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Fred Fleitz, president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy, joins the podcast to discuss national security challenges facing the United States today, including China and the coronavirus outbreak.

We also cover these stories:

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces that the National Guard is headed to New Rochelle, a town outside New York City that has 108 coronavirus cases—compared to 36 in the city.
  • The stock market rallies after a tough day Monday blamed largely on coronavirus fears.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin supports a measure that would let him run again for president when his term expires in 2024.

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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Fred Fleitz, the president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. He previously served as the deputy assistant to President [Donald] Trump and chief of staff to national security adviser John Bolton. He also served in U.S. national security positions for 25 years with the CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee. Thank you so much for being here, Mr. Fleitz.

Fred Fleitz: Great to be here.

Allen: Let’s begin by talking about your time in the administration. Speaking as someone who has worked closely with the president and national security adviser, John Bolton, how would you describe this administration’s approach to national security?

Fleitz: It was refreshing to work for a president who threw out the diplomatic rule book, who was going against the foreign policy establishment and conventional wisdom to solve problems, to get us out of wars—not to start new wars—and to try some innovative things such as personal diplomacy with Kim Jong Un.

Now, we all know that that diplomacy has not completely succeeded yet, but frankly, it is significantly a lower tangent in the Korean Peninsula. It is the type of unconventional approach to solving lingering problems that other presidents wouldn’t have attempted. It was a real pleasure to work for Mr. Trump to help him implement these policies.

Allen: What are some of your proudest moments or … greatest accomplishments from working with the president on national security issues?

Fleitz: By far, the most significant accomplishment I have, and I’ve worked on this with The Heritage Foundation, was to get the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran.

Now, this mostly started before I joined the administration in 2018, but look, the Center for Security Policy and Heritage are one of the few organizations around town who were exactly right, that this nuclear deal was a fraud. It could not be fixed. It was the worst deal ever, as the president said, and that we had to get out of it.

The center played a role in writing a memo which helped get the president out of the agreement.

It was difficult because the president’s initial set of advisers were all against us withdrawing because the foreign policy establishment and European leaders said we can’t. Well, look, President Trump doesn’t answer to Europe. He did what he thought was best for the United States, and I was very proud for the role I played in that decision.

Allen: Absolutely. What would you say is one of the greatest security threats that is facing America today?

Fleitz: I think the greatest security threat is China. No question.

There’s lots of threats worldwide—proliferation of nuclear weapons, Iran, Syria, Russia. But China, I think, is an enormous and growing and future threat, an economic threat of military, an intelligence threat, a cyber threat, and now we’re seeing because of this backward authoritarian system, when some outlier threat like coronavirus comes up, their backward system makes it worse.

The secrecy, the lack of sharing information, not allowing experts into the country, this could have been contained in China. If China was honest with its people, if it was honest with the international community …

I worry what’s going to happen when there’s a far more serious virus that erupts in China. What will happen? What if it’s another Spanish flu that starts in China and it goes all over the world because the Chinese officials refuse to deal with it effectively?

Allen: Do you think that coronavirus will affect China’s position on the world stage?

Fleitz: I think it’s going to affect it, but you know, there were predictions a few years ago that China would be the leading economy in a few years. Before coronavirus it was pretty clear this is not going to be the case.

They have a problem with birth rates. The one-child system has significantly hurt the number of working Chinese to run factories. And there’s other problems with the Chinese economy. As their economy does better, factories are moving out because salaries are going up.

China is a terrible place to do business because of the authoritarian regime and the fact that trade is not fair, the Chinese companies give an advantage.

So if you run a multinational corporation, if you don’t have to do business in China, you won’t. Those companies are moving their factories to Vietnam and to Malaysia and Bangladesh, and under President Trump, they’re moving back to the U.S.

Allen: What is this administration doing to combat the threat of China?

Fleitz: The administration is doing a couple of things. First of all, it recognizes that China is a multifaceted threat that we have to stand up to. At the same time, we’re trying to get a trade deal that has advantages for both sides.

Now, there are some experts in Heritage who deal with them all the time who say, “We can’t trust China, we can’t deal with them at all.” I don’t think that’s the solution because China’s not going away, and the president’s negotiators are trying to get the best deal possible with China that addresses predatory trade, theft of intellectual property, and other unethical trade practices.

In the short term, we’re making small progress and we’re a lot better than we were under the Obama administration. There’s still a long way to go though.

Allen: Let’s fast forward 10, 20 years into the future. Do you still see China as being a very prominent national security threat or do you see other things on the horizon that we need to be preparing for now as a nation?

Fleitz: I think China will still be a major security threat. I think the regime has basically such control over the population, they’ve been so brainwashed, it’s going to be hard for democracy to seep into that country.

But I think the Chinese people are increasingly aware of the fact that they are being run by a government that does not have their interests at heart, that is authoritarian, that is not doing what is in the interest of people. And I think the coronavirus is something that has pointed that [out].

I think China will continue to be a threat for a long time to come. I’m worried about the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I’m worried about Iran and North Korea trying to acquire these weapons. I’m worried about Russia, but Russia, as much as a threat as it is, is a declining power. I don’t think China is a declining power and will remain a significant threat for many years to come.

Allen: I’m glad that you mentioned Iran and North Korea. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on in those nations as it does regard their nuclear power. Can you explain that a little bit further?

Fleitz: Concerning Iran, we had this fraudulent nuclear deal that [President] Barack Obama negotiated, and typically, the way many Republican and Democratic administrations negotiated the deal. We wanted the deal more than the Iranians did. We gave them every concession possible.

It allowed Iran to continue to engage in nuclear weapons-related technologies by enriching uranium, by operating a reactor that would produce plutonium, had very weak verification. It lifted sanctions from terrorists. It did not include missiles, which is a nuclear delivery system. And there’s clear evidence Iran was cheating.

The president got us out of that deal, put on … a strategy called maximum pressure, which was a good alternative to this disastrous policy. And basically, we’ve given the message to the Iranians, “Either you negotiate with us or we’re going to keep the screws on it.”

We know Iran’s economy and its influence throughout the Middle East has suffered greatly because of the president’s policies.

Concerning North Korea, the president took a very tough stand against North Korea in 2017, and he had to. There were 76 North Korean missile tests during the Obama administration, four nuclear weapons tests, 17 missile tests in 2017, and a test of what might’ve been a hydrogen bomb in September 2017.

The president’s very tough rhetoric and threats in forcing other nations to comply with sanctions, and the president’s statement that he would utterly destroy North Korea if it continued to threaten the United States and its allies, brought the North Koreans to the negotiating table.

They suspended their nuclear test. They did resume some short-term missile tests last year, but I mean, we’re on a trajectory where there is a chance for peace. I think it’s a small chance. We have to keep playing that out to see where it’s going to go.

I don’t like current and former officials saying that there’s no chance that the president’s policies will succeed. Let’s see what happens. Let’s play it out.

Allen: How do we go about playing that out? What is the next step for America and North Korea?

Fleitz: I think both sides have made mistakes in the negotiations. The two heads of state, Kim and Trump, make an agreement and then at the lower level there’s no follow-up and there’s bickering and things don’t go anywhere.

This is mostly the fault of the North Korean government, it is also the fault of the U.S. State Department, of lower-level officials who are not carrying out the president’s policies.

We have to have monthly meetings set up between a high-level Trump official and a high-level Kim official to start dialogue on how we can get to a final agreement.

I think President Trump should name a senior official, maybe Jared Kushner, to start this dialogue with the North Korean government. Someone the North Koreans can’t turn down. …

I think if we started that, the missile tests will stop, and I don’t know that we’re going to get there, but I think we can increase the chances of getting an agreement.

Allen: Really interesting. So let’s take a minute. I would love to just hear a little bit more about what you’re doing at the Center for Security Policy.

Fleitz: Well, I’m very lucky to be CEO of a small national security organization. We’re trying to help keep our nation safe. We’re trying to help the president succeed as much as a nonprofit can. We’re trying to follow up the nuclear deal. We’re trying to help the president on North Korea.

We have a very aggressive program on the threat from China called the “Committee on the Present Danger: China” that’s being run by our center’s founder, Frank Gaffney. And we’ve a very important program on fighting anti-Semitism, “The Project on global anti-Semitism and the [U.S.-Israel] Relationship.” It’s headed by my colleague, Dr. David Wormser.

Allen: For Americans like myself and those listening who love Israel, who want to see America stand with Israel, what can we do to be a part of that voice of really calling all of America to stand for the people of Israel?

Fleitz: We need bipartisan opposition to any signs of anti-Semitism in the United States. It’s absolutely unacceptable.

We have to say to the Democratic Party, “[House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, you have a good record standing up for Israel anti-Semitism, but when members of your caucus—Congresswoman [Ilhan] Omar, Congresswoman [Rashida] Tlaib—say things that are clearly prejudicial and hateful toward Jewish people in the state of Israel, we have to make it clear, Democrats and Republicans, that is unacceptable.”

We have to say to other members of Congress, Republican or Democrat, “This can’t be tolerated in any way. We can’t let this start to simmer up.”

We know what happened in the United Kingdom where Jeremy Corbyn, who was denounced as the year’s worst anti-Semite by the leading rabbi of the U.K., almost became U.K. prime minister. He’s the head of the Labour Party, one of the great political parties in the Western world. Look what’s happening in the United Kingdom. We can’t let that happen here.

Allen: For our listeners who want to find out more about your organization and what you’re doing, how can they do that?

Fleitz: Our website is called securefreedom.org. I hope they’ll go on there and check it out. We have some great analysis.

And I have to tell you, I’m so grateful to The Heritage Foundation. They’ve been such a great partner in working to keep our nation safe and we’ll look forward to keep working with you.

Allen: Well, we really appreciate all that you’re doing, Mr. Fleitz, and thank you so much for your time today.