What Does Effective National Security Look Like?

COMMENTARY Homeland Security

What Does Effective National Security Look Like?

May 10, 2023 29 min read
Kevin D. Roberts, Ph.D.


Heritage Trustee since 2023
Bo Zaunders/Getty Images

What does an effective national security policy look like in an ever-changing world? How do conservatives ensure the United States maintains itself as a force for good and bulwark against enemies of freedom like the Chinese Communist Party, without falling into fallacies and approaches that have proven costly or wrong?

Joining the show to weigh in is Victoria Coates—senior advisor to the U.S. secretary of energy under President Trump, art historian, and an expert on energy, international affairs, and national security here at Heritage.

Victoria Coates: This country has been the greatest force for good in human history. It has liberated more people, brought more wealth, more health advances, all of the things that allow other people to thrive. There are those who will say, "Well, then we have to overthrow dictatorial regimes and imposed democracy." Say no. We can encourage, we can instruct, and we can be a great example.

Kevin Roberts: Welcome back to the Kevin Roberts Show. Thanks so much for all of you who are listening, watching, subscribing. If you have not subscribed yet, please do so, especially on episodes when I can actually say the word subscribe. Here, we don't edit the show, we just have conversations about tough topics, usually with smiles on our faces. That's true if you're just listening and not watching. This week is an excellent example of that because my friend and colleague, Dr. Victoria Coates, who is our senior research fellow in international affairs and national security, is joining me. She's cheerful if you don't yet know that, and yet she's also not afraid to land a punch when it comes to speaking the truth about self-governance for Americans and about our national security. So you are in for a real treat. Victoria Coates, thanks for joining me.

Coates: Dr. Roberts, I'm a subscriber as well.

Roberts: Oh, you see, you passed the test.

Coates: I did.

Roberts: Yes. That's good. So that's not required to be a guest, but it's helpful. It's one of the reasons you were on the list.

Coates: Understood.

Roberts: Look, all kidding aside, it is a pleasure to work with you. All of us at Heritage are so happy to call you a colleague, and today we actually could talk about a lot of things including art history. That's probably a good story.

Coates: Hopefully we'll get that in, yeah.

Roberts: But we're ultimately going to come to focus on American National Security and International Affairs. I'm going to try to stay in your good graces and not use the phrase foreign policy.

Coates: Excellent.

Roberts: But that's just a tease, because we're going to talk about why we shouldn't use that phrase after we talk about your story. How in the wide world of sports did you end up sitting here on the set of the Kevin Roberts show?

Coates: It was something of a journey and it is an honor to be part of The Heritage Foundation now for about six months, hopefully for much longer.

Roberts: I sure hope so.

Coates: If I don't mess up the show. But I mean mostly to blame is a man whose picture hangs in multiple locations here at Heritage, and that is Donald Trump's, fault who when he decided to write his autobiography after retiring in spring of 2007 for reasons he was never able to fully articulate, decided a art history professor from Philadelphia, was the person who should be his archivist and then director of research and one of the principal staffers on the book. And it was as an academic, and I think you'd probably appreciate this, an opportunity, having worked with so many, for want of a better word, dead figures, people from the past, to be able to work with a living archive, a living subject, and be able to ask him about, "Here's a document, does it mean this?" And he would say, "No, because you don't know this other piece." And I found it very humbling as a scholar, but very instructive.

And after that, I was more addicted to the world of actions than ideas. And so, had the opportunity to work for Governor Perry, had the opportunity to work for Senator Cruz for a number of years, and then be in the Trump administration. So it all built on each other, but it all goes back to DR and a decision he made, and as I said, never really explained it.

Roberts: That sounds pretty typical. You had the opportunity to work for and with some great leaders. That's a real treat. What from your art history background was the most helpful in working with all of those leaders who among other things, had really, and have really big personalities?

Coates: I like to say, and I would include you on this list, I like the shy retiring types. I think having a historical perspective, whether it be with pictures or without them, is very helpful in dealing with human beings. And one of the things that struck me in my academic work were the achievements of humans who are just as human as we are, just as fallible, just as mistaken, but were able to rise above their state to extraordinary achievements. And I would say each of the gentlemen on that list fall into that category where getting to know them personally was not a disillusionment. It made them all the more impressive knowing their personal issues, weaknesses, whatever you want to say, that they were able to rise above that to do really great things in each case. That historical perspective I think maybe gave me a little bit more sympathy. I know a lot of people when they get to know folks they think were great men or great women, are very disappointed when they turn out to be humans. I actually find that much more moving. And so I think history helps with that.

Roberts: So that's a great answer. I have a lot of possible follow up questions, but the one that I'll pursue for now, you're smiling because I always have a lot of follow up questions, but the one that I'll pursue for now is what leadership lessons for aspiring leaders, thinking about the younger people in the audience who may or may not be in politics per se, but if they're listening to this show, they're probably interested somewhat, what lessons did you learn from Perry and Cruz and Rumsfeld, Trump?

Coates: I think seizing opportunities, being flexible, not being wedded to a really rigid ideology that cuts you off from what you might think of as unorthodox solutions. Go back to Winston Churchill, defeat is never final. That if you look at each of those gentlemen, I mean there were bad patches, difficult times, and being able to be resilient, I think, is the hallmark of an American, really. And to be able to continue to contribute after disappointment or what might appear to be failure and turning that into success. And then in terms of leadership, what each of them have been able to do is to define a mission. And it was something Rumsfeld talked a lot about with President Reagan, that the genius of Reagan was the ability to just throw the standard in the ground two miles down the road and tell everybody to run toward the standard. And that was defeating communism and rebuilding the United States after the really terrible decade of the seventies. And so figuring out, terrible in so many ways, but-

Roberts: The reason I'm chuckling is I can think of a lot of examples of why it was so terrible.

Coates: And it actually gives us good perspective for our own time, that it's been bad before and we've been able to come through it. But in terms of being a leader of a team or an office, but giving all of your folks a sense of purpose, that this is our common goal that we are moving towards. Everyone is playing an important role and supporting them in that work and not having them seem threatening, that if they shine, you shine. And all of them gave me that opportunity.

Roberts: Well, I'm struck thinking about what I know about each of those men. Obviously you know them better than I do, that the moral clarity, the clarity of vision, the clarity of purpose, is something that is also infectious, not just for the men and women who have the privilege of working for people like that, but also in the case of the two presidents in that list, a country, a group of free people around the planet who of course are going to respond to any American president who's bold and has a clear vision and also has the ability to speak. So all of that to say, because you mentioned Reagan and the defeat of communism, we sit here at a time for those of us on the political riot, when it seems as if we are in the middle of a shift in thinking about national security. And what are the reasons for that?

Coates: I think there's several. For starters, I think particularly interestingly for, I think, tank, the traditional stove-pipes between say policy communications and politics have dissolved. And if you can focus on one area as opposed to another, but if you don't take all of those issues into consideration, you're not going to be able to make your ideas effective. If they're not politically viable and you can't explain them to the American people, then they're abstracts and they may be great ideas, but they're going to sit on a dusty page somewhere and not go anywhere. So I think that in a world where communications and information is flowing at such a rapid rate and everything is politicized, whether we want it to be or not, figuring that triangle out and navigating it is a new world for national security policy.

And within that new world, we have new issues, we have energy, we have immigration, we have information, and these things touch the American people where they live. They are all very aware of how the international world is impacting things that might not have before. And I think one of our great opportunities as Heritage is to start to meld together those issues which might have been in the domestic bucket exclusively before, but realize that they're going to have several homes and have multiple inputs to get to the most successful. And immigration has to be in there as well, if I failed to mention that. Make sure that we are very clearly addressing the issues that impact the security of the American people.

Roberts: So I think embedded in that wonderful response is part of the answer to the next question, which is why we must not use the phrase foreign policy.

Coates: Well, I think that that is what has been problematic, is when the American people hear foreign policy, they think [inaudible 00:10:51], God forbid, turtle Bay and foreign aid and things that are, again, abstracts for them, don't make their lives better, seem to be spending their money with people who are not responsive or helpful to us. So that's really a non-starter. But when you say national security, it invokes the charge to provide for the common defense. It's not all wars overseas. It's important things here at home. And for most Americans, there is a realization that we do need to be engaged overseas to some degree, but we have to take care of things at home at the same time. And if you fail to secure the border or you fail to defend us against a Chinese spy balloon that happens to be meandering across the Midwest, then we've got to wonder, what are you doing overseas? And that doesn't mean you're ignorant, you still understand the importance of both issues, but you have to start here at home. And that then is to me, national security rather than foreign policy.

Roberts: It reminds us, I think the phrase national security reminds us that the first question we need to ask about international affairs as Americans, American policy makers is what's in the best interest for America, for Americans? And it seems as if that question has gotten lost by, and I will use the phrase what I call the foreign policy blob-

Coates: I'm fine using it in that context.

Roberts: Okay. So that's acceptable. I can get a passing grade from Dr. Coates when I use foreign policy, blob and I'm going to use it a third time because I know it just causes heads to explode in the Imperial City. So for anyone who might be watching or listening to this in the foreign policy blob, I want them to really listen to your response to this because you're a great teacher and coach and you're really focused, along with our colleagues here at Heritage, at bringing along the movement in a way that Heritage should. We rarely will point fingers. We get plenty of fingers pointed at us, right? You in particular. But the point is, we want to persuade people to a way of thinking that we happen to know is right, not because Victoria and Kevin and other people at Heritage say so, but because back to the question about international affairs, we understand what is best for the American people because of how Heritage is supported. Half a million people each year support us. We're not a product of this city even though we're based here. It's a long-winded way of leading up to a really important coaching lesson from you about what it is that many establishment folks in national security get wrong.

Coates: The basic problem goes back to presidents Trump's phrase of America first, which many interpreted to mean America alone or America not engaged. The way I understand it is that preserving America is the best thing we can do for the world. This country, for all of its faults and warts, has been the greatest force for good in human history. It has liberated more people, brought more wealth, more health advances, all the things that allow other people to thrive because it has been so successful. So if I want democracy to flourish around the globe, there are those who will say, "Well then we have to overthrow dictatorial regimes and imposed democracy." Say no, we can encourage, we can instruct, and we can be a great example of what comes when you are a liberal democracy with a strong capitalist system. But we can't want it more than other people do. So my first goal has to be the preservation of the prosperity and security of the United States, and that by extent will be beneficial to the globe, not exclusive to the rest of the globe.

Roberts: How does the war in Ukraine fit within that? Because it's clearly, I mean you and I have talked about this a lot, we talk about this every day at Heritage of course. It fits within that rubric of American interest, but I might posit not nearly at the scale that some of our friends might argue.

Coates: It's a fascinating case study because I've been tangling with this issue since 2013, 2014 timeframe from a Senate perspective. The first trip that I made with Senator Cruz, our first stop was Tel Aviv, Jerusalem. Our second stop was Kiev, because Madan had just happened and we walked through the main square, you could smell the smoke. We were with a protestor. It was very moving. And Ukraine is an important country. They have enormous resources. They're in a strategic location. There are all sorts of reasons to be interested in Ukraine, and of course Vladimir Putin's invasion is inexcusable, as was his previous incursion. It's violent, it's incredibly destructive. It has negative impacts here at home and around the globe. And I really don't want him to do it again. I don't want to be having this conversation again in five years. Now that said, as this has been going on since for the last decade in Ukraine, we've also had the clear revelation of our primary threat, which is the People's Republic of China.

So as with Reagan with the Cold War where you say, "Okay, we're going to defeat the Soviets, let's figure this out, and everybody march on that line," that didn't mean he didn't do other things, but all of those things had to go through that lens. And so as we've been discussing, I think especially given the increasing cooperation between Russia and China, in some ways you can't disaggregate those problem sets anymore, so you just make the problem bigger. But we have to make sure we're not losing sight of the big bear to try to punish the medium-sized bear. And so establishing that balance and also how that reflects on our relationship with all of our European allies is, I think, the challenge to getting Ukraine strategy.

Roberts: So follow up question to that, to engage in this exercise, I like to do on this show, I call it policy magic wand thinking, I'm giving you the magic wand. You're advising the President of the United States and the president's going to listen to you, believe it or not. And what do you tell him about what to do with Ukraine?

Coates: Is it a time travel wand or am I stuck in this time?

Roberts: It's a magic wand, Victoria. Abuse it.

Coates: I would go back to January of I guess 22 and very strongly recommend the President of the United States not go to the United States Congress and lobby against sanctions on North Stream two, that he basically operated as a lobbyist for then the Germans and the Russians. What the Germans had been telling him was wrong, which is that Putin needed to sell them gas more than they needed to buy it, that turned out not to be correct and that Putin would never invade. So it seemed to me pretty clear in that timeframe that we could have established deterrence against Putin. And it was something President Trump did very well in terms of just, I mean, it wasn't that he didn't have a reasonably cordial relationship with Putin, but he was very clear, if you invade Ukraine, there are going to be very serious repercussions. And Putin knew it.

Roberts: He believed that.

Coates: And he didn't do it. So it is possible to manage these situations. It's not going to be perfect, but you can make inroads. So established deterrents would be the first thing. If we have failed to do that, recover from the intelligence failure that this was going to be a three-day war. So everything we put in there before the war, what we were prepared to do after the invasion, was wrong. So immediately by the middle of April at the latest when we were six weeks into this thing, not three week war, is it possible for the Ukrainians to win? And if the answer to that is yes, then what would it take from the United States? What are our allies prepared to do? Then you have to give a major address and bring the American people along with some sense of expectation.

I mean, most people who are familiar with war know it's not going to go precisely according to plan, but you can give them some framework. This has never happened. We're 14 months in, and he's wondering why the president is wondering why support is starting to become shaky. It's because there's no plan, there's no strategy. And so those would've been my recommendations with the hope of getting this wrapped up by last fall, that we could be on to arguing about reconstruction now.

Roberts: Right. And in addition to the executive branch problems, the problems in the legislative branch were in that initial military aid package, just going beyond the criticisms of some of the substance, the grand total time that the US House spent discussing that and strategy was four hours and 41 minutes. And our complaint at Heritage all along, keeping in mind that we were the most vocal and before the invasion, of arguing for munitions for the purposes of deterrence, people often forget that, was that this process that we're talking about is rooted in regular constitutional order. This is not something that we can throw away because of the first question about international affairs and national security, what's best for Americans. So step into your crystal ball. What's going to happen over the next year?

Coates: Well, I think we can now with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, start to insist on more engagement with Congress if the president's going to ask for more money. I think what happened in December with the omni legislation in which 46 billion for Ukraine was stuffed into 1.7 trillion of mostly discretionary domestic pork spending, and then held hostage to the Ukraine piece. And at that point, given the grand sum that was in question, 46 billion starts to look like chump change. Let that sink in for a couple of minutes. And that if the president's going to come back, it cannot get stuffed into other pieces of legislation. There has to be proper debate and they're going to have to explain this conflict to which we are technically not a party.

And historically, there are examples of proxy wars. Putin's not fighting a proxy war. He is fighting a war on the behalf of Russia. We theoretically are not on the ground fighting under any terms, and the Ukrainians aren't our proxies. So what is this? And that then begs the question of why we are not employing all of the non-kinetic tools we could, actually functional economic sanctions, energy dominance. We have options that we're not exercising that could get us to victory, and I think Congress can demand answers on that as well.

Roberts: They can and they should. And I'll just ... Pardon being an academic for a moment, there's a reason that in the history of republics, non-war wars are so problematic. It's a beautiful structure. It's not a problem with the structure, the problem is with the virtue or lack thereof, lack of courage too in our political leaders, Democrats and Republicans. But the good news is, because we always try to inject into the realism of this show, Victoria, as you know, some optimism, just in the last weeks, it seems as if there is a growing realization among formerly outspoken advocates for writing blank checks for the Ukraine conflict.

Coates: Blank undated checks.

Roberts: Even worse. Speaking of time traveling. Time traveling to the future with the American People's wallet. That we have to come to grips with a really dire situation, a tragic one, an evil one, but one that America, because of so many missteps that our leaders have taken in the last year and a half, perhaps longer, probably is not going to be able to solve.

Coates: No. And there's another challenge to the policy world, which is in my mind that the challenge of magical thinking that you can say, "I would like to arm the Ukrainians to the teeth and win the war in two weeks." Sounds good. So you then extrapolate to, "I'm going to take to the Senate floor and insist we give Ukraine everything up to and including whatever it is, F-16s or whatever the flavor of the week is, but I can't control that," and that's where it becomes magical. I'm dealing with an administration that has gotten this wrong consistently after the spectacular failure of Afghanistan. I have zero confidence in how decisions are being made and how they're being implemented. The reports today are that they can't decide who's going to take the lead on China. Will it be Tony Blinken, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Treasury?

If they've got that degree of confusion on our main policy focus, then I don't have confidence that the American people's money is being spent responsibly on this issue. And that then leads to very natural questions, constraints, requests for information, and I would put into that bucket, clarity on what the two largest economies in Europe, Germany, and France, are or are not doing for Ukraine. We can't get those numbers. Congress can't get them. Why not?

Roberts: That's great question. And energy in particular, the Germans need for Russian energy is part of the story, right?

Coates: It is. The Germans make ... The Lord love them, their most Googled term last year was firewood. As the taps got turned off, they were blessed by a reasonably warm winter, so it didn't get to that. But then they just took the extraordinary step of shutting down their civil nuclear plants, so cutting themselves off from that as well. And the result of that is going to be spiking carbon emissions out of Germany next year because they're going to be burning other things such as coal, which will throw off more emissions than civil nuclear, which does not produce emissions. So they are on this completely self-destructive, counterproductive path from which we cannot save them. We could not save them from Nord Stream 1 or Nord Stream 2 for that matter. Dana Purina tells a great story about being in a meeting with President George W. Bush when 1 was being considered and Bush looking at Merkel and saying, "Why would you do this?" And she just insisted, and it's been this way for now 20 years.

Roberts: And for people who don't know, what is this?

Coates: Nord Stream 1 and 2 are the two pipelines for natural gas coming out of Russia into Europe, primarily to Germany. So creating this almost monopoly over, or at least veto over European energy supplies on the part of Russia, which is from my view, a difficult place to put your energy security, and so it has proven. So for the United States, I think we have to look at Germany and say, "We can't care about this more than you do." And I'm all for maximizing domestic US production. If we have plenty here at home, supplying our markets, I'm just fine with exporting to partners and allies and making sure their energy security is taken care of, love the forward-leaning ones, the poles putting in their natural gas port 10 years ago. And so preparing for this eventuality, they're on the front lines and it tends to focus the attention. But if the Germans insist on this and they are not stepping up to the plate with military and civil society assistance to Ukraine, they assume the United States is going to be the top donor. I think we have to ask why.

Roberts: And they not only assume that we're going to do that, but sometimes, if not often, will wag their fingers at us for not leading the way. So we could unfortunately spend an entire episode talking about the faults of the German and French governments, but those are a given. And so let's talk about a big problem. In fact, you and I, all of us at Heritage would say the biggest problem facing the United States externally at least, and it constitutes if Reagan were here, no doubt what Reagan would do in planting a flag and saying, "This is what we must go defeat," and that's the Chinese Communist Party. What's your assessment of the extent of the threat the CCP poses to the everyday American?

Coates: It is a mile wide and a mile deep. It is permeating all parts of our country and our society. The topic I've been talking about most recently is how they have infiltrated and corrupted the, what you'd call the green movement, the climate movement. And it appears to me they've been doing this for about five years, that they were going to capture ... It's their playbook on 5G, but on a bigger scale, and in many ways a more pernicious scale, because not only are they capturing the supply chains and the sources, everything from wind turbines to solar panels to EV batteries, but they're also persuading us to abdicate our huge strategic advantage, which is that we are, I believe, the only country on the planet that can both fuel and feed itself if necessary. Could make an argument about Brazil, but they're not terribly well organized.

Roberts: Especially right now.

Coates: Yeah, it's a problem. But for us, if future president came to me and said, for whatever reason, nuclear war, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, we need Fortress America. I don't want to do that. It's expensive, difficult, and painful, but I could do it and it would take some time, but we can muster that. So even though you don't want to do it, it gives you a lot of flexibility to know that you could. China doesn't have that. They're the world's largest importer and coincidentally, the world's largest polluter. They know we have a huge strength there, and they have been working to undermine it and we've walked into it. And that is a case in point of how they're at war with us without bombing us, but by new means.

Roberts: So let's play magic wand.

Coates: Oh, good. I like the magic wand.

Roberts: Now you know there are no rules to this. There are no restraints. You could time travel, go anywhere you want. What are the two or three most important things, policy wise, to change regarding China.

Coates: In terms of the USG, the good news is there is bipartisan support for this in Congress. I think the only non-essential legislation that's likely to pass over the next 18 months will be related to China. I think that almost all of the members are hearing from their constituencies, be it in the House or the Senate, that this is a big problem. And you see it in things like the farmland issue, you see it in energy, technology, education. It's hitting everywhere. And as somebody who took two kids out of a school because of a Confucius Institute quite a few years ago, I mean this was over a decade ago, we pulled the kids out because you could see it happening. I was told my children would both go to Beijing first spring break of their junior year. I said, "I really don't think this is a great idea."

So people are experiencing this in their lives, and I think if we can give them ways to participate ... [inaudible 00:31:24] always used to talk about Victory Gardens. His father was in the Navy in World War II and the Pacific Theater, and that it was so meaningful for him to tend the Victory Garden because he felt like he was participating. And one of his issues, particularly with Iraq and Afghanistan, is there was no engagement with the American people in those wars to support that way. So I've had what might seem like silly accessory like ideas, but if you can really clearly stamp a product with its country of origin so that there's something an inch big on the upper right-hand corner that's an American flag, or even a French flag, they make some nice things that we might wish to purchase, but if there's a great big Chinese flag, then you know this is coming from China. You don't have to look under the bottom or hunt for a tag or something.

Roberts: It's becoming increasingly hard as more Americans decide, we're not going to consume Chinese [inaudible 00:32:21]

Coates: Exactly. And so if you give people an option and the alternative is not 20 times more expensive, I think people would say, "Okay, I will spend another dollar to buy the American sneaker or sweatshirt or whatever it is," and make them feel like they are participating. And I think that then will have a very effective impact on all branches of the government to organize themselves, to demonstrate progress on this.

Roberts: Were you about to use the non-word impactful? And did you catch yourself?

Coates: I did not. That's not a word I use.

Roberts: Okay, good. Because I saw that in one of the great, probably the greatest success I've had in Heritage, is rooting out the usage of that non-word by many people. But it's creeping back in inside Heritage and on the media. And of course, the risk of saying this, is now I'll be flooded with comments like a recent email at Heritage written by one of our colleagues that used that non-word seven times just to see if I was reading the email. So I just-

Coates: That is a good tactic. I'm going to use that.

Roberts: Yeah, just curious. But I'll just use this. We'll get back to China in a minute, because it's really important. But effective impact is a really good thing to say instead of using the non-word impactful.

Coates: Concur. So if we can eradicate impactful and foreign policy, we will have made progress with this-

Roberts: Language lesson.

Coates: There we go.

Roberts: Yeah, that's good. So you still have the magic wand, and I really appreciate what you said about individual Americans taking action here, because obviously you can tell us a lot about what needs to happen with policy by Congress, what presidents of the United States can do. But ultimately, some of this is in the hands, it's actually in the realm of obligation by individual Americans. So we will continue to talk about that at Heritage over the next many years until we eliminate this threat. But here's the additional magic wand question. What's the most unknown or underappreciated part of the world that's really crucial, and maybe it's an individual country, that's really crucial to American national security?

Coates: I would actually say Latin America, that if you go big picture, again, many of our partners have a bad demographic problem. Some of our enemies, notably China and Russia, have a catastrophic demographic problem. We have a demographic issue, but we have a solution which is potentially partnership with our Latin American partners and allies. Now at the moment, they're not postured to really embrace that. One of the things, obviously, we're all dealing with who are interested in the southern border and what's going on, that just catastrophic immigration situation we're dealing with, with the Chinese nationals coming across, children being exploited in the most horrific ways. This is not working well right now.

Mexico is having obviously an endemic problem with these cartels. We've got to figure out how we're going to contend with that kind of challenge. But if we can rise to that, the both potential for partnership with Latin America in terms of locating supply chains there, various other things we might need to do, additional people that can be very, as we've demonstrated, easily integrated into our society who now are emerging to really share a lot of conservative values, this can be a great potential benefit if we can get over what is an enormous short term challenge. So I think it is problematic that the last known doctrine for this region is known by the name of Monroe, with all due respect-

Roberts: 200 years old.

Coates: To President Monroe. But I think the situation's a little different now. So I think updating how people seem very willing to give Russia a sphere of influence or China, a sphere of influence who are much less attentive to our own sphere of influence. And so making sure the United States is an effective partner of choice for Latin America. I'm deeply disturbed where a lot of these elections have gone. Obviously in recent years, we have not been particularly supportive of pro-American candidates. That doesn't mean we're going to go medal in someone else's democracy. There are other ways you can just be supportive and help people. Figuring that out is probably the best short term, or not short term, but the best immediate issue we could get after.

Roberts: And moving from that region, that's a helpful explanation for people, to a region that people readily follow, and that's the Middle East, one you know well, one country in particular, Iran, what do we do about them?

Coates: The Islamic Republic. The critical thing for people to realize is that the [inaudible 00:37:48] in Tehran are not a hundred feet high, nor are they inevitable. There is a wonderful population in Iran, which has a tremendous culture and history. The Crown Prince of Iran was in Israel two weeks ago on a historic visit that I was very pleased to support and physically participating in the demonstration that there is not a historic amity between Persians and Jews, that there actually has been great friendship, and Cyrus The Great, of course embodies that. So disaggregating the current management of that country from its people is step one. And step two is realizing that the current management cannot be reasoned with. They do not act in good faith. They do not act according to what we would consider any kind of normal framework. We cannot assume decisions on their part are going to go in any way that we would expect.

And so these repeated attempts by the first Obama, well, to be honest, there was some of this in the Bush administration as well, but Obama particularly and Biden, to engage them and somehow domesticate them into a friend, this just isn't going to work. It never has. And even when you gave them the most relief under the JCPOA in 2015, dollar for dollar, they spent it on offensive military capabilities. None of it went to build bridges. John Kerry told me they were going to cure cancer. They didn't. So recognizing that and then recognizing the threat they pose to the region. They routinely attack their neighbors by various means, direct and indirect. They have corrupted, infiltrated and destroyed countries. Lebanon to some extent, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, these are some of the worst places for civil society on the planet. And why? It's because the Iranians are there. If left alone, I mean, Syria is probably a more difficult case, but in most cases, these countries have resources, histories, and they could pull themselves together, but they're literally being sucked dry by Tehran.

Roberts: Strong corollary between Iran and China, right? In particular that our comments about those countries are about, as you put it, the management, the CCP, the Islamic Republic leaders in Iran. And it's important for Americans to remember that. We'll have you back many times over the years, Victoria. But we'll conclude today with my common question. A lot of challenges out there. People in America who spend less time than you do on national security might look at some domestic problems. You are aware of those, plus, you're aware of all the challenges in international affairs, and yet I know you well enough to know you woke up this morning optimistic about the future.

Coates: A hundred percent. And it would go back to the America first answer, that the potential and the resources and the people in the United States are unparalleled. And what we have achieved in our soon to be 250 years, which is a blip if one thinks historically, is unparalleled, and the world is really waiting for us. The good news about China is nobody really likes them after the virus. And maybe they did it on purpose, maybe they didn't, but it's increasingly hard to deny that they did it. So I do think it's beholden on us to point this out to partners and allies and then offer that goodness of the United States as a partner that one of my former bosses who will in this case remain nameless, once said, "We just want to make friends with people and make a little money. Honestly, that could be your policy." And I think if we can offer that, the next century is the greatest American century. And so I think what we can do here at Heritage is just make sure that we're providing all the support and guidance we can to make that happen.

Roberts: The opportunities are there if we're willing to seize them, right?

Coates: A hundred percent.

Roberts: Dr. Victoria Coates, thanks for joining me.

Coates: Dr. Roberts, a pleasure.

Roberts: Well, I know you enjoyed that conversation. If you're like me, you probably learned something. It's something I always do when I talk to Victoria and our National Security colleagues. In any event, thanks for making time for this. Stay tuned for the next episode. There will be, of course, the typical dose of realism and optimism. Take care.

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