- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a major speech in Florida Thursday that President Trump’s foreign policy puts “America first,” but stressed that the mantra actually means helping oppressed people in other nations fight for freedom and democracy — especially in the Western Hemisphere.

“It’s time to have our hemisphere, the place we are today, be a hemisphere of freedom,” Mr. Pompeo told a supportive crowd that interrupted him often with applause, and greeted him with chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A, U.S.A.,” at Sumter County Fairgrounds in Bushnell, Florida.

The speech came on the heels of multi-nation tour of South America and the Caribbean this week by the secretary of state. It also comes against a backdrop of decline among left-leaning political movements in Latin America and the election of pro-capitalist conservative governments in several nations of the region.

Mr. Pompeo pushed back against Trump administration critics, who claim many nations around the world have distanced themselves from the United States over the past three years in frustration at Mr. Trump’s unpredictable style and often temperamental rhetorical posturing.

“The world knows what America stands for,” Mr. Pompeo said. “It is true now more, frankly, than ever, and people around the world who love liberty, who love democracy and love freedom, are with us. They stand with us.”

While Trump critics accuse the administration of standing up for human rights in some cases but aligning with governments accused of violating human rights in others, Mr. Pompeo portrayed the administration’s foreign policy as realist and cut and dry.

The “America first” approach means “protecting America” and “protecting freedom,” he said, asserting that people around the world “love” that.

“You know what else we stand for and the world loves? They love that we stand for religious liberty,” the secretary of state said. “Christians, Jews, Muslims – doesn’t matter. You can believe what you want here in America, or you can choose not to believe at all. …Never in the world has that right been recognized it is – as it is here in the United States of America.”

“We know that people all across the world should be free to worship their own god,” Mr. Pompeo added. “I raise it in every meeting. President Trump knows this. The world loves it.”

“They love, too, that we stand for freedom and markets and capitalism and the right to take risks and to work hard, to raise your family. They love capitalism – not that S word,” he said, apparently referring to socialism.

With regard to socialism in the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration is committed to “advancing freedom in Cuba” and “working to restore democracy in Venezuela.”

“These are tyrannies,” he said, referring to the Castro government in Havana and the embattled socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro — the ouster of whom has been a foreign policy priority of the administration for the past two years.

“These are leaders that have destroyed countless lives. Now some 6 million people have fled Venezuela, only because this madman Maduro destroyed their ability even make a living for their families, to take care of their kids,” Mr. Pompeo said. “That’s not right, it’s not decent, and America will stand with the Venezuelan people until we can have a free and fair election and restore democracy to that once proud nation.”

While he did not specify whether such a commitment might mean the Trump administration would support a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, Mr. Pompeo asserted that his mission as secretary of state “is really, really simple: to make the world safer, so we don’t have to send our young men and women off to fight.”

“In President Trump’s administration, we stare at the world as it really is, as it actually is, the reality on the ground,” he told the crowd in Florida. “The same way you do each and every day in your lives. You can’t pretend, you can’t wish — you have to work within the world in which we live, in which it exists.”

“The good news is, in spite of what you may read elsewhere that people don’t like America, everywhere I go, I see a deep love for our country and for you,” Mr. Pompeo said.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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