said on this particular issue for dealing with Islamist terrorism, Russia and Putin can be an ally. Could that be a possibility going forward?

MR SCHMITZ: I have heard those comments, and of course it is a possibility but it all depends upon what the deal is. I mean don’t forget, we defeated Nazi Germany by allying ourself with a pretty bad guy named Stalin. Okay? But we had a worse guy named Hitler. So we had to do what we had to do to defeat the enemy at hand. So I think it all depends on what the challenges are and what the deal is, but I guarantee you, Mr. Putin’s going to respect Mr. Trump a lot more than he respects Barack Obama and that he would respect Hillary Clinton.

QUESTION: Can you tell us from Mr. Trump’s perspective -- I’m [inaudible] from the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.

From Mr. Trump’s perspective, what are the main enemies of the United States today? And you also said there is a moment to evaluate the concept of individual liberty. From his perspective, what is his view of interview liberty? What does it mean today?

MR SCHMITZ: The enemies that Mr. Trump has identified are two-fold. He has focused on Islamic terrorism as an enemy and he’s called it Islamic terrorism deliberately. And in the same breath he’s also identified political correctness as an ideological enemy that we have to face even in our own country here, and that goes to the Sun Tzu maxim that you have to know yourself and your enemy to win wars. And if you just imagine a scenario where you can’t even call your enemy who the enemy is, and you’ve tied yourself in so many knots that you can’t even explain to your children who you as Americans are. I mean it’s a classic recipe under Sun Tzu’s Art of War for losing every war.

Donald Trump’s position is the antithesis of that. It’s common sense. It’s Military Strategy 101, and it’s Diplomacy 101.

With regard to individual liberty, I haven’t had a personal discussion with Donald Trump about individual liberty. I can tell you what my perspective is, and if I have a personal discussion with him I’ll share my perspective with him. He might agree with me, but I agree with John Paul II when he came to the United States in 1984 and he said it’s important for every generation of Americans to understand that liberty consists not in being able to do everything you want to do, but having the freedom to do what you ought to do. And that’s a classical liberal notion of individual liberty.

QUESTION: I’m David Smith of The Guardian.

Can you just talk us through why Mr. Trump applauded Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and how does he see the consequences playing out?

MR SCHMITZ: I think I’ve heard some misinformation on that front and I have heard that he kind of went over to England in advance of the vote to kind of politic in favor of Brexit. Kind of in the same way that Obama went over and was criticized for politicking in a foreign country against Brexit. I don’t remember Donald Trump doing that. He certainly didn’t do it as an elected politician. I recall he was over there opening up one of his private golf courses in Scotland when he said something about Brexit. But maybe you can help educate me on exactly what you mean by his position.

QUESTION: I think the timing was that he landed pretty much as the vote was coming, and so he responded to the result, rather than the causes?

MR SCHMITZ: That’s exactly right. That’s not what you first, the underlying assumption of your first question suggested, that he was over there politicking against or in favor of Brexit. He was not.

QUESTION: I respectfully disagree with your inference.

MR SCHMITZ: Maybe it was my misunderstanding. Mea culpa. I apologize.

QUESTION: More importantly, though, the central point remains that he did welcome the result and said good for Britain standing on its own, and so on. And I just wondered if you could explain a bit.

MR SCHMITZ: My understanding is what he said was he applauded the ability of the British people to engage in that process.

QUESTION: And how does he see the consequences now playing out for Europe and indeed the global economy? Because as I’m sure you’re aware, many experts said it was a bad thing that Britain did this, and even today I think the IMF is saying that it’s thrown a spanner in the works of the global recovery.


Well first, many experts said Donald Trump would never be the Republican nominee. So I’m a little bit skeptical when somebody says many experts say something.

The second is, I think what you’ll see from Donald Trump is a very thoughtful, very deliberate leader. We haven’t seen a lot of that very much lately.

QUESTION: Hello, I’m Olivier O'Mahony with Paris Match, a French magazine.

I have a question on the war on terrorism. Donald Trump said last Sunday on 60 Minutes that he was not planning to send many troops, actually he said that he was going to send a very limited amount of troops on the ground to combat ISIS and he was more likely to focus on intelligence as if, so I would like to ask you to elaborate on that please. And does that mean that the United States has intelligence that is not perfect, that needs to be perfected?

MR SCHMITZ: I think what Donald Trump will do as President is he will engage in a very deliberate strategic reevaluation of our threats. Right now, as I said earlier, for seven years we haven’t even been able to use Islam in the same name as the threat of the terrorist. I mean keep in mind, terrorism is a tactic. Terrorism doesn’t define who the enemy is. I mean we had terrorism in Dallas, Texas, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the last few weeks in the United States and it had nothing to do with defining the enemy that we’re facing in Syria and Iraq. Nothing. Terrorism is a tactic.

The important thing is to understand who the enemy is and to deal intelligently with defeating the enemy. That’s a strategic issue. It has nothing to do with tactics and those type of details. So to be getting into questions at this point when the candidate hasn’t been elected yet, it would be imprudent and it doesn’t serve any purposes.

I know that Donald Trump has said publicly once he comes up with his plan he’s not going to tell it publicly so the enemy understands it. I mean how stupid would that be? How stupid has that been?

Did I answer your question? I want to answer questions. I’m not trying to be evasive at all.

QUESTION: But I mean, I think we are all surprised that I mean if he doesn’t want to send troops, he said that he didn’t want to send troops, and he said that he was going to rely on intelligence.

MR SCHMITZ: Intelligence is a very, very important part of understanding the enemy. You know? We have to collect intelligence, the best intelligence we have. We have to also share intelligence with our allies so that we have common understanding of who the enemy is to be able to engage in a successful war to defeat the enemy. We aren’t close to that right now. But I guarantee you, when Donald Trump is elected, that will be one of his very top priorities.

QUESTION: Thank you. [Estafan Roper] with EuroNews, European Television.

I have a question on the campaign in more broader terms, if I may. The experts that you quoted earlier are out today with a lot of opinions on the campaign following Melania’s speech last night saying that the campaign is not ready for prime time and it was amateur hour, et cetera, et cetera.

So I guess my question is, how confident are you that Donald Trump is going to win in November? And do you share some of these assessments?

MR SCHMITZ: I am confident he will win in November. I am personally confident and our team is confident we will win in November.

If you are listening to somebody saying last night was amateur hour, you apparently didn’t watch it because I was there, I saw the whole thing and I’ve seen other conventions. It was not amateur hour at all. It was very, very well put together, and it was very substantive and very effective.

MODERATOR: We have our next briefers here, so I want to on behalf of the State Department thank Mr. Schmitz for coming and briefing us. We’d ask that everybody stay seated. So we’re going to go right into our next briefing. Thank you.

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[NOTE: Another briefer spoke after Mr. Schmitz, and then Mr. Schmitz returned for a second session.]

MR SCHMITZ: So when I used to teach constitutional law at Georgetown University I used to tell my students I judge the success of my lectures not on what I say, but on the difficulty of the questions that what I say engenders in my students. So feel free to ask me as difficult a question as you want to. I will try to answer truthfully and directly. I do have to get out in about 15 minutes because I have another obligation.

QUESTION: [Heidi] [inaudible] from the Norwegian Daily Dagsavisen.

To follow up on my Danish colleague’s question, if you could elaborate on how Trump foreign policy would differ from other Republican presidents. And you could also add the Obama administration if you wish.

MR SCHMITZ: Well I think Donald Trump wants his policy to be known as America First. I don’t think you heard that from, certainly not from this administration and I don’t think you heard it from recent Republican administrations. So that’s different.

QUESTION: What does that mean? America First.

MR SCHMITZ: That means that we are going to focus and have an intelligent foreign policy that focuses first of all on making sure that America is a strong country economically and militarily. And I think most of our allies will be very, very happy to see a stronger America, both economically and militarily.

What else? Go back, refresh my memory. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- differ from --

MR SCHMITZ: Well that’s the main difference, is we haven’t seen an American president recently that has an America First. And it doesn’t mean a rejection of our alliances or our trade agreements. To the contrary. It means that we want to strengthen those alliances and strengthen those trade agreements by being a stronger and better partner. It is not isolationism. That’s why I was very, very clear when I rejected that tag earlier.

QUESTION: So we would see a more active American foreign policy?

MR SCHMITZ: I think so. And you’ll see it’s more active because we will be able to be more active because we’re stronger economically and militarily.

QUESTION: Martin [Snow], Norway’s Business Daily, [Dagens Naeringsliv].

The political platform that was adopted yesterday, it states that we will not accept any territorial change in Eastern Europe imposed by force, and we’ll use all appropriate constitutional methods to bring to justice the practitioners of aggression and assassination.

Could you just elaborate a bit on that part? What does that mean and how will that be operationalized, if you like?

MR SCHMITZ: Well, I read that today when it was approved. I think that that statement is intentionally designed to set a general principle without getting into details unnecessarily at this point. I understand that there are very, very sensitive issues going on in Europe right now with Crimea and Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine, and we are not blind to those issues. But I think at this point the most important thing to understand is that Donald Trump wants to be a president that is a good ally, a strong ally to our friends in Europe, and he will respect those foundational principles I discussed earlier.

QUESTION: My name is [Alonso Petro], I work for the [Spanish] News Agency [FM].

My question is the following one. Should Mr. Trump win the general election, wouldn’t Trump be the first businessman to win the White House without any previous political experience? Thank you.

MR SCHMITZ: The answer is no. I believe there were -- well, maybe without any political experience. With that, it might be. But we certainly have had successful businessmen in the White House before.

QUESTION: But without any political experience, serving in any political position.

MR SCHMITZ: I would say he is maybe the second in that position. I think George Washington was a military officer and he resigned his military commission in Annapolis in order to accept the presidency, and that was his first political position.

QUESTION: But was he a businessman?

MR SCHMITZ: Yes. Oh, yes. Visit Mt. Vernon. He was, above everything else, he was a businessman, a very successful businessman.

QUESTION: Chang Chia from United Daily News Group Media from Taiwan.

According to the platform yesterday I read the Republicans as being very friendly toward Taiwan, but tough words to China. So if Donald Trump is elected to be the next president, would the relationship between U.S. and Taiwan and China change significantly?

MR SCHMITZ: I’m not qualified to answer that question right now. I will be actually meeting with folks over the next few weeks and I hope to be learning a lot more about those issues. But all I can say is that Donald Trump will be very, very deliberate and will try to respect our friendships and be tough with our enemies.

I think, I’m not really in a position to, I’m not a China expert, per se. I’m looking forward to getting much smarter in that area, and I know that Donald Trump has China experts currently that are available to our team, and I’ve used them on occasion. But I’m not that expert.

You’re frustrated. I don’t know what you want me to say.

QUESTION: [Inaudible].


QUESTION: Who is your enemy? I don’t know if China has been enemy to him or not.

MR SCHMITZ: Well, I think when you see what’s happening in the South China Sea you might understand that PRC is quite different than Taiwan in terms of friendly relations with the United States. When you look into cyberspace, you’ll see the same thing. So, you know, it’s important to understand. You can’t just close your eyes and pretend they’re not out there. You have to understand who your enemies are.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for coming back again, it’s really helpful.

There are currently [1,400] troops, U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Is this the number of troops Mr. Trump intends to keep in Afghanistan and for how long?

MR SCHMITZ: I don’t know. That type of question, I mean who knows what’s going to happen in the next four months in Afghanistan? You know, what if, who knows? Who knows what’s going to happen. The Taliban is coming back and threatening, it’s not a very stable situation right now. The idea of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, to repeat, is peace through strength. You know, we don’t want to be provocatively weak and literally tempt a situation where we have to think about sending more troops over there.

You know, what I like to think about in terms of foreign policy, it’s like, and this is very consistent with Donald Trump’s April 27th speech on foreign policy. You know, there’s an old saying that the most expensive car is the cheap one that doesn’t work. Just think about that when you think about Mr. Trump’s foreign policy. He wants to invest the resources into having a very strong U.S. economy and a very strong military so that our foreign policy can work. Because the alternative could be very, very expensive.

I have to run. I have another appointment. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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