ecretary of State Michael R. Pompeo “Celebrating Americanism in Our Foreign Policy” at the American Legion’s 101st National Convention
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning. Thank you for that warm welcome.
Thank you, Commander Reistad, for that kind introduction. I also want to recognize Adjutant Dan Wheeler as well. Thank you all very much for having me here today.
This is pretty special for me. As a former soldier myself, it’s great to be meeting with you all here in the heartland, in this very special place at your National Convention.
And as a Kansan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my state’s rich history contributing to the Legion.
No less than 15 Kansas troops attended the founding Legion event in France. The American Legion Department of Kansas can claim a president – Dwight Eisenhower – three national commanders, and a singular American hero: Senator Bob Dole. (Applause.)
And your future is as bright as your past is glorious.
The nearly 25,000 Legionnaires who comprise the nearly 300 posts scattered all throughout all corners of the Sunflower State are shaping America for years to come, and it’s a peerless passion for service. I want to thank you.
I heard – I think we’re – I think I figured out where Kansas is. As a proud member of Post 4, I’m still paying my dues and I missed steak night. (Laughter and applause.)
I’m proud of that service. I’m proud of the fact that I’m a member for a lot of reasons. It’s because this is an enormously great organization in what it’s done over the last 100 years to stand up for America’s freedom and some of the core pillars of American life – the things that I work on every day as an American diplomat.
You helped the Boy Scouts get going in 1919 and have supported them ever since.
You lobbied for the creation of what would become the Department of Veterans Affairs.
You pushed for the GI Bill during World War II.
And I know younger vets are grateful to you for pushing for an even better GI Bill after 9/11.
And not too long ago, you were a force behind President Trump’s signing to make sure that veterans are cared for, and when they’re cared for those who are doing that work are held accountable. You should be very proud of that accomplishment. (Applause.)
It’s very simple: you have contributed mightily to proud American achievements. By doing so you, your organization, each of you as individuals, is a proud American achievement unto itself.
In fact, America itself – the idea of America and her promise – is at the core of everything that you do.
And I want to talk about that today, because it’s the preamble to your organization’s constitution that says, quote, “to foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism,” end of quote.
As The Chicago Tribune reported back in 1919, Legionnaires adopted that very language unanimously and “spontaneously” as the “watchword” of this organization.
And America is pretty darn important to you, as it is to me. And I want to tell you why and I want to talk about Americanism today. I want to talk about what it means.
Americanism means recognizing that America is an exceptional nation. We’re the first nation founded on an idea that government’s proper purpose is to protect unalienable rights for each and every human being.
And Americanism means our love of individual liberty and human dignity sets us apart. It’s not that these principles are unique to us, but we’ve shown a singular determination and courage in realizing them.
Americanism, in your founding and our founding, means pride in our recipe to create human flourishing – the rule of law, representative government, property rights. Things that we sometimes take for granted, as I travel around the world, I know that we should not.
And of course, too, here in America, we cherish our right to bear arms. (Applause.) My – whenever I talk about the Second Amendment, my wife reminds me of two things. One, she has a concealed permit carry, and two, that she’s better at it than I am. (Laughter.)
Americanism, too, means confidence in America’s unique role in the world. I see that as America’s most senior diplomat. It’s guided by our founders’ vision. So I’m honored to come before an audience that isn’t going to get squeamish when I tell you that Americanism is something we must be proud of each and every day. (Applause.)
You all know this. You all knew this when you served. You felt it. You heard it. You saw it. You felt it, and so did I.
Picture this: It’s about 3:45 a.m. It’s winter in a place called Bad Berneck, West Germany. It’s wintertime. It’s cold. The phone rings. Second Lieutenant Pompeo grabs his gear. He runs to his car in what had to be below-zero weather and drives like a bat out of hell towards headquarters. I mustered with B troop, 1st squadron, 2nd armored cavalry regiment.
Of course, as I’m driving to post, the questions race.
Are we ready?
Has the Soviet Union decided to move west?
Or, more likely, is this just a drill? It’s got to be a drill, right?
It was a tense moment making sure my team was ready. But whether it was a drill or the real deal, my platoon was going to do well. We knew exactly our team’s mission. I knew when I arrived, I knew Staff Sergeant Naboroski would be there, ensuring that every tank headed straight to the quick reaction site to pick up its full basic load.
I knew that my driver, an 18-year old from Mississippi, would have made sure we had a full load of fuel and every bullet we could find.
A thousand tasks, all fully choreographed and endlessly drilled. American lethality ready to move to battle positions along the East German border that frankly we could have found in our sleep, we had practiced so much.
And here is what’s remarkable about that – you all know this. What’s remarkable is that none of us in that platoon were constitutional scholars. None of us were professors. None of us were politicians – at least not then. We were 18, we were 22, we were 25. Staff Sergeant Naboroski might have been in his 30s.
But we all – you all – in some piece of our warrior souls knew that we were serving because Americanism is great. Because Americanism is something worth defending, and that because we knew that Americanism is something we must be proud of. (Applause.)
To some of you, you may ask why are we talking so much about this, but sadly, this assertion – once common at every levels of American society ‒ has become too rare.
Some of our leaders would say that the idea of America, or of “Americanism,” means inherent racism, or sexism. Others say that Americanism is a code word for a narrow-minded nationalism. Some even want us to reject the founding principles which have blessed us since 1776. They want to substitute our founders’ words for something else.
They’d like us to shun those founding principles, principles that were bestowed on us by God and codified in our Constitution and properly taught in our schools’ civics courses. They want us to reject the very ideas that are central to understanding our nation’s exceptionalism, and indeed its greatness.
That can’t happen, and I’m counting on you all to help me make sure that that never happens. (Applause.)
And when it comes to Americanism in our foreign policy, for decades, frankly we just plain ignored it. We didn’t lead. We let the bureaucrats in international organizations lead us. We let our allies shun their responsibilities.
We pretended our enemies were our friends, and sometimes sadly we even appeased them.
But those days are over. No more. The Trump administration – and you’ll hear it from the Vice President tomorrow – we’ve gotten back to the basics. As I said when I was in Cairo now a few months back, we’re not going to apologize for America anymore. (Applause.) No, Americanism is something that we must be proud of. We’re putting it at the center of our foreign policy. Every one of my diplomats all across the world knows it, and is delivering it.
It’s simple. Look, at its core – at its core, it means honoring principles and returning to a foreign policy that had the vision of our founders at its very center. I talked about this idea in a speech I gave out in California at – (applause) – yeah.
George Washington had it right. He counseled us against “inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments” to “others.” He wanted us to look at the world dispassionately, for us to see it as it is, for what it really is.
Americanism – it means telling the truth about the challenges we face. Look, this administration didn’t pretend that the Islamic Republic of Iran was a responsible actor in the Middle East. We called out China’s bad behavior on trade and on national security. We recognized – we recognized that North Korea’s rogue behavior could not be ignored.
Those are at the center, these are the core of America’s founding principles, because Americanism means standing up for our principles, for the American people, and supporting our unalienable rights wherever we go. It’s the same principles that we found, too, in our Declaration of Independence. I’ve watched us wander from these principles, and so I’ve taken a number of actions with President Trump’s support. I’ve launched a Commission on Unalienable Rights to ensure that human rights policy around the world is grounding in basic American founding principles. (Applause.)
Americanism too – Americanism too means believing the right of people to choose their own leaders. We’ve now mobilized 54 other countries to support the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore democracy and prosperity in their country. We too support the aspirations of the people of Iran as they struggle under their brutal revolutionary regime.
And Americanism means getting leadership right around the world. We work with 79 partners to defeat the caliphate of ISIS in Syria. We’ve convened more than 60 countries in Warsaw earlier this year to brainstorm, to try and reduce risks to America that emanates from the Middle East.
We galvanized global support to denuclearize North Korea.
Just last week, Australia, Bahrain – and there will be many more to follow – have joined us in ensuring that the waterways which carry transit commercial products all across the world are free from Iranian aggression. (Applause.)
Americanism means taking care of our own:
We’ve stopped international courts – (applause) – we stopped international courts from prosecuting our service members.
We’ve brought – (applause) – it’s a – it was an outrage. We’ve brought home dozens of Americans held hostage overseas – more than any other administration in modern history – and without paying any ransom. (Applause.)
We’ve used diplomacy to guard our borders from illegal immigration. (Applause.)
And speaking of taking care of our own, that includes those who gave all in combat as well. President Trump’s Singapore summit with Chairman Kim produced the single largest return of service members’ remains from North Korea in decades: 55 boxes of great Americans. (Applause.) Their families and their souls are now home together.
I know the significance of this to you. And the Trump administration is committed to making sure that every last American soldier buried on Korean soil comes home and comes home soon. (Applause.)
Americanism in foreign policy means more than that too. It means actions are shaped by pride in our civilization. But as I said earlier, it also means an awareness and frank assessment of our strategic goals, things we can do and things we ought not to do.
I want to talk about Afghanistan today for just a moment.
The truth is there are young adults entering college just this week who weren’t even born when the United States starting fighting in Afghanistan. It’s our longest war now: 18 years-plus.
Our 18 years of military, diplomatic, and economic engagement there helped transform Afghan society, and we crushed al-Qaida. (Applause.) And that was our mission. Our mission there was to defeat al-Qaida, and that we shall do and that we shall continue to do. We’re proud of that record.
But the truth is America has never sought permanent military presence in Afghanistan, and all sides recognize that times move on.
So for a year and continuing today, we continue to work to clear-eyed engagement with all Afghans. We don’t know how these efforts towards peace and reconciliation will end. But President Trump is committed to make sure that we get it right. (Applause.)
His clear guidance to me and to my military colleagues is this: We want to get our folks home as fast and in as large numbers as we can, and we want to make sure that never again is terror struck on the United States from that soil. I believe we can and will accomplish both of these, and we will honor your labors and your sacrifices in this fight. (Applause.)
My wife Susan and I live not too far from Arlington Cemetery. We will, from time to time, just kind of drop everything and we’ll walk over there. We find ourselves drawn to Section 60, where our heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan are laid to rest. Those brave souls gave all for you and for me and for my family and for this country. They were the young ones who knew that Americanism is good.
So as I walk amongst those white rows at Arlington, it’s always a reminder to me to put Americanism at the center of my mission at the United States Department of State.
If I can do that, I will honor their service in the same way that you all honor their service by being here today. (Applause.)
As I wrap up, I want to emphasize one more thing: We need to keep telling people this story, this great story about Americanism. It’s something the whole world and every American must be proud of.
It’s special for so many reasons. One of them is the civic associations we form. One of them is the organization I’m here today with.
They’re vital organs of our institutional body politic.
And as I said at the beginning of my speech, you all have spent a century volunteering your time, your effort, your money, for people all across this great country. That – things like that don’t happen on a wide scale in all of the countries that I visit.
But you know too, as you see it, as you’re out riding as members of the American Legion Riders or working at a charity event, there’s still a lot left to do. There are too many households out there who have no veterans in their family. They need to hear about this story too. Tell it.
Keep doing this. Keep doing what you’re doing.
Keep helping each other through hard times.
Keep supporting our veterans who come home – helping them with their career, their family, their education or health needs, and so much more in the ways that you always have, and I know you will. There is, as we say in Kansas, “no place like home.” Help them make sure they return properly. (Applause.)
I would encourage you, too, to continue supporting all kinds of organizations, whether it’s the baseball leagues or motorcycle rides, advocating for the proper care of the American flag, and everything else you do.
And finally, and I suggested this early, every society, especially ours, one with – filled with so much greatness, it needs heroes. Tell young people your stories, and the stories of others who served alongside of you.
Because the only way – the only way that the next generation will be proud of Americanism is if we proudly teach it to them and we pass it along.
Thank you for what you do.
May God bless the American Legion.
May God bless all of our veterans.
And may God bless these great United States of America. Thank you all. (Applause.)