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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

National Security Issues and the 2016 Elections

Jeremy Bash, security advisor to Hillary for America
Philadelphia, PA
July 28, 2016

Date: 07/28/2016 Location: Philadelphia, PA Description: Foreign Press Center briefing on national security issues and the 2016 elections with Jeremy Bash, national security advisor, Hillary for America - State Dept Image

4:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: (In progress) Foreign Press Centers on the last evening of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. We are pleased to present to you a briefing on national security issues and I’m pleased to introduce Jeremy Bash. Mr. Bash is security advisor to the Hillary for America campaign and former chief of staff to Leon Panetta during Mr. Panetta’s tenure of secretary of defense and director of the CIA.

Thank you very much. Mr. Bash.

MR BASH: Thank you very much. Maybe I’ll just make one very brief opening comment and then I’ll be happy to take some questions. Look, I think Democrats are coming out of Philadelphia united, united behind Hillary Clinton as the candidate who is the most experienced candidate ever to run for president. She has the experience, the judgment, the temperament, and the policy approach to lead our country and promote the security of America and the security of the world.

And that is in sharp contrast to what we see from Donald Trump, and maybe I can just quickly address some of the news of the last 24 hours. Donald Trump yesterday did something unprecedented: He invited the Russian Federation to interfere in American politics. Now, this morning he claimed he was joking, but this is no laughing matter. We’ve never had a presidential candidate invite an adversary of the United States to interfere in American politics, and he did so in a very irresponsible way. He basically said go ahead and try to collect data, emails, information; please conduct cyber espionage against an American political figure.

And if this were an isolated statement, we might be able to dismiss it, but it comes against the background and against the context of his statements about abandoning our NATO allies, his statements in admiration of Putin, the involvement of his cronies and his team in matters in Moscow, and the positions that he has taken that have really been in advancing Putin’s agenda in the United States.

And if you put all of those things together, it paints a very disturbing and concerning picture. And so heretonight, again, I think you’ll hear national security professionals talk about exactly what’s at stake.

I’ll just conclude by saying that a commander-in-chief, a president, has no greater responsibility than the responsibility to protect the security of the American people, to send our troops into harm’s way. And I believe that this fall there is an opportunity for a major realignment of the American political system, because common-sense voters, voters who don’t vote for party but really vote for the person and vote based on their attributes and based on their sense of whether this person is going to stand up and protect them, those voters will go for Hillary Clinton. They will distrust Donald Trump. They will worry about whether he has the judgment and the temperament for the office, and they will go with someone who is trusted, someone who is tested, and someone who is going to make the office of the presidency into something that will fight for America as opposed to threaten American national security.

Thank you very much. Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it on? Yes. I’m Kris Ronneberg with the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. We heard from several Democrats yesterday some concern about Donald Trump getting the NSA security briefings after these conventions. What’s your take on that?

MR BASH: Well, just to clarify, the question was: Is there concern about Donald Trump receiving intelligence briefings, not just from the National Security Agency? In fact, they’re coordinated from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA participates as well.

Look, I think it depends on how he handles the situation. If we don’t hear from him much out of those briefings, then perhaps he will just have taken them on and perhaps he will learn something. But to date, he has not shown great interest either in receiving briefings on policy issues or in being at all responsible with information he’s been given.

And so there is some concern. Let’s see how things unfold. What’s really concerning – I’m less concerned about these intelligence briefings over the next several weeks. What’s really of concern is what he will do in office, because that’s where he will have command and control of our nuclear forces, it’s where he will be in a position to deploy America – American forces into harm’s way, and it’s where he will make consequential and fateful decisions for the future of our country.


QUESTION: Thank you. I’m from Russian news agency RIA Novosti, correspondent Grigory Dubovitsky. So you mentioned Russia as an adversary of United States. So how do you think Hillary Clinton would be able to resolve such problems between our countries? How can she address those challenges from Russia? Thank you.

MR BASH: Well, look, I think dialogue is critical, and there have been many moments in the past eight years where dialogue with Russia has produced very important results, tangible results that have benefitted the security of the United States and of Russia. And just two examples, obviously we had in 2010 the United States ratify the Nonproliferation Treaty that was concluded between the United States and Russia. That was an incredibly important accomplishment for both countries. And then the second example I would give you is Russia is obviously a member of the Security Council and has been also a critical member of the P5+1 countries that have been leading the discussions with Iran over Iran’s nuclear program. And I think in both those cases you have had Russia and America dialoguing about common problems, and that’s the approach that has to be taken.

But what is really concerning is when Donald Trump invites Russia to interfere in American elections. That goes beyond the line. That’s not something we want to see, not as Democrats but not as Americans. Nobody wants to see that. And to the extent that Russia was involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems – and I don’t have specific information; I’m relying on the outside views of experts who have analyzed this issue – that’s very concerning.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) I’m sorry. Do you believe Russia can take this proposal from Trump?

MR BASH: Do I believe that Russia can what?

QUESTION: Take this proposal from Trump and try to hack once again.

MR BASH: Do I believe that Russia can take this proposal from Trump? I don’t know how Vladimir Putin will react if Trump is president, but I believe that the Russians will see Trump as their person in Washington. And I believe they will see Trump as somebody who can do things that they were not able to accomplish, like weaken NATO. That’s a very serious issue. And here I think that the stakes of the election are really brought into sharp relief, because NATO is a pillar of American security commitments in Europe, and that pillar must be upheld. And the next president will make key decisions about whether that security alliance will be fortified or whether it will be weakened, and Donald Trump has advocated that it be weakened.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Iiyama from the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan. I have a question about South China Sea policy (inaudible) of the Clinton administration. It seems to me that China has already very determined to continue their military buildup in the South China Sea. And if the United States and neither Japan do not have enough leverage to change their mind in the current policy, what would be the – will be the Clinton administration policy to stop that?

MR BASH: Well, it remains to be seen exactly how these issues will be addressed. However, I think if you look at Secretary Clinton’s record as secretary of state, she made very clear – and she laid this out on her numerous trips to Asia – that a rebalance, a pivot of America towards the Asia Pacific region is vitally important for American security. And part of that is reaffirming and strengthening our longstanding alliances, including our alliance with Japan, and working together with our allies to ensure that China lives by the rules of the road and that it obeys and abides by international law specifically with regards to the South China Sea, and that a military buildup by China or an effort to have military expansionism in the South China Sea is very concerning and that allies working together must address those issues. And so this is an issue where diplomacy will really be critical. It will be absolutely critical. And as America’s chief diplomat, she has the experience and the credibility to undertake that issue.

And again, I have to point out because we’re in a political convention that what’s really important here is the contrast – the contrast between her experience, her judgment, her leadership, and that of Donald Trump, who has said with regards to the Asia Pacific region basically I think Kim Jong-un is a great dictator and you’ve got to hand it to him. He also praised Saddam Hussein, just as he’s praised Vladimir Putin. But he hasn’t said really much else.

Actually, he has said something. He has – he said that Japan is violating its trade agreements with the United States and Japan is to blame for economic woes of the United States. And sometimes you hear that rhetoric with regards to China, but to hear it with regards to Japan was really shocking. And of course, American trade deals have to support American – the American middle class and American workers, and American trade policy will do those things. And you’ve seen, obviously, here a lot of discussion about that. But Donald Trump has basically gone way beyond that.

The Turk – from – the journalist from Turkey, yes.

QUESTION: Yes, how are you? Thanks a lot. Tolga Tanis with Hurriyet. After the coup attempt in Turkey, do you see Turkish-American relations are going and passing through a difficult time? It seems that there are differences between the two governments. Do you think that this issue, because the alleged perpetrator is living in U.S. and Turkey is requesting his extradition, as I’m sure that you know that, do you think that this issue might jeopardize the bilateral relations, and how do you stand on this issue? Are you on the same page with the Administration?

MR BASH: I think there have been longstanding ties and cooperation between Turkey and the United States, and I think a major issue facing the next president is how to strengthen those ties, how to deepen that relationship, and also how to have candid conversations with leaders in Ankara; and where we have differences, as we do with all of our friends and allies around the world, how to have that channel but also how to make sure that our alliance remains strong.

Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey is a partner to the United States in a number of issues, including in counterterrorism. Turkey and the United States have been dialoguing for now almost five years on the Syrian civil war. I can hardly think of an issue in the region in which the view of Turkey would not be considered and heard in Washington.

And so, again, here I come back to the essential contrast that we’re dealing with, which is one candidate has said that American leadership, America’s commitment to our NATO allies, American national security principles are important; and the other one, who has said build a wall, keep out Muslims, and I applaud Saddam Hussein. The experience gap between the two candidates is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and the judgment gap is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

QUESTION: Hi. Gretel Johnston with the German Press Agency.

MR BASH: Hello.

QUESTION: Hi. A lot has been made, of course, about history being made with our first female to head a presidential ticket. Question is – imagine you as somebody who’s been in the negotiating rooms of – around the world with different topics. I’m wondering what difference is it going to make. What should we be watching for down the road when we compare the leadership style of a female versus the leadership style and negotiating style of the men who’ve led the world until now?

MR BASH: Well, I don’t think I’m really qualified to answer that. My wife and my three daughters would be the first to tell you that. But actually, speaking as someone who is a dad of three daughters, what I think about when I see Hillary Clinton take the stage at political convention is I think that America has now entered the time when anything is possible for the girls of America and, in fact, for the girls of the world. And that is very inspiring as a dad.

Is it going to have an impact on diplomacy? I don’t know. I think what’s going to have more of an impact on diplomacy is her approach. She has been America’s chief diplomat. She has been in those rooms. She has negotiated ceasefires in the Middle East. She has helped bring countries, including Germany, into alliances that have strengthened sanctions against Iran, for example. She has worked very closely with our allies and partners. I’ve personally seen her in action; I’ve been in places like Iraq and Australia with her and her team, and she takes these issues very seriously.

And she also understands the importance of personal relationships. Personal relationships in foreign policy count for a lot more than I think some people consider, and she will have credibility and she will have the authority of someone who has been in the arena, as President Obama said yesterday.


QUESTION: This is Molinari from La Stampa. Mr. Bash, in the last weeks, at least a couple of European countries – allies of the U.S. – have been very – have been pressing this Administration, asking to be more effective against ISIS, especially in Syria in terms of an offensive on Raqqa. Especially the French Government openly at least twice said we have to do this, and they lament – they are saying that the reaction from Washington, it wasn’t as it should have been, especially after the recent attacks in Europe.

Now, do you foresee a different reaction from an Hillary administration? Would you believe that an Hillary administration would be more reactive to these kind of demands from the European allies?

MR BASH: Well, I confess I have not seen the statements that you refer to indicating any dissatisfaction. I know from personal experience that our counterterrorism cooperation with France and with all of our – all the countries in Europe is very strong. And with the wave of terror – the reign of terror – that we have seen ISIS take on in Europe, whether it’s the bombings in France or the attack in the airport in Istanbul or the attack in Brussels, these attacks have really made clear that ISIS’s game here is not necessarily to command and control operations from Raqqa, although they do do that. It is more so to inspire and propagandize people, using principally social media and the internet, to take on attacks on themselves, to take the mantle of attacks on themselves and to go out as teams or as lone wolves to attack innocent civilians going about their daily lives.

And so this will require a rethinking of how we deal with the terrorist threat. And we’re going to have to do that in conjunction with our allies and partners. I think it’s going to be a major feature of the Clinton presidency, which is to take the counterterrorism business to a new level. There will be a military dimension. There will be an intelligence dimension. There will be a law enforcement dimension. There will be a counter-radicalization, a countering violent extremism dimension. I think we’ve learned that you need to use all the tools in the American toolkit, in the international toolkit, to take on this very complex problem.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Mort Bertelsen from Dagens Naeringsliv in Norway. If we could go back to NATO for a second, please. In April, President Obama criticized NATO, NATO’s quote-unquote “free riders” in an interview with The Atlantic magazine. He also claimed that or said that Great Britain wouldn’t enjoy a special relationship unless it stepped up its defense spending. Are you on the same page when it comes to this issue?

MR BASH: Well, I think the first principle is that Hillary Clinton believes that NATO is an incredibly important alliance that is worthy of American investment and American commitment, and she believes that a strengthened NATO will actually promote the security of the free world. She also believes that any policy statements by presidential candidates to weaken NATO or to invite Russian meddling in elections in their near abroad or in America are irresponsible, dangerous, and are not worthy of a commander-in-chief.

The issue of what the specific financial commitments are from NATO countries has long been discussed. It’s been on the agenda, I think, of almost every NATO defense ministerial that I’ve participated in Brussels when I was serving in the Pentagon. It’s a constant discussion point, because obviously this is a collective security alliance in which everyone will try to pay their fair share.

But as I think President Obama said very well last night on the stage, what’s really crazy about Donald Trump’s position is essentially he’s shaking down our allies. He’s saying pay up if you want protection; and if you don’t pay up, you’re not going to get the protection you want. And that is an astounding position for a major presidential candidate to take, and it should send shivers of concern through our allies, and I think it emboldens our adversaries. And I think it’s dangerous, I think it’s irresponsible, and I think Donald Trump even as a candidate is doing damage to American national security. Just imagine how bad it’ll be when he’s president.

MODERATOR: Sorry, any other questions? Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Mr. Bash.

MR BASH: Thank you all very much for coming to Philadelphia.

MODERATOR: We appreciate your time. And I didn’t have a chance to say this at the top, but as you know, with all of our briefings at the FPC at the conventions, the remarks of the briefers are the opinions of himself and not those of the State Department. Again, thank you again, and we will be open until nine this evening. Thank you, Mr. Bash.

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