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Transcript: Adam Smith talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

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In this episode of "Intelligence Matters," host Michael Morell speaks with Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the current chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Smith, who has served on the committee for over two decades, discusses the work of overseeing the U.S. military and the late-stage negotiations of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. He and Morell also discuss near- and long-term strategic challenges for the Pentagon, including threats from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, as well as those stemming from artificial intelligence, quantum computing and hypersonic weapons.   

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INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - HASC CHAIRMAN ADAM SMITH

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:

Congressman, welcome. Thank you for joining us on Intelligence Matters.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Thank you.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I'd love to start with some questions about your background if I might. You were the youngest person to be elected in the state legislature of Washington.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

The technical stat was that when I was elected in 1990, at that time, I was the youngest state senator in the country.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Age 25?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Was politics something that you always wanted to do? Where did that come from?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

I always had an interest in it. But the main place it came from was my father was a ramp serviceman at United Airlines. And he was the secretary treasury of his union. And he had an interest in politics. And he sort of pushed me into it at a young age.

I had some interest. On the other hand, I was painfully introverted at that particular point. So I was interested, but how's that going to work with my basic personality? But really what ultimately got me over that was my connection to the community I grew up in in SeaTac.

I got involved in a lot of local issues, local Democratic politics, but also just passing the school bond and working on a bunch of stuff locally. And that sort of got  

me exposed to it. And then an opportunity came up to run for the senate seat when I was young.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Do you consider yourself still an introvert?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

That's an interesting question.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Because I certainly am.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes, I would say yes. You don't change that basic personality. But I've figured out how to deal with some of those. It's more than we need to get into at this point, but I had issues as a child. I was adopted. I had family -- all kind of different things that I've worked my way through now. But that basic personality is still there. I've just learned to work around it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Congressman, you've been a member of the House Armed Services Committee for as long

as you've been in Congress, 23 years.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You've also served on the House Intelligence Committee.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You've served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Where does that interest in foreign affairs come from?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

I've always been interested in politics and history, sort of, how do things work? How does government work? And certainly the U.S. has plenty of those issues, but I've always been interested in international issues. Just the history of how countries came to be, conflicts came to be, how they've worked out those conflicts.

I've always been interested in foreign

policy since I was in high school. But ultimately, from a congressional career standpoint, when I was in the State Senate, I chaired the Judiciary Committee. So my orientation was not foreign policy. But Joint Base Lewis-McChord (or as it was known then Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base) were in the heart of my district when I got elected in '96. And that got me onto the Armed Services Committee and started me down the national security road.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Congressman, perhaps we can talk a little bit about oversight. How do you see the job of overseeing the Pentagon? What do you see your role as? What are your objectives?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Couple of objectives. One is to make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent as wisely and efficiently as possible, and that we are meeting the national security needs of the country, and that the DOD is doing that. And  

it's, I believe, a cooperative effort. Actually, you worked in another area of government. But there's tension there. DOD wants to do what it wants to do.

But I also believe there is a basic respect at DOD for the idea of the oversight role the Congress must play. And there's certainly a respect on our side for DOD's role to protect the country and institute our national defense policy. And we are the people's representatives.

Basically, the Department of Defense exists at the will of the people. And so we try to keep DOD accountable, because we are responsible to the electorate. I guess I'd put it better, the electorate holds us accountable. And part of what they want us to do is hold the Pentagon accountable, because they're spending roughly $740 billion a year of taxpayer money. And there's a tension here. It's an incredibly important process. And I do think that there  

has been a concentration of executive power and an erosion of legislative power.

MICHAEL MORELL:

In general?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes, that I think is a problem, particularly when you're talking about something as important as national security and the use of the United States military and the spending of $740 billion. To the extent that Congress doesn't have an adequate say in that, you further divide the Pentagon from the people in a way that I think's problematic.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why has that occurred? Why has that erosion taken place do you think?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

As a general rule, there's I would say a tendency to have the power-- look, if you're at the Pentagon, as much as they have respect for the process, they would also

like to be able to do what they do when they want to do it, and not have a bunch of members of Congress who may or may not know anything about it interfere.

And I think there's tension there. There's tension when elected officials try to politicize it. Bring the secretary of defense over and then try to make some politically embarrassing argument just for the sake of their political interests. And those tensions are always there.

I would say the reason it's become more concentrated is because democracy has become more difficult and more complicated. There was no internet. There was no cable television. Now you have to deal with a lot more constituents. It's harder to deal with all of that incoming from constituents and still do the oversight. It's become a more difficult and more complicated job because of the democratization of power and the free flow of information.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And then from the perspective of what you do every day on the committee, in terms of the issues you look at, in terms of how far you look out, in terms of the strategic and tactical, how would you characterize what it is you focus on every day?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

I think a huge part of is efficiently spending the money. So trying to figure out how can we get the most out of the tax dollars we spend. Part of that, competition is a big deal to me. Making sure that as we're sending out contracts, there's adequate competition. Making sure that the Pentagon is aware of all of the options, the vendors that are out there that potentially could give them a better deal or a better product. I think that's a huge part of what we do.

And another huge part of what we do is to make sure that the troops are taken care of.  

And the way I always like to put this is whatever we decide the mission is, we have to make sure that the troops are adequately trained and equipped to carry out that mission.

And I think it's a huge mistake for us, whether it's DOD or Congress or the White House to say, "We want to do all of this. This should be our national security mission." But then we don't have the money. And so we put our troops in the position of having to do more than they are trained and equipped to do. So matching the mission with the force and the basic money that we spend on it is a huge part of the challenge as well, and making sure the troops are taken care of.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Congressman, you said today that you're making progress on the National Defense Authorization Act. And I was hoping you could tell our listeners what that is and

why it's so important.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Sure. As a starting point, it is the policy for the Department of Defense and that important aspect of our national security. Every year, we authorize everything the DOD does. The equipment they buy, the missions they take on, the way the forces are distributed.

So once a year, we pass a defense bill that says for, in this case, FY 2020, "Here is what the Pentagon's going to spend. And here's their policy." And it impacts a whole lot of things. I know one big issue we're working on this year is housing for military members. There's been a lot of mold and problems with the privatized housing. So we're putting in a bill of rights to help protect them. At the same time, we're talking how many F-35's do we buy? How many F-15's do we buy? Do we buy any F-15's? Updating programs. So it is the national

security DOD policy for the year.

The other thing that has happened with the defense bill is, because the legislative process has become so cumbersome, it's one of the few bills that passes every year. So a lot of other committees try to hitch onto our bill a whole bunch of different issues, because it is some years, literally, the only policy bill.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And we went years without an Intelligence Authorization Act.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Exactly. In fact, the Intelligence Authorizing Act this year is in the Defense Authorizing Bill. That's one of the things we picked up, because they couldn't get it through the Senate. So that's the other role that the National Defense Authorizing Act plays.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So we're taping this on a Thursday. And

we're going to run this next Wednesday. So there may or may not be an agreement on this year's NDAA by then. But can you talk a little bit about what some of the big issues -- you talked about housing already -- you're going to tackle?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes, I think some of the biggest -- there's a lot of stuff in space. The big controversy is over the desire of some to create a Space Force, basically to take space out from under the direct control of the Air Force and make it its own, and kind of equivalent to the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is technically under the Navy, but it's also its own separate thing. Do we need to place that emphasis? And there are a lot of issues surrounding space that we have spent a lot of time on.

There's also been a lot of issues surrounding the chemical PFAS, which is in firefighting foam, which the Department of

Defense uses and has now been found to pollute the groundwater in a lot of places. It's not just a DOD thing. PFAS is elsewhere. That's been a big huge issue that we've been wrestling with.

And there's a lot of policy on what do we do about Guantanamo. We're down to 40 inmates down there. I know this is something you're very familiar with. It's costing an enormous amount of money. Where do we go forward with that policy? There's been concern about congressional oversight of military kinetic action, going to war. How do we make sure that the president comes to Congress if he wants to go to war with Iran? That's been a major area.

Then there's a lot of programs. We're dealing with the cost overruns of the Ford-class carrier. How do we handle that? How do we make sure we keep building enough submarines? We are, as you know, recapitalizing the nuclear force. There's a

contract to be awarded on that for the next-generation ICBM. We're working on the B-21, which is a replacement. So yes--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Can you say whether you're going to authorize a Space Force?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

That's not 100% clear. It's kind of funny. As we speak-- and I can say this, because this isn't going to air until when?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Next Wednesday.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Wednesday, okay. It'll be done by then, but as we speak, literally, the president is being presented with a sort of, "Here's the defense bill with the Space Force and with a couple other things that we want." And I'm hoping he'll say, "Deal." And then that's what we'll do. And if that happens, I will know the parameters of the bill. And we'll see. It seems at this point like a 50-50 cal

l whether or not the Space Force is in the final bill. There's a lot of people for it. There's a lot of people against it. And it's bipartisan on both sides.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Congressman, I'd love to run through some questions about military capabilities.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Sure.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And maybe the place to start is with the most recent National Defense Strategy Commission, which I was a member of. And as you know, one of the co-chairs, Eric Edelman, he was on our podcast and laid out a pretty stark picture of what that report said. And it was pretty stark.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Let me read you three sentences from it. "America's military superiority has eroded t

o a dangerous degree. Many of the skills necessary to plan for and conduct military operations against capable adversaries have atrophied. The U.S. military might struggle to win or perhaps lose a war against China or Russia." Did you agree with those findings? Did they strike you as realistic and make sense?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

No, I don't agree with those findings. And it's kind of hard. I don't so much necessarily disagree with the findings, as I find that they set an unrealistic expectation about what our U.S. military is supposed to do. You could have read those same findings at virtually any time in U.S. history, except perhaps in the '80s when we spent an enormous amount of money. But even then, you don't know what you don't know. And you don't know what's coming.

We had this massive military. We weren't ready for 9/11. You never know what's coming  

up. So I think part of the problem within the Defense Committee and within DOD in general is you can paint a number of nightmare scenarios, all right, and say, "We have to be ready for--" we can't afford to be ready for all of them. There's not enough money in the world to be ready for all of them.

So if you say, "If I can show you a scenario that we're not ready for right now, then our defense policy is failing," we may as well pack it up, because we're always going to be failing. Also I think that way of looking at things leads us to try and spend our way into a problem, all right?

There's no way in this era, at this time, given how complicated the world has become. Back in the '80s, we didn't have to worry about Al Qaeda and ISIS, okay? China was nowhere near where they are today. It was a much more manageable world. What I would like us to come to is a more realistic idea

of how we deter our adversaries beyond the notion that if we can't guarantee overwhelming dominance then we're done. Because I don't think we can guarantee overwhelming dominance. I don't think we have the money. And I think the world is entirely too complicated to get to that point.

So what should we do? Number one, alliances have never been more important. We need partners. And we've been doing this. This is part of what was working against the caliphate. We partnered with Iraq. We partnered with the SDF and with the Kurds. And very low footprint.

MICHAEL MORELL:

A coalition of nations.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Exactly. And we didn't lose a single American life in defeating the caliphate. ISIS is not defeated. The caliphate has been crushed. ISIS still there, but we defeated

the caliphate without losing a single American life, because we were able to work with partners.

I think that needs to be an important part of our strategy as we go forward. And I also think that we need to find other ways to deter our adversaries. It doesn't just have to be military. International institutions can help us deter our adversaries. The State Department can help us deter our adversaries.

We're always saying that if we did it-- everyone's supposed to be really freaked out about these war games that they hold, about imagine we went to war with China in the South China Sea. We wouldn't win. The idea that if China came over to the U.S. and tried to beat us, they wouldn't win either. It's hard to win a war on the road against a major adversary. Should that really be our goal?

Or should our goal be what policies can we put in place so that we don't go to war with China in the South China Sea? And I worry that we get these bloviated ideas of what the defense budget has to be. We don't achieve those objectives. And we wind up with a national security policy that our resources can't possibly meet. And then we're in that scenario, where we are asking the men and women in our armed forces to perform a task that we don't have the money or equipment for them to perform. So I worry about that sort of hyperbolic language.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Congressman, what do you think the U.S. military should be capable of?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

I think the U.S. military should, first of all, it's important to have a surge capacity. And I think we underestimate that. We certainly weren't ready for World War II, but we surged. And we got ready. And ult

imately we took advantage of it. So I think, number one, the industrial base matters a lot. Do we maintain the core capabilities of building the ships, the planes, and increasingly by the way the artificial intelligence, the command and control centers, the cyber strength?

Do we have that ability to rise to meet an adversary when they come at us? So making sure that we maintain a strong domestic economy, a strong domestic infrastructure, and a strong industrial base is as important as anything. And I think we need to consider that when we're looking at what programs to fund and move forward. Then I think our military should absolutely be capable of deterring terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. And I think we've done a pretty decent job of that. As you know, you were there when we were sort of building up after 9/11.

MICHAEL MORELL:

It doesn't actually take a lot of capable at the end of the day. It really doesn't.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

No, but it takes a ton of coordination. And it's really impressive what we've done. Now when it comes to, sort of, here's our national security threat environment, which is basically Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, transnational terrorists, okay?

So how do we contain those threats? I talked about the last one. The other four, I think there's a bunch of different strategies. I think our military needs to be strong enough to deter North Korea. So that North Korea knows that if they engage militarily anywhere in the neighborhood that we will crush them.

I think we need Russia to know that if they mess in Eastern Europe, we are going to make the cost higher than they want to absorb. I think we need to have an adequate nuclear deterrent that tells every other country in

the world, "Don't you dare even think about using a nuclear weapon, because we will obliterate you."

And I think we need a strong enough military to help deter China from hostile acts in South Asia. But with China, I think frankly partners in the region are vastly more important than our military strength. It's going to matter more if South Korea and Japan and India and Thailand and Vietnam and all those countries are strong enough to have a united front in deterring China than the threat that we'll send our entire military over to go to war with China.

But I think all of that can be achieved in a more manageable way. For instance, we've had this requirement since I've been in Congress for I think it's 350 ships in the Navy. There's no realistic scenario by which we're ever able to afford to build-- I think the 350 ship in the Navy led to the LCS, okay? Which former Secretary of the Navy, now,

Spencer and I used to joke about it.

I had this analogy that I picked up a long time ago for the problem, is when you try to make something that does everything, it's like a spork. It's not a very good spoon. And it's not a very good fork. It can't really do anything. But we wanted to get to 350 ships. The LCS was cheaper than a destroyer. We could build more of them. And then we can count more ships. So aren't we better off because we have more ships? No. You set those unrealistic objectives. So I think we need to be more realistic about how we project power. And I think we need to really aggressively build alliances.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So if you take your view of what we need to be able to do, where are we today versus that view?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

One of my ways of looking at the world is I am nowhere near as hyperbolic and paranoid

as most people. And it's not that I'm unaware of the threats. It's just that I always go from the standpoint of this is the way the world is. There are no guarantees, near as I can tell. We're not going to be able to build a military that guarantees that we'll never be protected.

I think we did have a real readiness crisis, even on a more modest goal, because of Iraq and Afghanistan, because of all that we had to pull from all over the world to deal with those two issues. We undermined our readiness elsewhere. But we have really rebuilt that since we got out of Iraq and now we have a small presence there, and we've reduced our presence in Afghanistan. I think we're making real progress.

I think we've still got a little ways to go to get back to a decent readiness frame. But, again, the reason we got into that readiness crisis is because we were too ambitious in our military goals for both

Iraq and Afghanistan. We didn't work with partners-- Afghanistan's a different conversation. But I think we're on stronger footing now than we've been in the last five or six years.

MICHAEL MORELL:

One other issue I wanted to ask you about is nuclear weapons. You have a particularly interesting view I think on nuclear weapons. And I'd love to have you share that.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Sure. And this comes back to how do we deter our adversaries, but be able to afford all the things we need to do? Going back to that rather stark portrait that was portrayed in the defense review, if you believe that. And don't misunderstand me. I don't think it's necessarily wrong to say that we are vulnerable. It's just that being alive makes you vulnerable. To imagine that you won't be, it's a matter of managing those vulnerabilities. Or as they always say at

the Department of Defense, managing risk. That's what they do.

So what is our nuclear arsenal supposed to do? It is supposed to deter any adversary from ever using a nuclear weapon. And that's number one. People who start talking about how we can use our nuclear weapons to deter nonnuclear threats I think are dead wrong. And I think that's a huge policy mistake to rely on nuclear weapons and think that we would ever be the country that would strike first with nuclear weapons.

And then my position is that we don't need as many nuclear weapons as we have in order to deter our adversaries. And I always use China as the example. China has less than 300 nuclear weapons. And basically -- and forgive me, I don't always speak in the proper policy language -- China's basic policy is, "We have enough nuclear weapons to seriously mess you up if you screw with us, so don't, okay?"

And I think getting into this calculation of, "If they launch these and we launch those, then we--" no, make it clear. And I think that it is very clear with the U.S. currently having something like 4,000 nuclear warheads. And I want to maintain that power. Sorry, I don't think we need 4,000. I don't think it needs to go down to sub-300 either.

But I think as we project out, where can we save money in the defense budget? When I look at the terrorist threat, I don't want to save money by reducing our special ops guys or reducing the outreach we're doing in the world to confront that threat.

I think having a robust Navy is important to be able to deter Iran and China. There's a lot of areas where I don't want to save money. But given our budget deficit, given all of the needs, if you don't have any area where you're willing to save money, then you  

don't have a plan. And I think in nuclear weapons, we can meet our objectives of nuclear deterrence, which are incredibly important, for less money than the nuclear posture review ponders.

And I know that there's bipartisan opposition to me on this. The Obama administration was the one who put the nuclear posture review out. The Trump administration sort of ramped up a little bit further. But I just don't think we need that many nuclear weapons to serve the deterrent effect that they're supposed to serve.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Where do you think we should go in the INF Treaty?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

The INF Treaty is gone now. I think we need to renegotiate. And this is a broader issue. We are in a very dangerous point right now in the world. This is sort of like when the

Soviet Union first developed nuclear weapons. And we developed them. And it was the wild, wild west with the power to destroy the entire globe.

But then Nixon and other-- we started to negotiate to say, "Okay, we don't want to terminate the planet here. So let's have an open dialogue about what our capabilities are so that we don't go down the Dr. Strangelove route and miscalculate.

Now that Soviet Union fell apart and we all thought, "end of history," whatever. That turned out not to be correct. Now Russia is rising again. They're building more nuclear weapons. China is now a major player on missiles. They weren't part of the INF Treaty. They are rapidly developing missile technology.

And on top of that, quantum computing is out there, okay? Which potentially, as has been explained to me, can basically render any

encryption irrelevant, all right? AI is leading to all manner of capabilities, hypersonic weapons. We've got all these weapons that are gamechangers, in terms of how you're going to be able to defend yourself.

We need a new arms control regime. China, Russia, and the U.S. need to get together and say, "The risk of miscalculation as all of these new and incredibly powerful or -- what would be the word here? -- game-changing weapon systems are available, we need to better understand our capabilities so that we can be confident in our own deterrents and confident that you can't overcome our deterrents." I think we need to get back into the room and start negotiating.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And that dialogue just isn't happening today?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

No, it's not happening. And this is frustrating to me, because we have tried in the defense bill to insert a requirement for that dialogue. And we have been resisted. And I'm not saying what the outcome has to be. I just think it's incredibly important that we start talking.

It's like our conflict with Iran now. We've got this maximum pressure campaign. I think there's a wisdom behind that. Iran is having an incredibly malign influence in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen. And I think putting pressure on them to stop that is well worth it, all right?

But they view it as an existential threat. So they're going to start lashing out to survive. And how are they going to lash out? How are we going to respond? There's no communication that I'm aware of -- and I've looked -- between Iran and the U.S. I guess Japan is occasionally a go between. I just think it's really important to understand

your adversaries.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. And talk to them.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So maybe, Chairman, in the last few minutes we have here, just run through some substantive issues and get your reaction.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Sure.

MICHAEL MORELL:

China? How do you think we should be positioning ourselves vis-à-vis a rising China both strategically and militarily?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Be very present in the region so that the other countries in that region don't feel like they have to bend to the bully. That China can't bully them. That they've got another reliable partner in the region. I think by and large we're doing that. I think  

that's incredibly important.

I also think that China is a competitor. I don't see them as an existential threat. They need us. To begin with, we owe them $3 trillion. I think they'd kind of like to be paid. They don't want to see us completely collapse. They're going to compete with us economically. I do think we need to be very aggressive about stopping all of the intellectual property theft that they're doing. And try to pull them closer into a rules-based society. And the last thing I'm concerned about is the degree to which China sort of links up with Russia in favor of pushing autocracy. China didn't used to be sort of an exporter of their philosophy. It's starting to look like--

MICHAEL MORELL:

They are now.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

--they are. And I still believe in freedom. I believe in political freedom and economic

freedom. And if China is out there in Africa and Latin America and the Middle East and everywhere else trying to undermine political and economic freedom, I think that will inevitably lead to a less stable, less prosperous world. And we need to make sure that we contain their ability to do that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Russia and the deterrence of Russia in what we call the gray zone, including what they did to us in the 2016 election. We have not been successful at deterring them through the use of sanctions. How do we do that, do you think?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

I think we at least need to begin to counter their disinformation campaign. And it's a real hindrance that the president of the United States of America to this date refuses to acknowledge what Russia did in 2016. In many ways, the whole Ukraine issue, the president is pushing Russian propaganda

in Ukraine, helping them with their disinformation campaign.

Now just about every Republican I talk to says, "We know Russia's a threat. We know Russia did it in 2016." Okay, what are we doing about it? Not enough. We haven't countered it. And I do worry that there are many different aspects to President Trump's foreign policy that are troubling in a whole series of levels, but taking a step back and just saying, "Let's presume that he has a plan other than just looking after his own business interests. What is that plan?"

That plan seems to emphasize he doesn't like alliances. He wants the U.S. to be less involved in the world. And he's fond of autocrats. That's a problem. That enables Russia to continue to do what they've done, to undermine our democracy, undermine our influence in the world, and push kleptocracy and autocracy. I need to come up with better words for that, but anyway.

And the economic piece of this is crucial. Their economy is based on a few folks at the top gobbling up all the money in the most corrupt way possible and then hiding it all over the world – including, by the way, in high-end New York real estate, but that's another story.

That's an economic system that is a recipe for disaster, all right? We need to counter that. Not let them push that message. And I've had an increasing number of people tell me that as they're trying to make democracy look weak, they're succeeding. And there's people who say a thousand years from now, historians will look back on democracy as a 300-year blip in human history. Will it survive? I think the stakes are that important. Working right now to try and pass the defense bill, I was quoted in a way that I wouldn't like to be requoted. So I won't say it. Democracy is difficult. Let me put it diff--

MICHAEL MORELL:

I heard what you said. It was actually very good.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes. Because I'm trying to pass the defense bill. And I've described it as it's like Space Invaders, okay? "All right, these five people have this problem. Okay, I'll go talk to them. We're good, okay." And then somebody else has a problem. "I've got to go talk to him now. And then I've got to go talk to her." In an autocracy it's like, "He has a problem? Tell him to get over it."

So it's hard, but it's better than having a system that is unaccountable, doesn't face competition, doesn't face criticisms, because inevitably systems like that atrophy. They get lazy. They don't get better. They stop looking after people. And eventually people get tired of it. And they revolt. And we see stuff like we had in the first half of the 20th century. And here I

was saying that I'm not the hyperbolic type.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I know.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

But I think we can prevent all of that, but it is a major impediment that we have a president who doesn't pay any attention to any of this. He's got his own agenda that is unrelated to 75 years of effort to build the international institutions, to build the respect for political and economic freedom, to stabilize and make the world prosperous.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So you mentioned Iran earlier. And I thought you painted it perfectly, all right? Misbehavior in the region, significant. We need to do something about that. And the things we're doing about it, in terms of putting pressure on them, they see as an existential threat. So they're lashing out. How should we deal with them?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

I think for the moment we need to stay the course. I don't think we should have pulled out of the JCPOA, because we're going to be better able to corner them if the world is with us. And the world was not with us in pulling out of the JCPOA. I also think it makes it more likely that Iran will go back down the road of building a nuclear weapon.

And I've heard a lot of very smart people say things that are completely wrong about the JCPOA. They're like, "After ten years, they could go ahead and build a weapon." That's not what it says. That agreement was a lot stronger than the president and a whole lot of other people have said it is. And giving up on that is a problem.

But what's done is done. I think at this point we need to continue the maximum pressure campaign, show restraint, don't blow the region up. But then the other critical part about this. And I met with King Abdullah in Jordan. And he articulated

this very well.

Limiting Iran's money is one way to help make it more difficult for them to mess with Lebanon and Syria and all these other places. But they're still going to do it. They'll starve their people before they give up on this. The only way to stop Iran is to go to Yemen, go to Iraq, and give them a better deal, okay?

Because Iran is basically mob boss politics, all right? "We'll give you guns, we'll give you money in exchange for doing what we want you to do." If those people had a different offer, a better life, if the Iraq government was functioning, if Yemen wasn't a massive -- if you actually built a decent government, built economy opportunity, then Iran would not have the fertile field to go in and sow discord. When people are desperate, they turn to things like this.

So we need to keep working. Syria is a more

complicated issue, but certainly in Iraq, we've got some partners there. We can work to try to help develop a better government. Same in Lebanon. Same in Yemen. Drain the swamp, if you will. Don't give them a place to go to take advantage of people who have been backed into a corner. And I think that part of policy has been lacking. We're not doing very well in diplomacy under the Trump administration.

And I know we're probably over time here, but one final point. Biggest thing I encountered overseas, our partners no longer trust us. And they don't want to work with us. And it's for a different reason than you might think. They know. They're sitting down. You're the ambassador to whatever country from the United States. And you sit down. And they talk to you. And you make a deal. The next morning, there's a tweet that undoes it.

Now our partners say, "Why am I talking to

you? You've got no power, okay? You obviously don't speak for the United States of America, because the president's going to undo it tomorrow." And even if he doesn't now, people don't trust our interlocutors, because they don't think they speak for the country. They think Trump just tweets and that's the policy. We are really gutting our diplomatic capability because of that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Just one more question, Congressman, the morale of our troops. How would you characterize it?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

If you're talking about the troops in the State Department, really bad. At an all-time low.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Pentagon troops.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

I think within the military, it's been t

ough, okay? And I never served in the military, but we've been at war in one place or another for 18 years now. And that's a big drain. But I think the morale's pretty good. And I think they're doing their job. Certainly there are problems. There's a strong feeling 1% of the population serves in the military. Does the other 99% care?

But I think they do. Increasingly, you've seen programs to help veterans from private businesses, from charities, from others. I think the morale is okay. I think they're worried about all the stuff we've talked about today like everybody else is. What's the direction of the U.S. government? We are in a period of high political conflict.

And I'll tell you, if we can pass a defense bill and fund the government through an appropriations process, that'll help. Because I do hear from a lot of military people, "If the government gets shut down, I'm not getting paid. That's a problem. If

you guys could do your job, fund the government, pass a defense bill," I think they'd feel a lot better about the country that they're putting their lives on the line for.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Did you get some reaction from the Pentagon on the president's intervention in the Gallagher case?

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes. They're concerned. And look, the secretary of defense -- and I've known Mark for a long time in different capabilities and we have a good relationship -- he's right. The chain of command is the president's at the top of that. And ultimately, he can do whatever he wants to do.

If he wants to wake up tomorrow morning and say that the mess at Fort Hood should only serve bacon, he can do that, okay? He'd be an idiot if he did that, but he certainly

could. But I think in the case of military discipline, by him doing what he's done, he has undermined the chain of command in the following sense. If you're out there in the field and you don't think you have to listen to your superior because you know that you can go on Fox News and get the president to side with you over the person who's commanding you --

MICHAEL MORELL:

That's a problem.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Yes, it breaks down the entire principle of the military of chain of command. And I know he's at the top. It's like in my own office. I've got quite a few people who work for me. And if my staff director is given an instruction to go do this. And everyone's working on it. And then I happen to be wandering by and say, "Oh no, I think that's wrong. I think you ought to do it this way," I'm undermining my own chain of command, b

ecause I'm not empowering the people who I need to do the job.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Congressman, thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

REP. ADAM SMITH:

Thank you. It's great to see you again and appreciate the chance.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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