The nation’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, spoke to Army War College students at the Carlisle Barracks on Monday morning regarding the intersection of diplomatic policy and military force.
“We can’t be successful without you having an enormous level of preparedness,” Pompeo told the auditorium full of U.S. and foreign military officers attending the War College this spring. “We need the credible threat and capacity of America to project its military power in order for our diplomatic efforts to have the opportunity to succeed.”
Pompeo gave brief opening remarks before a roughly 45-minute question-and-answer session with War College students, which was closed to the press. He then took media questions following the private session.
During his opening remarks, Pompeo said military leaders could be “tested” again soon.
“The truth is you all will be tested again, and I am confident it will be soon,” Pompeo said. “We don’t know how, we don’t know where, we don’t know precisely the challenge you will face, but I can assure you, it will come before you.”
When asked by reporters, Pompeo declined to go into specifics.
“Always be ready every day,” Pompeo said when asked about the message. “The work you do today to be prepared for what might happen at 3 o’clock this afternoon is absolutely imperative. You do not know when that moment is going to come.”
The secretary of state also fielded questions about President Donald Trump’s recent foreign policy moves, some of which have appeared to be at odds with prior State Department policy.
In December, for instance, Pompeo’s office announced a $10.6 billion initiative for economic development in southern Mexico and the so-called Northern Triangle nations of Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The program was intended to provide residents with better economic opportunities at home, hopefully cutting the demand for migration into the United States, the State Department said at the time.
But last week, Trump announced that aid to the Northern Triangle was being cut, accusing those nations of doing too little to reduce emigration levels.
Pompeo said the department was still committed to a solution.
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“President Trump is working to set the conditions so that we can keep our country safe, secure and sovereign,” Pompeo said. “We are using every element of American capacity to work with partner countries, the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as our Mexican counterparts to achieve that end. We’ll use all of our tools, our diplomatic tools. We’re going to solve this problem at the border.”
“Just look at the math of how many folks are coming across,” Pompeo said when asked about Trump’s continuing threats to close the southern border, despite the State Department’s earlier pledges to work with Mexico on economic initiatives. “This is a crisis. We need to fix it.”
Pompeo was also asked about the diplomatic message on climate change following Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
“It’s one thing to sign a document and another thing to actually change your behavior. Go look at Chinese carbon emissions since they entered the Paris agreement,” Pompeo said. “Go look at the other countries that joined the deal and see how they’ve done. It’s one thing to sign agreements, it’s another thing to have enforceable mechanisms that actually deliver good outcomes for the American people, and that’s what president Trump is very, very focused on.”
A study released last year by Climate Action Tracker, an environmental research group, found that only seven of 32 countries surveyed that had signed the Paris agreement were on track to meet their emissions-reduction goals. The United States was included in the study, despite pulling out after signing. Along with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Ukraine, the U.S. was one of five nations in the worst-performing bracket.
However, despite those newsworthy shake-ups, War College students said that Pompeo emphasized stability during the private session.
“He seemed to be very even-keeled,” U.S. Army Col. Cory Berg said. “We’re doing things that we’ve done for the last 40 years or so, and I think as the United States we’re still working along the same lines as we have for many, many years.”
“One of the things the secretary mentioned was the continuity, particularly the continuity with numerous nations that we have problems with around the world, but he cited the continuity that has spanned multiple administrations to include the Trump administration,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Gage Bryson said.
“I think maybe there have been some departures in the Trump administration from the Obama administration, but I think in our business and in the Department of State, as Secretary Pompeo mentioned, I didn’t see a lot of that today,” Bryson said.
Bryson also said he didn’t necessarily take Pompeo’s comments about being tested as any kind of warning about further military action overseas.
“I think that is something that is very common among military professionals is a continual sense of preparedness, being prepared for an unknown future,” Bryson said. “I don’t know that he’s speaking about anything in particular or just about being ready for the future, which is why we’re all here.”