A Conversation With Adam Smith
U.S. Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, discusses the future of U.S. foreign policy and defense priorities, congressional initiatives designed to strengthen U.S. national security, and the implications of Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion.
BRONNER: Well, welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting, conversation with Adam Smith, who’s the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. I’m Ethan Bronner. I’m a senior editor at Bloomberg. And I’ll be presiding over today’s conversation. And the congressman and I will talk for thirty minutes and then open it up to you guys and to the people watching remotely over Zoom.
So thanks for doing this.
SMITH: Thank you for having me.
BRONNER: I say that in the name of the Council. I have no right to speak in the name of the Council, but there I am doing it. I guess we need to start, and possibly end, with Ukraine. So we’re entering the fourth month of this Russian invasion. And the president has now signed a $40 billion aid package. That’s not chump change. That’s a lot of money. And it seems to me that, like Pearl Harbor, this is a kind of a moment in which everything starts to revolve around it from an American perspective, and maybe a global perspective. The Russian military has clearly done poorly. The Ukrainians have clearly done a lot better than many had predicted. And so—and the NATO alliance seem to have grown far more united. So these were remarkable, important developments that weren’t obvious before they happened. So why don’t I start by asking you how you see the coming months, Mr. Chairman? What are you watching for? What are you hoping for? And what legitimate, appropriate goals for our involvement in this conflict?
SMITH: Well, there’s multiple layers to that, obviously.
SMITH: The administration by and large has stated clearly that the goals are to maintain a sovereign and democratic Ukraine, to make sure that Russian comes out of this weaker than when they went in. So I think the language that has been used is to make this a strategic failure for Russia coming in. And then to make sure that the Western alliance and NATO is stronger as they come through. I mean, that’s the overall goal. And then you’ve got two big pieces to it. One is the actual fight in Ukraine. Never forget that the number-one most important thing here is the incredible suffering that the Ukrainian people are going through. And we want to try to help them in every way to push the Russians out and end that suffering. And there is certainly that very straightforward, tactical fight that’s going on, and the broader strategic fight that has a number of layers to it, which I’ll get to in a moment.
And then the second big thing is the—you know, the relative strength of the—you know, the alliance, NATO that has come together, and Russia. And the easiest way to sum that up is we are in favor of a rules-based international order. You know, the post-World War II consensus that we tried to build. And look, a rules-based international order is not a perfect thing. I mean, think of the rules in your own life. Who follows the rules every single time? Certainly not me. But you have a broad base of rules there, and you have a method for enforcing them, and you have a general understanding this is how we’re going to operate as a civil society.
Russia and China, most notably, but also, you know, the transnational terrorist groups in Iran, in particular, they want to break up that order. And they’re not terribly focused on what replaces it. They just see it as oppressive and getting in the way of what they want. We have to work with the entire world to maintain that order going forward and show them that it can work. Because, as you know, Xi and Putin are aggressively making the case that autocracy works better than democracy and a rules-based system, and that the rules-based system has been set up, you know, to benefit some and not benefit others. So we have to make that case.
On the ground in Ukraine, I think we have to be mindful of two big things. One, yes, the Russians have failed spectacularly and embarrassingly in Kyiv and now in Kharkiv. But at the same time, they control territory in Russia right now that they did not control—sorry, in Ukraine—
BRONNER: In Ukraine.
SMITH: That they did not control when the war started. They have pushed in and taken territory. And it’s becoming a little bit frozen in some places, in the south and in the east. We’ve got to keep supplying Ukraine, push them back, and push them out of that. And I think there’s real potential to do that. But the second point is, what is our, you know, patience for this within the countries within the coalition that’s supporting Ukraine? You know, we did pass the $40 billion package that you referenced. Fifty-seven Republicans voted against it. You know, what is going to be our attention span to maintain the level of support? And it’s not just us. It’s a global coalition. But how can we keep that coalition together? We’ve got Finland and Sweden coming into NATO. Good thing. We have Turkey, you know, kind of complaining about it. Does that become a fault line?
So holding this together, it’s been a solid three months in terms of helping Ukraine, Ukraine fighting incredibly courageously, succeeding, the alliance coming together. But this is a long-term play, not a short-term play.
BRONNER: And your attention span doesn’t tend to be that long.
SMITH: No, exactly.
BRONNER: I want to ask you something you just said, that it’s important that Russia be weaker when it’s over. I remember when it was said, there was some concern that this wasn’t an appropriate thing to say. That that’s not our job, to weaken them. We want them out. Do we want to weaken them or do we want them out?
SMITH: Well, we want both, actually. And I want to be clear on one thing. The one thing that we should not want is we should not want regime change in Russia. And talking about that I think is an enormous mistake. It’s bad policy. And it’s wrong. Look, we believe in a rules-based international order. That’s what we said. Russia is Russia. Their territorial integrity is every little bit as important as anybody else’s territorial integrity. They’ve got a country. They’ve got borders. We know what it is and we need to make it clear, we’re not going to ever threaten that, OK? And we may not be in love with Putin. We don’t get to pick the Russian president. I hope that we’ve learned some of the lessons of the last twenty years, that regime change is a bad policy.
And that sort of gets into the broader, you know, strategic implications of this. Our hubris post the end of the Cold War and with our success in the First Gulf War sort of got some people thinking, well, we’ll just move pieces around here like it’s a chessboard. Doesn’t work that way. If you’re going to build your rules-based international order it can’t be us sort of dominating and pushing people around. It has to be us working cooperatively with the rest of the world.
BRONNER: And do you think it’s an appropriate goal to make sure that Russia—
SMITH: Let me get to the weaker part, because that’s the—but the first part is really important. Weaker doesn’t mean, oh, we want to crush them. Weaker means that not just Putin and Russia, but Xi in China, and every country in the world, when they’re thinking about doing a military incursion like this that violates rules-based international order, they think: That’s not going to go well. We’re going to come out worse than when we started. That’s what I mean by weaker. Not weaker in the sense that their regime collapses. Weaker in the sense that they are less able to use their military to attack their neighbors and try to expand their—
BRONNER: So it’s not just less willing, it’s also less able.
SMITH: And the two go together.
BRONNER: And do you think it’s appropriate that the goal for the current operation is to get them to where they were before they invaded three months ago? Or also out of Crimea?
SMITH: Well, I think we need a little strategic ambiguity on that one for the moment.
BRONNER: OK. (Laughs.)
SMITH: That’s a tough conversation. And I’ve spoken with—I was just on a video link with one of President Zelensky’s national security advisors, you know, talking through these issues. And look, Ukraine is very clear. Ukraine is Ukraine, and it’s what it was when, you know, the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. And that’s fine. I think that that needs to be their position. But for right now, let’s just focus on pushing Russia out of what they’ve taken in the last three months. If we are successful in doing that, then you have a very, very difficult conversation about, you know, the former line of control in the east and Crimea. But we’re a ways away from having to have that conversation right now.
BRONNER: And the weapons that we’re providing, I gather they have become increasingly sophisticated. They’re now—we’re seeing these Howitzers that are there, extremely big artillery. Is there some limit to what we ought to be providing? I mean, is there some line that we ought not to be crossing?
SMITH: Well, I don’t really think so. For the most part, the limits that have been placed on it have been what we can effectively get into Ukraine. You know, we—believe it or not, you can’t just make weapons—you can’t flip a switch and you go, ah, look, we’ll make all this stuff. We either have it or we don’t. So a lot of the stuff we don’t have, number one. Number two, the Ukrainians have to know how to use it, OK? And we have to be able to get to them in a useful way. That’s the primary limitation. The limitation I see on what we’re doing in Ukraine is exactly what President Biden and his leadership team have said. We’re going to help Ukraine to the greatest extent possible. We’re not going to war with Russia. We are not going to directly confront Russia with U.S. or NATO troops or NATO weaponry operated by U.S. or NATO troops. That’s the line. The rest of it is just, you know, how do you get it to them and how do they effectively use it?
BRONNER: So he in the last twelve hours or whatever said something almost about Taiwan that I want to talk about, but one last thing on—
SMITH: I figured that might come up.
BRONNER: Yeah, you figured, right? Before we get to that, I wanted to ask you about NATO and the idea of expanding it to Finland and Sweden, and the Turks’ hesitation or attempt to slow it, if not to stop it. So, A, is it an unalloyed good to increase the size of NATO with these numbers? Is there any risk, downside to it? And then I’m going to ask you about Turkey.
SMITH: There are very few things in life that I’ve come across that come without some risk.
BRONNER: (Laughs.) Fair.
SMITH: So but I think it is a good, in this case. I mean, the main restriction on whether or not we expand NATO comes, is the country a good fit? And frankly, you know, there were many concerns with Ukraine joining NATO, but one of them was does their military matchup with the rest of NATO? Can we work together as a unit? Finland and Sweden are a really good fit in that regard. So I think it’s good if we expand it. And, look, there’s this huge debate about, you know, how NATO provoked Russia. A, I don’t really think it did. I think Putin had broader ambitions. And, B, it shouldn’t. The notion of a rules-based international order is you can join the alliances you want to join, and particularly a defensive alliance.
Again, nobody has ever threatened the territorial—so no one has threatened the territorial integrity of Russia since NATO was formed. It’s never been part of what we’re doing. It is a purely defensive alliance. And you can see that in Finland. Finland didn’t want to join NATO. Now they feel threatened, OK? So they want to join precisely because they feel threatened. And I think expanding alliances like that, that hold in place the current rules-based international order, the current boundaries of countries, and the current sovereignty, is a positive not just for strengthening NATO, but for strengthening the big argument that we’re trying to make globally about how the world should operate.
BRONNER: So what do you make of Turkey’s interference here? Do you think that they are hoping to get F-16s out of it? I mean, and also how—tell me how—at least as you can assess it—how anti-Turkish is the mood in Congress?
SMITH: I’m more worried about it than most people are. I think there’s an assumption that’s probably right as a starting point. Turkey, they got leverage. They know NATO wants something and they’re trying to use that leverage.
BRONNER: They do have a veto. I mean, they can officially stop it.
SMITH: Yeah. Right. And they certainly have some beefs. You know, we clearly have the problem with the F-35 program that we’ve had. And that has to do with the S-400. And there’s really nothing—and we’ve told Turkey over and over and over again, the F-35 doesn’t go with the S-400. It just doesn’t, OK? But there’s then also the problem of a lot of the embargos against Turkey that were implemented after their 2019 incursion into Syria. And I think they want some of that lifted. And I think we ought to have that conversation. I mean, we’re trying to make a deal here. What I worry about more is the degree to which Erdogan wants more than that. That he’s truly trying to be an independent player, and the possibility that this can create a fissure in what has been a fairly united front.
So—and I’ve said this to Finish president, Swedish prime minister, to the Finnish ambassador. Everyone I’ve talked to, including our administration, we got to get in there and we got to negotiate, OK? This is a very serious issue. We need to take Turkey seriously. And we need to sit down. And we need to cut a deal. And we need to get aggressive about it, like, now.
BRONNER: When you said you’re more worried than others, you’re talking about the role they could play or the antagonism toward Turkey’s role in Congress?
SMITH: I’m more worried that Erdogan is going to take a more independent approach to this. And he may just decide, eh, I think this is going to help me in my reelection, so what do I care about the NATO alliance? I think that would be a huge mistake.
SMITH: And I would also say I don’t think there’s an anti-Turkey feeling within Congress.
SMITH: You know, it’s a difficult and problematic relationship. We disagree on a number of different things, but we understand the crucial role that Turkey plays. You know, it’s right there on the eastern border. You know, we want to make them more part of Europe and to be allied, you know, through NATO and through other—you know, through economic means, where possible. And yet, we have areas of disagreement. So it’s a problem that needs to be worked.
BRONNER: OK. So let’s talk about what happened—about Taiwan generally, and then given what President Biden has said. So as far as I understand it, the president has made clear that he’s unwilling to risk World War III for Ukraine. That is, he’s not willing to go in on that level. But it felt today that he was saying he is willing to risk World War III for Taiwan. Is that right?
SMITH: You’d have to ask him.
BRONNER: (Laughs.) OK.
SMITH: To be a hundred percent clear.
BRONNER: What’s your sense?
SMITH: Look, the policy—and it’s always been very frustrating dealing with China and Taiwan. But I think we have to make it clear that we are going to do everything we can to deter China from going into Taiwan. And that’s really the focus. The truth of the matter is, no matter what any president says, no matter what I say, no matter what anyone on the face of the Earth says right now about what the U.S. would do militarily if China invaded Taiwan, you’re not going to know until it actually happens, OK? That’s just not—
BRONNER: Well, what’s interesting is that you’re not convinced that we won’t go in. I mean, you’re not convinced.
SMITH: Well, like I said, I’m not—
BRONNER: But with Ukraine—(laughs)—we can—I mean, there is a distinction there.
SMITH: Well, the distinction is the war is on. The choice is in front of us.
BRONNER: Yes. We now know.
SMITH: And you can very specifically right now, in real time, weigh the pros and cons of getting in or getting out. Whether or not we got—it’s all hypothetical in terms of what would actually be happening in the world at that point. What we need to do is we need to create a situation where China is deterred from going into Taiwan. And we need to state the policy clearly. And that’s—strategic ambiguity is part of the policy. So stating strategic ambiguity clearly is somewhat of an oxymoron. But I still think it can be done. And that is this: Look, we’re not going to get into the whole thing.
One China, that’s fine. Eventually you’re going to figure it out. But you are not going to figure it out through brute military force. That’s not how you figure it out. So therefore, we are going to help arm Taiwan, to make sure that they’re capable of defending themselves. And we’re also going to strengthen the alliance of nations in the region who want a rules-based system to balance and hedge, if you will, against Chinese power. That’s why I think this trip by the president, that one sentence aside, the economic partnership he announced—
BRONNER: Yes, I understand—
SMITH: I think they’re—that’s all important in deterring China. If they go in, it’s going to depend on who the president is and a whole bunch of different things at that particular moment.
BRONNER: Let me—so, Taiwan aside, you had said—I read your writings on this—that China is the clearest strategic challenge to the United States.
BRONNER: And it’s clear that that’s true. (Laughs.) At the same time, this $40 billion that was just passed, which is not—must be a total of 60 (billion dollars) that we’ve given. It seems like we are—you know, the till is not endlessly available. In other words, it will affect our ability to provide what we need to provide militarily in Asia, what’s going on in Europe, will it not?
SMITH: Well, I mean, yeah. I’m sorry, I used to—fiscal responsibility was a big deal for me. When I got elected to Congress in 1996, we actually balanced the budget for four years. I was very fond of that. And I spent, gosh, maybe five years—my town hall meetings, I had my staff put together all these charts that sort of walked through why fiscal responsibility mattered, A. And, B, how sort of—well, what’s the word I’m looking for—wrong the public is about how we do fiscal policy. Because, you know, the consensus is clear. They want us to balance the budget today. They don’t want to raise any taxes, and they don’t want to cut any spending. OK? And I tried to say, you know, hello? OK, we kind of got to make a choice here. I failed, utterly and miserably, after, like, five years of doing the town hall meeting, trying to walk through it.
And look, the dollar and how we borrow money and all that is all very confusing. So there is a finite amount of money we can spend. It just—that number is a lot higher than I personally ever imagined it would be. And I don’t think it’s the most important issue, all right? I don’t think we should be looking at Asia and saying: The only way we can achieve the balance we want in Asia is to spend an unbelievable amount of money. I don’t think it’s the most important thing. I think the most important thing is the alliances and partnerships that we can build in that region to enforce that rules-based order and move forward.
And even militarily—and this is my big thing—most of the stuff that I go to in the defense world—I go to the Reagan Defense Forum every year. But it’s a good group. You know, the military-industrial complex all gathered in one place. And I’ll talk about a whole bunch of different things. But at the end of the day on defense you can just say—they could just put a big sign out: Spend more money. And that’s sort of the message, OK? And that’s wonderful, and that’s great. And they have all these long panels where people argue why we need 5 percent plus inflation. How you spend that money is really important. President Biden has put forward a defense budget right now which Congress is, you know, arguing should be higher.
The budget he put forward is $813 billion. I am a hundred percent confident that we can do an outstanding job of meeting our national security needs for $813 billion. I have no doubt whatsoever. We got to get better at how we spend it. And when we’re talking about deterring China, when you look at modern warfare, when you look at what’s happening with the basics of warfare—which is lethality, survivability, and information—it’s pivoting and shifting away from the large platforms to missiles, drones, and secure information systems, all right? If we start seeing that and understanding that building these massive platforms that you can’t defend in certain circumstances—and that’s more complicated than I just said, so—but I won’t get into the complications for the moment.
What we know right now, we need more missiles. We need more drones. We need more secure information. When I talk to Ukrainians right now, that’s what they’re asking for. Counter-drone capability, drones, and security communications, and missiles. That’s what they’re asking for. So let’s get our Department of Defense—and, by the way, all of those partners, NATO and elsewhere—I was in Australia, I was in India. These are countries that have different sets of—depending on circumstances can be helpful to us. Let’s build that capacity, because that’s what’s going to deter China, is if they see that military capability. And it’s not all about spending more money.
You know, you get past a certain point you’re spending so much money you’re not paying attention to what you’re actually trying to do. So—
BRONNER: And it’s an interesting point too, that Ukraine is also a China story, right? Not just because of the comparison to Taiwan, but what you’re saying is depending on how we in the United States perform and how the West performs will have a huge impact on China’s view of the situation.
SMITH: Absolutely. President Xi’s absolutely looking at this. And what I hope he’s seeing is that you can sort of—before you do something—I’ll use my—every spring I think the Seattle Mariners are going to do well this year, because you can imagine. You can go, like, well that guy’s going to be good, and they brough this guy in. So but when you actually get into it, OK, and that’s what I’m hoping Xi is going. You know, oh, we’re going to take Taiwan, we’re going to—just like Putin, I’m sure, was, like, going to take Ukraine. And I hope President Xi is looking at this and understanding that it is more difficult than it may first appear, and you’re better off not trying in the first place.
BRONNER: Now, you’re talking about this sort of smart weapons and cyber. I’ve been wondering about cyber and Ukraine. I sort of assumed that Russia would be able to jam the hell out of a place, that it’s got weapons on that score that they haven’t used. You know more about this stuff than I. Do you think they do and they haven’t used them, and they’re holding them in reserve? Or they don’t have them. You know, what do you think about that?
SMITH: I think it’s not as easy as it looks.
SMITH: It’s not as easy as it looks.
BRONNER: To do that? I see.
SMITH: Look, it’s one thing if you’re using cyber sort of out of the blue to do one sort of quick—look, when you’re not in a conflict. Like, you know, when you’re trying to upset our meat supply, or upset, you know, as has happened. It’s a whole nother thing when there’s an actual conflict going on and both sies are trying to stop each other. I think it’s just a lot harder than it looks.
BRONNER: I see.
SMITH: And Ukraine is a lot better at it than Russia thought they might.
BRONNER: And we thought they might be.
SMITH: Yeah, no I was worried about it because most of the briefings that we were getting was exactly what you just heard. Russia has this incredible cyber ability. Like, it can shut off—you know. So, yeah, I think it was a bit of a surprise to folks that Russia’s been less effective at it. But I don’t think it’s a choice. I don’t think they’re just choosing not to use something that they could use.
BRONNER: And in your position as chairman of this committee, you’ve got to look past Ukraine and Taiwan and look at sort of how we, as the superpower, the United States, what it needs to do militarily around the world. Do you want to spend a minute on that for us?
SMITH: Sure. Well, the first thing we need to do is we need to make it clear what our mission is and what the focus is. And that has been ambiguous, certainly, since the end of the Cold War. You know, I think there’s been a lot of moving pieces. And there’s just sort of been a genuine feeling of, well, isn’t it good that we don’t really have to worry about that that much anymore. Cold War is over, end of history, all that stuff. So there hasn’t been sort of a central focus. I mean, this conflict, the world coming together, gives us the opportunity to frame that as a starting point.
And the frame is what I said, rules-based international order. But I think a couple of key parts to that—you know, we’ll weed down from there. I could give, like, a half-hour long answer to this question. I won’t.
BRONNER: OK, well let’s give a two or three.
SMITH: I won’t. No, I’ll just go to two or three. But number one, you know, democracy is part of it. It’s not all of it. We want to move the world toward greater economic and political freedom. And we want a rules-based international order. Now, none of those things are going to be perfect. I mean, most of life is about working towards, you know, being as good as you can without ever reaching it.
There’s actually a really good quote from the movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, that the girl who’s the actress is explaining her approach to acting. You know, and I want to be perfect, and that’s always the goal. Of course, you never achieve it. But it’s in the pursuit, basically, to what you’re doing. And that’s the way I would view, you know, a rules-based international order, economic, and political freedom. It's not going to be perfect. We’re moving in that direction and building a global coalition to do that. That’s number one.
Number two, be a little bit humble about it. I think we need to bury certainly America first, you’re either with us, against us. But even the whole American exceptionalism thing. I mean, I build coalitions for a living. And I cannot think of a single coalition that I’m trying to build that should start out by saying, before we get started here I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I’m better than all of you, OK, and I’m going to show you the way. Hmm. I mean, I get it. I believe in America. I believe in the whole thing.
But I think we can just sort of bury that for the moment, all right? And say, we’re going to bring you together. We’ve made mistakes. We’re not perfect. You know, political, economic freedom hasn’t been perfect for us, human rights has been perfect for us. We haven’t always followed the rules. But we’re going to bring you together for your benefit, not just for ours. I think that’s crucial. And then, of course, here at home we can show that we support democracy here in at home, we will honor the outcome of elections, just for example. And I think we can build that moving forward.
And that, I think, needs to be the vision. And that vision is now crucially important because, as I mentioned, China, Russia, Iran, to some degree North Korea, and transnational terrorist groups, they’re coming for that vision. And the world that they want to build is a far more violent, chaotic, and less prosperous world than the one we want to build. And I think that’s the message we have to send to try to bring people together for it.
BRONNER: You know, on the exceptionalism thing, I mean, I hear you. It’s not a brilliant move psychologically to do what you said. But on the other hand, it does need to be led by this country. It’s not going to happen otherwise, right?
SMITH: Well, I think you can put that in a way that is helpful. We are a crucial part of this process. We are. And this is, I think, an important counterargument because, as you know, on both the right and the left in our country they’re like, meh, we don’t want to do this. You know, there’s a lot of different reasons for isolation, but one of them is: Let’s stay focused on what’s at home here. I think we need to make it clear also that that rules-based international order benefits us. It does. You know, we talk about—I talk about—you know, your average constituent isn’t focused on foreign policy. They’re focused on education, and health care, and economics, and their job. It’s all connected. So we have to tie it back to that so that we can combat that isolationism.
I don’t think we need to talk about exceptionalism to say that we should and can play a big role in this. We can play a big role in this, but so can a lot of other places. You know, I think we all need to be participating. And we’re an important part of that coalition. And that ought to be—
BRONNER: It’s a weird problem because to them, the outsiders, you don’t want to say we’re the best. But to your constituents, you may need to say, without us this isn’t going to happen. And so we do need to step up, you know?
SMITH: Well, what I would say is if we’re not participating it’s going to make our country worse. It’s going to hurt the economy. It’s going to hurt your interests. We can participate in this in a positive way.
BRONNER: It’s deeper than that, but that’s what you need to say to them.
BRONNER: I’ve Middle East and Latin America questions, but we reached our thirty minutes. So we’re going to invite members to join this conversation with their questions. So this meeting is on the record. So you got to try to trap the chairman, if you can. The operator will remind you how to join the question queue. And we’ll take our first question from this audience if there’s anyone here who’d like—yes, ma’am. Wait for the microphone. Thank you.
Q: Thank you. Nancy Collins from Columbia University.
Thank you so much for your observations about the current operating environment. I was hoping you could perhaps elaborate a bit more on the budgetary remarks that you made. In particular how you see the current investments as they stand now with the proposed budget. But then especially looking, say, two, three, four years ahead, whether there needs to be any rebalancing in terms of how we’re going about doing things not only with missiles, drone, counter drone, but also some of the newer capabilities. Whether that be space, cyber, special operations, and other things. Thank you so much.
SMITH: Yeah. The short answer is we’re doing a lot better, and we’ve got a long way to go. We had a brutal fifteen to twenty years in terms of our making investments in big programs. Everything from Future Combat Systems, to the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, to the F-35, to the tanker—we just didn’t get out—we didn’t get our money’s worth. And I think—and there’s a lot of different reasons for it. We’re now figuring that out a little bit better. Part of it is building the right things. And I already sort of walked through my building the right things speech. Part of it is also making sure that you build them the right way, so that you can maintain competition throughout the process, so you don’t get trapped in a vendor-locked situation like we did with the F-35.
The good news is the B-21 program, which I visited a few times, learned those lessons. And they’re building modular systems. And they’re basing it on digital manufacturing as well, which is much more efficient and also maintains competition going through. So I think we’re learning a lot of lessons like that. Now, going forward, one of the big challenges in all of this is to divest from some existing systems that are no longer worth the money we’re spending on them, to make sure that we can invest in some of these newer systems. So we can invest in hypersonic missiles, for instance, long-range fires, better, more secure information systems. I mean, just upgrading the software so it’s less likely that someone could hack into one of our systems—you know, like an aircraft carrier—and start actually controlling it, instead of us.
And we’re trying to divest of a number of systems. The Navy cruisers, which we spent an unbelievable amount of money on and they never seem to be able to get out of port, OK? And there’s always going to be fights about that. So we got to divest from those systems, invest in the new systems, and also learn the lessons about how to do acquisition. Lastly is the Pentagon and how they do business. There’s an excellent article in Foreign Affairs magazine where it basically said, you know, the Pentagon is, like, 1955 Ford Motor Company when it needs to be 2022 Apple, all right? Innovation is not encouraged. It’s very process, it’s very requirements-driven, it’s top down. You know, it’s impossible to be innovative and creative, in an era where innovation is absolutely crucial.
We need to make those changes. Now, I had a long conversation with the Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who’s awesome by the way, who gets this and is trying to make that transition. So those are the things we need to do to make sure we’re getting the most out of that money going forward. And that last piece is the hardest. Because that bureaucracy is as locked into the idea that as long as I check all the boxes and go up the ten layers of command to get approval, then by definition I’ve made the right decision. You know, bleh. I want people to be empowered to go, you know what? I know this is what it says, but this is what we have to do.
Sorry, one last comment on this. I was out at Stanford. They have an undergrad program out there in the Hoover Institute called Hacking for Defense, where they take a bunch of undergraduates and say: Here’s a problem—a real-world problem that actually exists at DOD. And go solve it. They put five or six undergraduates on it. And the thing I found most fascinating is the ones I talked to all said: Well, the first thing we realized is that the problem they wanted to solve wasn’t the one they asked us to solve. And that’s the type of innovative thinking you need. Whereas these days in the Pentagon if you gave someone a problem like that it’s, like, I don’t think that’s the right question, but, you know, if that’s what they’re asking me I’ll go spend, I don’t know, five years, couple hundred million dollars, you know, answering a question that doesn’t need to be answered. We need to pivot and get that innovation flowing through the Pentagon.
BRONNER: We’ll take our first question from our virtual audience, please.
OPERATOR: Our first question will be from Seema Mody.
Q: Thank you. Seema Mody here from CNBC.
When asked about the U.S.’s commitment to defend Vietnam in the event that China moves, I believe you said China’s reaction to the U.S., quote, “depends on who the president is.” Can you kindly elaborate on that point? And if a Republican does win in 2024, how do you think that changes the calculus used by China? Thank you.
SMITH: Yeah. What I said was it depends on all of the decisionmakers that are actually there. I said it depends on the president, it depends on Congress, it depends on the country. It depends on what’s actually going on in that moment and how all those individual decisionmakers calculate it in that moment. And that’s just kind of, I don’t know, obvious? I mean, I don’t think that’s arguable. And that’s really all I meant is you can talk about what you’re going to do in the future all you want. You know, what’s going to actually happen when that day comes, I don’t think anyone can 100 percent predict, or even necessarily, OK, if it’s a Republican or a Democrat, well, which Republican? You know, which Democrat? You know, I think making that sort of prediction is, number one, impossible and, number two, unnecessary. Because what we need to do is deter China by showing them that attacking in the first place is not a good idea.
BRONNER: We’ll take our second question, please, from our virtual audience.
OPERATOR: Our next question will be from Hani Findakly.
Q: Thank you very much. And thanks, Congressman, for this excellent (mosaic ?).
I have a question that’s more strategic in nature. And that is, one of the consequences of our building of coalitions is support for Germany and Japan to increase their defense spending. My question is, do you have any concern about the long-term consequences of an armed Japan and Germany, given their histories?
SMITH: Yeah. It’s funny a Dennis Miller joke is occurring to me. That’s probably not appropriate in this context. (Laughter.) So I won’t—so I won’t tell it. But I think the world has changed. Look, the reason that Germany and Japan didn’t spend a lot of money on defense is really rather obvious. You know, after World War II it seemed like having them armed was a bad idea. It’s not the same Germany. It’s not the same Japan. We’re talking, what, almost eighty years ago now. So not really, no. I don’t have concerns, because what we’ve seen is the threat right now is from Russia and China thinking that they get to the point where they’re strong enough that they don’t have to play by the rules, and that nobody is there to deter them. I think that threat is vastly greater than what may happen, you know, if Germany and Japan, you know, get bigger militaries again.
I think we need a credible, international coalition to deter them. And Germany and Japan are the numbers, they got to be two of the five largest economies in the world—or, close to it, anyway. They’re going to be key players in that. So I think we have to—they need to—just like the United States, we’re not the only ones that are indispensable. You know, Germany and Japan I think have to be part of that coalition.
BRONNER: Do you think, by the way, that we misunderstood Putin when he came to office? Or do you think that he changed while in office?
SMITH: Meh. I don’t know. And I don’t really know that it matters at this point, you know?
BRONNER: It might matter.
SMITH: No, but here’s what—it matters in one sense. Because what I think we thought was—I know this is what I thought. I mean, I grew up during the Cold War. I grew up when, you know, I thought the deficit of the ’80s was overwhelming. It’s like, how do we get through this? Ah! And then all of a sudden, 1991, they’re gone. Soviet Union’s gone. You know, we balanced the budget. It’s, like, we don’t have to worry anymore. You know, we got this war—yeah, we got problems. We still got challenges. But we don’t have that existential threat. So we wanted to believe—I wanted to believe that there was no way that Russia would do what they did in Ukraine. That—you know, that’s so 1956, OK? That’s—you know, we don’t have to worry about that anymore.
And let’s face it, if we don’t have to worry about that anymore, that’s a much better world to be hanging out in, OK? So you wanted to see that. And I think in that sense that blinded us to where Putin and Xi, for that matter, were going. Now, I hesitate only in this thing because I don’t want to empower the paranoid amongst us, right, because I’ve got members in my committee and a lot of people in Congress who want to, like, just go punch China in the nose in every conceivable way that we can. I don’t think that’s the right approach either. You know, yes, appeasement is bad.
Well, we all learned the lesson of World War II. We appeased Hitler and everything. But if you really think about it, the lesson of World War I was the polar opposite. You know, we provoked everybody, and everybody said, well, I think he’s going to shoot first, so I’m going to shoot first. You can go wrong either way, OK? You can go wrong by being too optimistic about appeasement, and you can go wrong by being too confrontational. What’s happened now with what Putin and Xi have done is I think we’re, like, that comfortable world that we thought we were going to occupy, not going to happen.
BRONNER: But in a way, our illusion was even deeper, which was that we believed not just Russia wouldn’t be this way anymore, but we believed it wouldn’t be that way and China wouldn’t be that way because we brought them into our system.
BRONNER: And by being in our system, they would want to eat McDonald’s and be like us. And that turned out something that we all believed pretty firmly, and it turned out to be quite wrong, huh?
SMITH: Yeah. No, I think so. I mean, I don’t think it’s as wrong as people think it is.
SMITH: I think by and larger there are a lot of people that do want greater stability. But you also have to be careful about understanding the differences in culture and the differences in nationality and making sure that that is honored without being overly empowered. And like I said, it’s a very difficult balance. I mean, I’ve heard people argue that the reason Russia’s doing what they’re doing is because we confronted them too much with NATO and everything else.
BRONNER: Right. There is that argument.
SMITH: And then I hear people argue that the reason China’s doing what they’re doing is because we appeased them too much. (Laughs.) It’s, like, yeah, hindsight’s 20/20. It’s a difficult balance to achieve. And that’s what I hope—I hope people—I happen to be very fond of the grayness that is life. That it’s not black and white. That you got to figure out each situation as you go forward. Most people aren’t like that. Most, no, I want to know what the answer is. I don’t think—you got to balance it. So I don’t want us to learn the wrong lesson, one way or the other. We have to try to balance it.
But I do think that there is more appetite for a rules-based system. We could have handled it differently, you know, to respect cultures more as the United States. But I still—I don’t agree that it’s—it’s not so much be like us, it’s, like, wanting a peaceful stable world. And if we make it more about that than about, you know, Western versus Eastern, or democracy versus not democracy—if we make it more about peace, stability, justice, and prosperity—
BRONNER: The stability in the rules are ones that we set, and that’s how they view it.
BRONNER: So it feels—it doesn’t feel to them like we’re using the same words.
SMITH: Yeah. Well, and also—I haven’t mentioned this yet and I really should—you know, part of what has undermined our ability I think is the last twenty—is post 9/11 world. You know, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a profound impact on how the rest of the world views us. And look, and I’ve got, you know, a real good explanation that I think is—for why we did what we did. I mean, the Taliban and al-Qaida hanging out there, you know, Iraq invading Kuwait. We had sort of a frozen conflict with Iraq for the twelve years in between there and 2003. You can make the case for why that’s different. But to the rest of the world, they saw us killing people and blowing things up.
And that’s the way they perceived us. And I think we can get past that, but we have to acknowledge it. You know, we have to acknowledge that, you know, the world’s a complicated place. We’re going to work together to get there, but I think that—all that twenty-year history—and now, as we’re going back out into the world with India and other countries, we have to understand. We can’t, no, you have to be with us. Hmm, yeah, you don’t have to be, though let me explain to you why it’s in your best interest to be with us.
BRONNER: And do your constituents—I mean, as far as you’ve been able to talk to them in the last few months—feel happy with this pivot? Or do they feel frustrated that, no, we need to be focused on our jobs, and our welfare, and all this foreign stuff really is not helpful?
SMITH: Well, I think for the most part they’re less focused on the foreign stuff. And it’s not so much they’re making either of those judgements. You know, they want to know why inflation is so high.
BRONNER: Don’t we all.
SMITH: They want to know what’s going on with criminal justice policy and what we’re going to do about it. I mean, I don’t think they’re rejecting it one way or the other. And I will also say that Ukraine has made people more open to the idea that we do need to engage in the world. It has really had an impact on my constituents. I have a large Ukrainian population, so that’s a part of it. But even that, it’s just the images that you’ve seen and the brutality that Russia has brought, you know, like nothing that the U.S. has done. And I know there’s a lot of people, oh, we did the same thing in—no. No, no, no, no. We did not do—we were not running around wantonly killing civilians without any consequences, without any inquiry. We were not burning crops and launching attacks purposely. No. What Russia has done I think has shocked the conscience of America and made more people willing to embrace the idea that we need to play a role.
BRONNER: Let me ask you—oh, sorry, we have a question here. Yes, sir, please.
Q: Thank you. Jeff Laurenti. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for a sparkling presentation and discussion. Very frank.
And you have taken up the issue of financial limits in the military sphere. We’ve just seen Congress rush through in fact a larger appropriations bill than the administration had requested. We hope that this is one shot, although it’s very hard to ramp down production lines once you’ve opened them. In recent years, you had ensured that the defense authorization and appropriations bills included some arms control-related provisions that seemed to have a hard time getting through the Senate. Could you tell us what the appetite in the Congress now, looking post-Ukraine, will be for trying to rebuild the architecture of arms control, nuclear conventional forces, maybe space forces, or whatever, so that we are not all on an ever-accelerating treadmill of rising military expenditure?
SMITH: Thank you for that question. That’s one of the other most important things that we have to do. And what I want to do is I want to try to increase that appetite. I would say off the top, it doesn’t seem to be as high as it should be. Because there’s two key parts of this. Number one is the idea that when you have nations that have the military capability that we have, and Russia has, and China has, it’s really dangerous. And those capabilities are evolving in ways that would shock most people. I mean, I’m privy to a lot of information about what we’re building, and what Russia’s building, and what China is building. It’s changing the calculation on missile defense, on space, on cyber. Things that could really fundamentally alter both the country feeling of vulnerability and also a country’s feeling in its ability to make somebody else vulnerable. And we’re not talking about it, OK?
When the Soviet Union set off their nuclear weapon and everybody was like, ah. And then it took a few years to actually start talking about it. But we did. We have to reopen that conversation, in part because of how unbelievably dangerous it is. But the second key part of this—and China in particular—the world is a better place if the U.S. and China both figure out that it’s big enough for the both of us, OK? Which is why I am not Mr. let’s punch China in the face 24/7. I mean, it’s, like, you know, it makes you feel good. You know, we’re going against the powerful country that’s oppressing the Uighurs, and taking down Hong Kong, and doing all of that. I don’t want to go to war with China, and I don’t want a world where that’s, like, hanging on the edge.
So we have to find things that we can work together on. The pandemic would have been a good opportunity, still potentially is. China didn’t help on that one. But arms control is a way to start talking about something that we ought to have a mutual interest in. So it’s a win-win in that regard. And I think—you know, I think people who dismiss—no. We have to have those conversations, as a way to open up that dialogue. I’m pleased that both Secretary Austin and Chairman Milley have had conversations with their Russian counterparts in the last ten days, for the first time in a while. We have to be able to talk to each other. It’s just too dangerous of a situation if we get locked not a conflict where we’re not having those conversations.
BRONNER: We have another virtual question, please.
OPERATOR: Our next question will be from David Andelman.
Q: Yes. Congressman, I’m David Andelman. I’m a columnist for CNN opinion.
I’m interested in following up a little bit on what you were just saying, particularly in confrontation with respect to China, and in particular President Biden’s rather hardcore comment on China just this morning during his Asia visit. It seemed to me, at least, pretty confrontational in that respect. Do you think it’s appropriate to confront China directly in this fashion at this moment, or sidestep the issue, allow Xi and his leadership to sort of save face and not really need to escalate in the South China Sea, or Taiwan, Taiwan Straits, just to prove their chops, to prove their capacities?
SMITH: Yeah. I think it’s appropriate to make clear, by whatever method possible, to China that it’s not a prudent course of action to militarily attack Taiwan. I do think we need to deter them from that. Now, it’s also important to, as you’re doing that, say: Look, you know, you’ve got a right to be involved in the world. You’re a big economic power. You’re a growing global power, and all of this. We’re going to work with you. But I do think it’s appropriate to say: We just want to make it clear that of the things that you’re going to do as an emerging power, attacking Taiwan should not be one of them. Now, would I have chosen the exact words that President Biden chose to express that point? Probably not. But if the overall point is don’t militarily attack Taiwan, it’s not in your best interests, I think we can make that point without making it sound like we’re on some inevitable conflict with China.
It’s not inevitable. There are a lot of other ways we can work together, a lot of other things we can do. But if we are somewhat—you know, somewhat reticent to make it clear that we don’t want them to attack Taiwan, I think that’s bad too. So I think that’s the balance we’re trying to strike. And by and large I think the president, eh, he did a decent job of striking that balance. You know, the modern world is tough, because they always take the one sentence that people find the most controversial, and that becomes the only thing you’ve said. That’s what happened when he went to Poland. It’s not the only thing he said. And it’s, by the way, not the only thing the region heard. So, you know, I think that balance—I think President Biden at the moment was doing a pretty good job of striking that balance.
BRONNER: Let me ask you about Iran, and generally about the Middle East. Do you think it’s important that the nuclear accord be rebuilt?
SMITH: Yes. I think it’s crucially important.
BRONNER: And do you think it’s going to happen?
SMITH: Again, I can avoid the predicting the future thing there. I’m skeptical. And I’m just so frustrated by this.
BRONNER: Yeah. It doesn’t look good.
SMITH: Because we’re still having the same—you know, you can’t just relentless—unless you’re—if you’re ready to go to war, well, that’s one thing. But if you’re not ready to go to war, then you better figure out how to deal with people you don’t agree with. And you don’t deal with people you don’t agree with by saying, no, you have to give us everything that we want and we’re going to give you nothing in return, all right? It’s the line from Game of Thrones. You don’t make peace with your friends; you make peace with your enemies. That’s the whole fricking point.
And the nuclear deal, it was very clear—and President Obama, and Wendy Sherman, and John Kerry, and everyone involved made it clear—we know that Iran does a whole lot of other bad things. We know that they support terrorism. We know that they’re destabilizing Yemen, and Lebanon, and trying to destabilize Iraq and Syria. We’re worried about that and we’re going to deal with that. But all of that is 1,000 times worse if Iran has a nuclear weapon. So we’re going to go ahead and cut a deal and say, we’ll let up a little bit if you don’t have a nuclear weapon. And everyone came back and said, oh, this is a terrible deal because they’re still messing around in Yemen, and they’re still threatening Israel. It’s, like, so you’d like them to do that with a nuclear weapon? Say, no, well but—OK, so what’s your plan to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon?
And the plan basically amounts to, you must not do that. Yeah, OK. But they do it anyway. And then you can say, well, we can militarily strike them. Hmm, eh, A, you risk a huge war in the region and, B, from a tactical standpoint—and some of this isn’t classified—it’s really hard to stop them from building a nuclear weapon militarily. This is our best option to at least put that on the side. Now, we’re still going to have to worry about all that other stuff, everything else that Iran is doing in the region. But if you want to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon, the JCPOA was the best way to do it. And to pull out of that just out of some macho, you know, this country can’t tell us what we got to do thing, was an enormous strategic blunder.
BRONNER: Well, there were complaints against the JCPOA, not just that they also do this other nasty stuff but that, you know, the sunset, the snapback. There were aspects of it that at least those who criticized the accords said could have—we could have done better.
BRONNER: And not having done well, it’s actually bad. So that was—that was—there was—
SMITH: Yeah, well, and there was a lot of dishonestly contained in that. For instance, I heard the argument that, well, after ten years this says it’s OK for Iran to build a nuclear weapon. No, it doesn’t, OK? You know, there was tiny little portions of it which they were able to do. They were allowed to enrich up to 60 percent. But it made it clear, you cannot—if you try to build a nuclear weapon, you are in violation of this agreement forever. They weren’t really honest about that. And look, I’ve been involved in negotiations at pretty high levels. And when you come out of it everybody says, you should have done better. (Laughter.) So my favorite phrase when I’m going through the conversations about, OK, we’re trying to get this, we’re trying to get that. Well, we’re just disappointed you’re not getting this. Well, that’s what they do, they go: negotiate harder. (Laughter.) I’m like, damn, you know, I hadn’t thought of that. (Laughter.)
BRONNER: It’s lucky you had that conversation.
SMITH: Yeah, and again, you know, you have to understand the interests of the other party. You know, if you’re trying to get an agreement in a world where no one dominates everything, then you got to give a little to get a little. And I just don’t think we have much of a spirit of that in America. Compromise has become a dirty word.
SMITH: I blame advertising as much as anything. (Laughs.) How many ads do you see very day that says: Haven’t you compromised enough? Let me just say, no. You probably haven’t. So we need to think more in terms of how we can get along.
BRONNER: We’ll take another question from Zoom.
OPERATOR: Our next question will be from Lawrence Korb.
Q: Mr. Chairman, I’d like to ask you about the modernization of the strategic nuclear weapons and the tactical. There’s been a lot of controversy about modernizing all three legs, particularly the land based. And then, of course, this year President Biden cancelled one of the tactical nuclear weapons, and he’s already met resistance. What do you think the committee will do?
SMITH: Well, let me start with what I think the committee should do, in the hope that we’ll get there. Look, it’s incredibly important that we modernize our nuclear force. It’s old. It’s aging. There’s different pieces to it. And the key cornerstones of that are the new nuclear-launching submarines, I think the Columbia-class that we’re going to build, the boomers, and the new B-21. I mean, those are the most survivable legs. We do—we’re building a new long-range standoff weapon to give us a better cruise missile capability. I think all of those things are very important.
The SLCM, the submarine-launched cruise missile, I think is a mistake because the idea is that those missiles would be put onto our attack submarines. And we used to have that capability. And we got rid of that capability primarily because we found it undermined the other—the other missions of the attack submarine and didn’t really add that much to our nuclear capability. We have cruise missile capability in other legs. And if you were to put this onto attack submarines it would be complicated, difficult, it would undermine that mission, and I don’t think we should do it.
I’m worried that, you know, there’s a mood in Congress that basically whatever the weapon is, we have to build it. And actually, I think Kath Hicks made a really good point in a briefing we had last week. We can’t build our defense around the idea that whatever the Russians have, we have to have it too. We have to think a little bit more strategically than that about what we need to meet our needs and not just keep chasing our tail. I’m worried that we’re going to have a hard time, you know, making that case and succeeding in it.
I will also say that for my money, and I know this argument I’m 100 percent lost, I don’t think the ground-based leg of the triad makes a ton of sense. I just don’t. Having the survivable leg, having the—you know, making sure we’ve got the bomber and submarines and the missile capability there. But the ground-based, it’s in place, it’s an enormous sitting target that there’s no way we can protect, and it’s really expensive. Now, let me just say, the ground-based strategic deterrent, which is the new leg, is at the moment a pretty good program. It’s actually—it’s doing what it’s supposed to do and it’s moving forward. I just don’t think we need it. But I lost that argument quite a while ago.
So the things we’re going to fight about, we’re going to fight about the SLCM and we’re going to fight about the B-83, which is a—it’s a big gravity nuclear bomb that President Biden wants to discontinue. It doesn’t really help us with—we’ve got other munitions that are guided and strategic that meet that need. So, you know, you have to make wise financial choices. And I think getting rid of the B-83, not doing the SLCM—because that’s a capability that we wouldn’t even have until the mid-2030s, even if we pursued it—doesn’t make sense. With the mood of Congress, I think those are going to be tough fights.
BRONNER: Let me ask you about the Palestinians for a few minutes, if you don’t mind, and then we’ll wrap it up. When President Obama came to office, it was considered the sort of central Middle East problem. And George Mitchell was appointed. It was one of the first things he did. Today it looks more like a local human rights concern and of less global—I mean, do you agree that it, in fact, irrespective of whether you’d like to see it fixed and improved, that it’s lost its mojo as a sort of driver of international relations?
SMITH: I wouldn’t put it that way. I definitely think it’s something that we need to fix. But I think it has been eclipsed by the Iran—by the Arab-Persian conflict. And you’ve seen that in the Abraham Accords with Israel, and UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, I’m leaving somebody out, but, you know, coming together and recognizing that Iran is the big threat to the region and we have to find a way to work together to meet that threat. And I think, by the way, there’s a ton of opportunity in this.
And a ton of opportunity for the Palestinians as well. Because if the Arab states become invested in their partnership with Israel, they can then become more invested in the idea of building a sustainable Palestinian people. Because, you know, their politics are in trouble, their economics are in trouble. So I think there is a pathway to getting to a better outcome. Obviously right at the moment the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not in a good place. But the larger strategic imperative of dealing with Iran—because Iran is—there’s hope in Iraq, OK? We got a good government in Iraq. They’re trying to move in the right direction. Iran is desperately afraid of that and trying to undermine it.
Now, I think it helps the whole situation if we can get an alliance amongst, you know, Arabs and Israel—Arab states, Israel, and us to help Iraq, you know, be strong, to get a peace agreement in Yemen—which I think is enormously important. And I think if all those things happen, that builds momentum to get a peaceful outcome in Palestine.
BRONNER: Does it?
SMITH: Yeah, because you have fewer people invested in the conflict and more people invested in a peaceful outcome. You know, it’s no longer looked at as a way to torment Israel and keep them at bay. Israel now becomes more of a partner in the broader regional interests. So there’s more interest by more people—
BRONNER: But Israel’s strategic assertions about what it can and cannot do for the Palestinians take on greater significance, right, if you—
SMITH: They do. They do, yeah.
BRONNER: —rely on them to help you fight Iran, for example.
SMITH: Yeah, no, absolutely.
BRONNER: Which is increasingly what’s happened.
SMITH: Yeah. But I think—you know, look, there are a lot of humanitarian crises in the world. You know, Yemen, you know, Syria, Ukraine right now. Certainly, the Palestinians are part of that. You know, we need a better, more peaceful, and prosperous life for the Palestinians. I think this broader process helps move us down the road towards getting there.
BRONNER: We just got just a minute. And we didn’t do much with Latin America, one of my favorite topics. Let me just ask you one quick question and then we’ll end it on that. Do you think we should be easing sanctions in Venezuela as part of this—what’s happening globally about oil and Ukraine?
SMITH: Well, I don’t think we—I think if we ease sanctions in Venezuela, it should be part of a Latin American strategy. And if it doesn’t fit that strategy, I don’t think it’s worth doing it to try to get to some sort of oil outcome. But I think we have real problems in Latin America. And I think some of those problems—we can rethink about some of the governments that we’ve backed, some of the governments that we’ve opposed, and whether or not that’s really helped to advance our interests. As we were mentioning before, I’ve worked with the Colombian minister of defense as they’re headed towards their election. They’re getting a lot of pressure from the chaos in Venezuela right now. Which the Russians, by the way—
BRONNER: Yeah, there are almost 2 million Venezuelans in Colombia.
SMITH: So I would be in favor of taking a look at the sanctions on Venezuela, and saying, is this really advancing our interests? Is there a way that, you know, we can—you know, it’s not in our interest to have Venezuela as destabilized as it currently is, because Russian and Iran and China are all taking advantage of that. So I would be open to looking at easing those sanctions, but I’d have to understand better how it plays into that strategic framework.
BRONNER: So thank you for joining today’s hybrid meeting. And thank you, Chairman Smith. Please note that the video and the transcript of today’s meeting with be posted on CFR’s website. Thanks to you all. Bye-bye. (Applause.)
This is an uncorrected transcript