- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2018

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leveled a staunch defense of President Trump’s lead-from-the-front foreign policy here Tuesday, lashing out at critics who say the president’s “America first” posture is dangerously eroding long-established multinational institutions on the global stage.

“Under President Trump, we are not abandoning international leadership or our friends in the international system, indeed quite the contrary,” Mr. Pompeo said in a speech on the sidelines of a major NATO meeting taking place in the Belgian capital.

“Critics in places like Iran and China – who really are undermining the international order — are saying the Trump Administration is the reason this system is breaking down,” the secretary of state said. “They claim America is acting ‘unilaterally’ instead of ‘multilaterally,’ as if every kind of multilateral action is by definition desirable.”

“Even our European friends sometimes say we’re not acting in the free world’s interest,” he said. “This is just plain wrong.”

With two years gone by in Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Pompeo argued, the world should know the administration’s mission is to “reassert our sovereignty to reform the liberal international order,” not break it down.

“We want our friends to help us and to exert their sovereignty as well,” he said. “We aspire to make the international order serve our citizens.”

European scrutiny

“America intends to lead, now and always,” Mr. Pompeo said in remarks delivered against a backdrop of heightened concern among some European leaders over the Trump administration’s support for institutions such as NATO — given the president’s policy of demanding that the alliance’s member nations contribute more to defense spending.

Mr. Trump’s backing of the United Kingdom’s move away from the European Union has also prompted sharp criticism from pro-EU politicians in some of the bloc’s stalwart nations, such as Germany and France.

Mr. Pompeo confronted the issue Tuesday in his speech before a crowd of about 200 mostly European diplomats.

“The European Union and its predecessors have delivered a great deal prosperity to the Continent. Europe is our single largest trading partner, and we benefit from your success,” the secretary of state said. “But ‘Brexit’ — if nothing else — was a political wake-up call. Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels?”

The comment triggered a brief moment of tension in the room, when someone in the back of the crowd, presumably a European journalist, loudly said: “Yes.”

But Mr. Pompeo went on uninterrupted with his 20-minute speech, arguing that “every nation must honestly acknowledge its responsibilities to its citizens and ask if the current international order serves the good of its people as well as it could.”

“If not, we must ask how we can right it,” he said. “This is what President Trump is doing. He is returning the United States to its traditional, central leadership role in the world.”

The secretary of state went on to argue that a “lack of leadership” by the U.S. in the years preceding Mr. Trump’s presidency was exploited by “bad actors” seeking their own gain on the global stage.

He spoke mainly of Iran, Russia and China, arguing specifically that China’s development as an economic power not resulted in an embrace of democracy by Beijing or regional stability in East Asia.

“It led to more political repression and regional provocations,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We welcomed China into the liberal order, but never policed their behavior.”

“China has routinely exploited loopholes in World Trade Organization rules, imposed market restrictions, forced technology transfers, and stolen intellectual property,” he said. “And it knows that world opinion is powerless to stop its Orwellian human rights violations.”

The Trump administration, Mr. Pompeo said, is intent on backing international institutions that will stand up to such activities.

Honoring George H.W. Bush

Early in his remarks, Mr. Pompeo paid tribute to recently deceased former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, whose leadership, the secretary of state said, was instrumental in facilitating European unity and prosperity at the end of the Cold War.

“We won the Cold War,” Mr. Pompeo said. “With no small measure, George H.W. Bush’s effort, we reunited Germany.”

“This is the type of leadership that President Trump is boldly reasserting,” he said.

But after the Cold War ended, Mr. Pompeo said, “we’ve allowed [the] liberal order to begin to corrode.”

“It failed us, and in some places it failed you in the rest of the world,” he said. “Multilateralism has become viewed as an end unto itself. The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done.”

“Was that ever really true? The central question that we face is the question of whether the system as it exists today works for all the people of the world,” Mr. Pompeo added.

“Let’s work together to preserve the free world so that it continues to serve the interests of the people to whom we’re accountable,” he said. “Let’s do so in a way that creates international organizations that are agile, that deliver on mission, that create value for the world.”

“President Trump knows that when America leads, peace and prosperity follow.”

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