The following are remarks delivered by Dr. Sebastian Gorka at Hillsdale College’s eighth annual Constitution Day celebration in Washington, D.C. on September 19, 2017.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Never go anywhere without your copy of Imprimis.
It really is a high honor for me to address this august audience. My wife and I have been huge fans of Hillsdale for many, many years, and it’s always a race when Imprimus hits the door mat; who’s going to read it first. But I have a caveat to begin with. For the next 30 minutes, please don’t expect a discourse on de Tocqueville and Epistemology of the New Age. My first degree was philosophy and theology many moons ago, but I cannot match the erudition of the panels that we heard this morning. I’m going to bring it all down to earth and share with you my experiences inside the belly of the beast as a deputy assistant and strategist to the president, how we should move forward, and what we can expect in the years to come.
But first things first, I must make a plea to all those people who came up to me last night, and have done so since I left three weeks ago. Relax. Take a deep breath and count to 10. The fat lady isn’t singing, OK? I know that’s not politically correct, but who cares? We are in this for the long game. I’m going to be using Washington jargon, but this is about the long game. It’s not about the first eight months. It’s about eight years, and then another eight years, under President Pence. That’s the plan.
Lots of people got suicidal when my boss, Steve Bannon resigned. And then they really got suicidal when I left the building. But it’s OK. Bringing us back to the principles of the founding is not a function of where Steve sits, or whether I have a window in my office in the Eisenhower building. It’s a function of the ideas that brought a man (as we were reminded last night) brought a man who has never held public office before, or been a general flag officer, into the position of being the most powerful man in the world. There’s a reason for that, and it is much bigger than the few people who work in that wonderful peoples’ house just across the city. So, hold the line.
Common Sense, Truth, Sovereignty
The only philosophical things I’ll say is, words matter. Words matter. And the words for my address today are simple ones. The first one is a phrase. “Common sense.” The second one, which is allied to common sense, is the word “truth.” And the last one, which is the most important philosophical undergirding of everything that brought Donald Trump into the White House, and it formed his politics, is the word “sovereignty.” This is missed by the people inside the beltway. These aren’t random speeches. The war, defeating ISIS, pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, these are informed by the same philosophical idea: the importance of sovereignty and the nation-state. So that’s all the philosophizing I will do.
So, let me talk to you about my experience for the last few months inside the White House. I’ll talk about three things: Who is the president? I’ll talk about what happened inside the building, and I’ll address this question that has become so popular today, of the ‘deep state’ and how it affects foreign policy going forward.
Who is the president? The president, behind closed doors, is exactly the same as he is in public. He’s not your average politician; when he sees a camera, flicks a little switch in the back of his head, and then switches on that “Washington grimace.” He is who he is. When I first met him in the summer 2015, I was asked to come brief him in New York on matters to do with national security. The man, in private, was exactly the man I’d come to know on the television screens. And that is, in itself, refreshing. There is no Janus-faced, bi-polarity with this individual.
Secondly, he is a preternatural, instinctual actor. It is not an exaggeration. Monica Crowley described him most accurately. The weekend of the election, we were with David Horowitz and his colleagues at his Restoration Weekend (which was either going to be a wake or a celebration.) But, the right candidate won. And two days after the election, Monica stated, “The people who misunderstand Donald J. Trump look at him through an ideological lens. And that is completely the wrong way to look at him. Because, Donald J. Trump wasn’t an ideological candidate; he was an attitudinal candidate.” And that is very, very much so. You cannot slap easy, lazy labels onto this man. Yes, the chattering classes would have you do so. The mainstream media would have you do so. But remember, this is a Republican candidate who strode along the campaign platform waving a “gay pride” flag. That’s not exactly a classic Republican candidate. He breaks the conventional taxonomy, and that’s important to remember.
What he is, is a man who cares about making this nation great again. That slogan is not pablum; it’s not empty rhetoric. He truly wishes to translate what he has done in the private sector, in terms of making a great brand, and translating that back to America’s position in the world and its founding principles.
A Hostile Takeover
What happened in the last seven months, until I left the White House? Well, what happened on January the 20th needs to be understood. Who likes the movie “Red Dawn,” the original one? Great movie, OK? Those of you who have not seen it, watch it. Not the remake; the original.
On November the 8th, it was very much like the movie “Red Dawn.” A scrappy band of insurgents won against the behemoth. And in this case, it was the establishment. Donald J. Trump was only accidentally the GOP candidate. He was as much an anti-establishment, right-wing candidate as an anti-establishment Democrat candidate. He was the antithesis of “the swamp.” As a result of wiping the floor with 16 candidates … Think about that; wiping the floor with 16 establishment candidates, and then trouncing a woman who had spent $700 million for a position she thought was owed to her. As a result of that unprecedented political event, on January the 20th, or the 21st, 8 o’clock in the morning, when we rolled into the West Wing, it was a hostile takeover. And it has to be understood as such.
If you look at the federal government, if you add in the armed forces, we have two plus million employees. And a couple of dozen people who are committed to the platform came in to execute a hostile takeover over of an institution with literally millions of employees. That’s not going to be easy.
As such, we fought a rearguard action inside the building, and at one point, for Steve it was earlier than me, he decided he can be more effective on the outside; he took his decision. And then, when I heard the president’s speech on Afghanistan, I knew it was time for me to relocate my desk and my chair. I came in because of my background in counterterrorism and my commitment to defeating radical Islamic terrorism. But when a speech was written for the president, which had that phrase removed, after its use multiple times: in Riyadh, in front of the joint session of Congress, in Warsaw, I knew that the swamp was in ascendance.
However, very important to remember, this is a temporary state of affairs. I predict, within the next few months, we shall see some very significant changes of personnel at the highest levels of the administration. Not because a cabinet member decides to do it, or a chief of staff, but because the president decides to do it. In the last seven months, most of the firings have had nothing to do with the president. In the next few months, I predict they will, and that is a good thing.
The Permanent State is “The Swamp”
Let’s talk about the deep state. I don’t like the phrase “the deep state.” I think it has a flavor of a conspiracy theory. I love conspiracy theories as fiction. OK? I have a bookshelf of them, but there’s a reason they’re called “theories.” They’re not conspiracy facts. OK? I prefer the phrase “the permanent state.” And that’s not a conspiracy theory. The permanent state is real. And it is a problem when you look at the values that it holds. I wasn’t part of the National Security Council, but I, thanks to some good people in the NSC, I attended numerous meetings on key issues, whether it was “the Qatar crisis,” whether it was “defeat ISIS,” “Muslim brotherhood,” and so forth.
And, to sit … I mean, look. I’m a child of people who escaped Communist dictatorship. My father, at the age of 20, was given a life sentence of being an anti-communist, and spent two years in a prison coal mine. So, I arrived to Washington with a sense that I was adequately cynical. I had no idea.
When you sit inside the Situation Room, or you sit inside an NSC videoconference facility, with members of the inter-agencies sitting at the table, and then out-stations, DIA, CIA, Department of Defense, so on and so forth, and you’re talking about a very important policy issue, at the highest level of U.S. government (policy coordination inside the NSC) and you just listen for an hour, hour and a half. And not one person in the room, or on the outstations, mentions the name of the president, what his objectives are, given the relevant issue, or what he said yesterday in Warsaw, we have a problem, Houston. Especially when you see that happen again and again and again.
And then, it’s left up to me, the guy with the funny accent, to remind everybody in the room, and on the outstations, “You do know what the president said yesterday about ISIS?” Or, “You do what he said yesterday about illegal immigration?” The lone wolf voice had to remind him. That’s the “permanent state.” It’s the GS15, who’s been at the State Department for 20 years, and thinks he knows better than the individual who was elected to run the federal government. This is something that will take years for us to rectify, but we shall.
War Rightly Understood
Second topic I’d like to talk about is based upon what I heard yesterday. You always plan great speeches, and then you hear people like Professor [Larry] Arnn, and then you have to throw it all out and start again. So, I’d like to address what the good professor said yesterday about war, and the great lessons we must learn from true statesmen like Churchill. Statecraft is dead. We haven’t had statesmen or women since the 1980s as far as I’m concerned. I grew up under Maggie Thatcher; she was a hero to me, as was the Gipper.
Let’s just ruminate for a moment on this word “war.” War is not a word you wish to use lightly; Churchill was absolutely right. But we must differentiate between different types of war. We are not in a total war. We don’t have children today collecting aluminum soda cans so we can build bombers. That’s total war. However … However, there are people who are engaged with war, in war, with us right now. And that’s, to begin with, irregular warfare. What groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are doing on the streets of Boston, on the streets of Nice, on the streets of Orlando, is a form of warfare. It’s not “total war” in the Clausewitzian sense, but it is war.
And one of the reasons that I decided to assist the president, was in the first five minutes of meeting him in 2015, I realized that this is a man who understands we are at war with a new totalitarian enemy. Global jihadism is a form of totalitarianism. It has a connective tissue; it has a shared gene code with the fascists and the Nazis of the past, with the Communists of the Cold War. Why? Because you cannot negotiate with Abul Bakr al-Baghdadi, just as you cannot negotiate with Hitler. They will either kill or enslave you. Period. When I met Donald Trump, I understood immediately, this is not only a man who understands we are at war; he also wishes to win that war. And that is very refreshing.
But there are other forms of warfare we must be familiar with. There is political warfare, and there is the information operations. And we are being targeted right now. I’m not going to get into, you know, the Russia collusion delusion, but the fact is … What does my friend Kellyanne call it? The Russian Concussion. But the fact is, anybody who is surprised that Russia wanted to influence an election in a Western democracy has been asleep since 1917. That’s what the Kremlin does.
And the fact is, Russia has fine-tuned the tools it developed during the Cold War, which were called “maskirovka disinformazia.” And it is using them today in the cyber domain. This isn’t about Hillary. This isn’t about Podesta. This is about Russia’s tradecraft for the last, what is it? 100 years, with the anniversary this year. And we must take it seriously. We don’t. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been through in the Pentagon, where, when you said the word “political warfare,” people get all jittery. I mean, we did this. The OSS wasn’t a special forces organization. The OSS was a political warfare organization. We need to understand who’s using it against us, and to respond against it.
Economic Warfare: “One Belt, One Road”
And then lastly, the thing that … the scales fell off my eyes during my month in the White House, thanks to Steve Bannon, because of what I learned about economic warfare. I was brought in to talk about counter-terrorism, and represent the president in the media. But, if we have a long-term threat to this nation, it’s not the jihadists. We will deal with the jihadists. There will be no stone-upon-stone left, eventually. What we have to understand is what China is doing to us in the economic domain. And the rank, abject surrender that our private sector, especially Silicon Valley, and many partitions in this city have demonstrated by saying, “Oh, Chinese money; that’s like anybody else’s money. That’s fine; their money’s green, too.” Wrong. When Apple decides to put its latest artificial intelligence research center in China, that means China has successfully executed economic warfare against us.
And we need to take this seriously. If you don’t believe me, after this event, go home and Google one phrase. “One Belt, One Road.” “One Belt, One Road.” The Communist party of China looks at the last 100 years as the anomaly in more than 5,000 years of history. They see it as an embarrassment, and that it will return to its rightful place as the hegemonic power in the world, and it has an overt plan to do so. It’s not classified; Google it. “One Belt, One Road.” They know how to do strategy, and they are executing on that strategy, and the sooner we wake up, the better.
Does Ideology Look Dead to You?
So where does that leave us, with regards to future foreign and national security policy? Well, number one, we must remind ourselves that Francis Fukuyama was very wrong. When that former neo-con wrote, I think it was in 1991, a famous book that turned into an article, “The End of History and the Last Man” his argument was a very seductive one. “We defeated all the totalitarians. We defeated the fascists, now we defeated the Soviet Union, therefore the future of mankind is determined.” It was actually a quite Hegelian argument, yes? It was a natural progression of the dialectic. He said the future of mankind is (I’m going to date myself here) is simply a question of twiddling with the buttons on your graphic equalizer of democracy. You’re just going to have to fine-tune the bass, the treble … and it’s … There’s no serious threats; we’ve defeated all of them. It’s just about fine-tuning.
His argument was “ideology is dead.” That’s what we were told in 1991. Ideology is dead. I ask you today: If you listen to the president’s speech that he gave an hour ago at the U.N. If you look at North Korea, if you look at Venezuela, if you look at Iran, if you look at Russia, and tell me that ideology is dead, then I’ll check whether you’ve got a heartbeat and whether you’re breathing.
Ideology is reborn. Not in a bipolar sense, but there is a connective tissue that links Venezuela to Iran, to ISIS, to Russia, to China. They’re not all Communists; they’re not all jihadis. But their one ideological connection is that they all wish to undermine or destroy us. Iran . . . I totally agree that the threat from North Korea is a very serious one, as we heard last night, but Iran is more serious. Why? Because our last administration facilitated a regime that wished to destroy us. $150 billion. Signed a deal that doesn’t stop them from getting nuclear weapons; it mildly delays them.
To quote a survivor of the Holocaust, an old man who’d seen his whole family die in the labor camps and in the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, some facile reporter asked him one day, “What is your take-home from the last six years of the Holocaust? What’s your big lessons learned?” And he said, “Oh, that’s easy. There’s one lesson learned. When a group of people repeatedly says they will destroy you, sooner or later you should take them seriously.”
We need to take Iran seriously. And everybody else, who not only verbally is committed to our destruction, but is working on ways to acquire the capability to effect that destruction.
Neither Isololationist Nor Neo-Conservative
So, we need to understand that, on the Right, we have been far too superficial in our understanding of foreign policy. In the run-up to the election, the reason I actually agreed to work with Donald Trump initially was, I’d had enough of people saying, “On the Right, you only have two options when it comes to national security. You must be an isolationist, like the libertarians; pull down the shutters on the Pacific coast, and the Atlantic coast, and we’ll be fine.” (Just like we were in Pearl Harbor.) And the other option is, “Oh, if you don’t want to do that, if you don’t want to be a libertarian, you’ve got to be a dastardly neo-con and invade everybody’s country, and create democracy at the end of a gun battle.” Well, there’s a massive scale in between. There’s a massive palette of true statecraft between isolationism and neo-conservatism. And that’s who this president is.
I have been in the Oval; I’m not talking out of school, but when the president tells me one-on-one, “I do not wish to go to war with Korea,” that’s reassuring. He understands the consequences of his actions. But at the same time, when he sees men and women gassed to death in Syria, he’s prepared to take action. We didn’t talk about red lines; we didn’t bloviate; we acted. And the day after that attack, I bumped into the vice president as I was coming out of the West Wing, and he stopped, and he said to me (the day after the cruise missile attack) … Well, firstly he said to me was, “What do you think about last night? Go Navy!” Seriously, he said, “Go Navy!” And then he said, very seriously, “So, what do you think? Do you think they got the message about gassing unarmed women and children?” And I said, “Yes, Mr. Vice President. I think the world got the message.”
Defend America First, Defend the West
Strategic patience, leading from behind, created a Dantean inferno across the globe, which we inherited. We understand; it’s all about reckless application of force, but use of force when it is needed. But only in the national interest of the United States. That’s what “America First” means. I commend to you … I know the individuals who wrote it … If you haven’t closely done so, please go back to the president’s Warsaw speech. Because the president’s Warsaw speech is a reaffirmation of Judeo-Christian civilizational values, and a statement that we will not export, by force, our political system, but we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anyone that shares our Judeo-Christian values, whether it’s Poland, or whether it’s Belgium. Anyone. That’s who the president is.
The impediment, along the way, is the managerial elite. That’s the biggest obstacle. That’s the technical term for the swamp. They have a default ideology, which is really anti-national sovereignty. Cloaking itself in postmodern sophistication. Organizations like Hillsdale can pierce though that ideological default setting and remind us of the existence of objective truth, which I think is the basis of why blue-collar steelworkers in Youngstown, Ohio, who are registered Democrats, voted for a billionaire from New York. They may not know the difference between Sunni and Shia, but they know that something is rotten in the kingdom of Denmark, and therefore they voted the way they voted.
We have to return to true statecraft. I’m very excited about what I heard yesterday; the masters in government at Hillsdale will be pursuing. Because, to quote one of our greatest presidents, for the time we are living in right now, “As our case is new, so we must think anew.” Abraham Lincoln. We must think anew because this city is as intellectually bankrupt as it is morally. If we do so, then we … Let me quote Imprimis, a speech by a certain presidential candidate who’s now the Commander in Chief. “What is needed in Washington is a president who will rein in the executive branch, and work with Congress to make sure the legislative branch does its job.” That is Donald J. Trump’s objective. And if we help him to be successful; if Hillsdale can help him to be successful; if the graduates sorted across the administration can help him to be successful, then we will be able, once more, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves, and our posterity. Thank you.