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Transcript: Former national security adviser Robert O'Brien on "Face the Nation," June 23, 2024

O'Brien: More Marines should be moved to East Asia
Former Trump NSA Robert O'Brien says more Marines should be moved East Asia 08:54

The following is a transcript of an interview with Trump administration national security adviser Robert O'Brien on "Face the Nation" that aired on June 23, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we bring into the conversation now Robert O'Brien. He served as national security adviser in the Trump administration through the end of the former president's term. And he joins us this morning from Palm Springs, California. Welcome back to Face the Nation.

ROBERT O'BRIEN: Thank you. It's good to be back, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know when you were last with us, you said that you would be honored to serve with Mr. Trump again, and you laid out in this essay in Foreign Affairs, what you think a second Trump term would look like. So I want to get to that. Recently, in some interviews, Mr. Trump has refused to say what he would do if China invaded Taiwan. I wonder if you would advise him to have US military forces defend it.

O'BRIEN: Well, I think that's always been the policy of the American government. It's called strategic- strategic ambiguity, and we don't tell the Chinese how we're going to react to their actions. But the- the key thing, Margaret, is peace through strength. If we- if we have a strong Navy, if we move our soldiers and Marines out of Europe, in Germany, where they're garrisoned, and put them in Guam and Hawaii and the Philippines, Australia, where we have Marines already, that sends a strong message to the Chinese not to invade. The key is to deter war, not- not to fight and win a war, which we need to do if it happens. But we need to deter the Chinese and the Communist Party from- from invading Taiwan in the first place, which we failed to do with Russia in Ukraine. And so strength- strength will turn the Chinese from invading. It's not- it's not talk, it's- it's how they- they see our forest posture.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, well, the largest contingent of all overseas US military forces is in East Asia and the Pacific already. You're calling to send the entire Marine Corps to Asia. When Mr. Trump was president- sorry, go ahead.

O'BRIEN: The fighting force, the Marine Corps, Pendleton and Camp Lejeune and then the logistics tail. But like World War II, when Asia was key for us, we should have the Marines in Asia, we should have the- the Air Force and the Army and parts of the Navy in Europe and the rest of the world. But the Marines are perfectly suited for the Indo Pacific. And we should have our fighting force there to deter the Chinese. We don't want a war, Margaret, we want to stop a war and the way to stop a war is the strength. And leaving the Marine Corps to the Pacific and moving a carrier battle group to the Pacific would show the kind of strength needed to deter a war.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, so you're not moving all 170,000 Marines to Asia, but some of them--

O'BRIEN: --No.


O'BRIEN: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when Mr. Trump was president, though, he was- he publicly pressed multiple times for the US to withdraw the 28,000 US troops that are in our treaty ally, South Korea. He also threatened to pull out of Japan. And I wonder if- if you think that threatening to pull out of Asian allied countries like that shows daylight in a way that emboldens China.

O'BRIEN: No, what President Trump was trying to do, and he did this with NATO as well as- we need our allies to step up. America can't do this alone. The American taxpayer can't deter China- China alone. We need help from our allies and President Trump made- made sure that the South Koreans and the Japanese and our European allies pay their fair share and help burden share with us. So part of the negotiations--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Well they already were helping to- to pay for some of the costs related to housing those troops in their countries.

O'BRIEN: Some of the costs, but not enough. So the American taxpayers took a tremendous burden. We've got a massive federal deficit, we've got inflation at home, we've got burdens here in America. So we need our allies to step up to the plate and participate in the same way we do. We pay almost 4% of our GDP for defense. South Korea is- is coming up higher, Japan is coming up higher. And that's a direct result of President Trump. And it's tough- to negotiations. And it's tough policy. So--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --But doesn't--

O'BRIEN: --What happened and now look at the negotiating rhetoric.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But at a time when you are looking at a more aggressive China, threatening to pull out US troops would seem to backfire on your ultimate strategic intent.

O'BRIEN: Well, our strateg- strategic intent is to be as strong as possible in Asia, and we got there with Trump. And we're- and it'll go back again with- with President Trump when he returns in six months. Because when the Japanese are engaged, when the South Koreans are engaged, when the Australians are engaged, and keep in mind, all these countries have raised their defense spending very significantly because of President Trump and in Europe as well. And that all started- that didn't start in Biden, that started under President Trump.


O'BRIEN: That makes us stronger against China. So sometimes you have to be tough, you have to show tough love to your allies. And just like with family members, you have to be, you know, sometimes you have to be a little tough with your family members. But the Chinese aren't gonna divide the family. They're not gonna divide the allies. But we did- need to make sure that the allies pay their fair share.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, what would Donald Trump do to divide the access, the new alliances that we are really seeing grow between Russia, Iran, China and North Korea. Vladimir Putin was just driving around North Korea with Kim Jong Un this past week.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, that's a great question, Margaret. And that alliance has gotten much stronger under the Biden administration because there's been a lack of American leadership. We haven't shown peace or strength. So the first thing we can do is increase our energy production in America. These- these countries are relying on Russian energy for their- to run their economies. We need to increase our energy production. We need to sanction the Russian Federation Central Bank, which Larry Kudlow and I called upon the president to do before the invasion of Ukraine and start cutting back on Russian oil sales. We need to put maximum pressure back on the Iranians who are causing so much trouble all throughout the Middle East. And- and so those are some of the steps we can take and then rebuild our military, rebuild our Navy, get our shipyards producing ships again. Those are the things that'll- that will divide the alliance- the- this axis of evil.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's getting harder to sanction when- when Russia is protecting some of those- those rogue states and China too. But on- on Russia, during the first Trump administration, the President then argued he was going to pull out at least 10,000 of the 35,000 US troops stationed in US ally Germany. You wrote an op-ed at the time arguing in defense of that and saying that keeping troops in Europe was an "obsolete" Cold War practice. Do you think in hindsight that helped embolden Vladimir Putin?

O'BRIEN: No, what we did with Vladimir Putin is we stopped the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline. That was his number one foreign policy objective was to get that pipeline built and develop energy dominance over western Europe, and we stopped it. The first thing President Biden did when he came into office was he opened the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline and canceled the Keystone XL pipeline to- to further diminish American energy production.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The invasion of Ukraine ultimately killed that.

O'BRIEN: Well, it- it killed it because Biden opened the pipeline again. Russia took that as a green light to invade Ukraine, along with our debacle in Afghanistan. But going to the true question, what I said is, it wasn't troops in Europe, Margaret, it was troops in Germany. Germany is no longer a frontline state and we have too many troops garrisoned in Germany. And I said we need to move some of those troops to the frontline to Poland, and Czechoslova- the Czech Republic and Slovakia. And we need to move some of the American territories in the Pacific, like Guam, Hawaii, the Aleutian Islands and Alaska to deter our adversaries. Just having garrison troops in Germany doesn't help us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, John Bolton and Mark Esper have a different account of what happened during that time, saying that you supported pulling out and bringing people back to the US. But on the campaign trail right now, Donald Trump is talking about Ukraine a lot. And he said, apparently, according to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, that he "won't give a penny to Ukraine" if he's reelected and by cutting off that money that will end the war. That sounds like that would be ending the war in Russia's favor, doesn't it?

O'BRIEN: Well, keep in mind, Margaret, we're the first administration to give lethal aid to the Ukrainians. The Javelin missiles stopped the Russian invasion to start with. And I'll give the Biden administration credit for forgetting them some aid afterwards, but it was always too little, too late. We need to bring Vladimir Putin to the table and the way to do that is what Larry Kudlow and I called, former President Trump has called for, is to put massive sanctions on the Russians to bring Putin to the table so we kind of negotiated a peace treaty. We've got to stop the killing in Ukraine. We got to stop the killing of Ukrainians. We got to stop the killing of Russians. And we need peace in the world and- and our- our weakness there- there's too little, too late on the Ukrainians. They can have some weapons, but they can't have others.


O'BRIEN: They can use some weapons where they can't use others. The half-measure sanctions.


O'BRIEN: None of that's helping in the war in Ukrainethat sort of- it's a lack of leadership under the Biden administration.


O'BRIEN: Trump will get this war settled very quickly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador, thank you for your time. It was an interesting read. We'll leave it there and be back in a moment.

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