Transcript: Matt Pottinger, former Deputy National Security Advisor, on “Face the Nation,” June 2, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with Matt Pottinger, who served as deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration, on “Face the Nation,” which aired on June 2, 2024.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we're joined now by Matt Pottinger, who served as deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration. He is the author of the new book 'The Boiling Moat: Urgent Steps to Defend Taiwan', which will be published in July. Matt, you say the clock is ticking. Beijing has been involved in the most extensive peacetime military buildup of any country since World War II. Do you predict that there will be a conflict over President Biden, or over President Trump, if he is re-elected, under their watch?

FORMER UNITED STATES DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER MATTHEW POTTINGER: Well, what is clear is that the dictator in Beijing, Xi Jinping, intends to take Taiwan and annex it by force if necessary. We also know that this would be catastrophic for American prosperity and security. But my co-authors and I are actually quite optimistic that this is a war that can be deterred. But it means we need to take some urgent steps. These are actionable steps. It does not require huge new investments. We have the technologies we need. But Taiwan, Japan and especially the United States must take the steps we think we have set out in the book.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This week the Secretary of Defense is in Asia and actually met with his Chinese Defense Secretary counterpart. You can see it there. This is pretty much the first meeting since 2022. The last man is gone. But Austin said, “A fight with China is not imminent… nor inevitable.” When we hear this kind of rhetoric now from Washington, it sounds like we are headed for conflict. What are the things you think should be done to prevent this?

POTTINGER: Yes, for starters, we need to invest more in making ammunition. Okay, so one of the things that the Chinese government is looking at is, would we be able to fight beyond just the first, you know, the first battle that would be involved in the conquest of Taiwan? If they think we don't have the industrial base, and right now we haven't optimized our industrial base to do that…

MARGARET BRENNAN: Even with National Security Additional investments in the future?

POTTINGER: Absolutely. Look, amazingly, I don't think many Americans realize, our defense spending right now is less than half of what it was in the 1980s during the Cold War. And that was during the Reagan administration. We didn't have to go to war, partly because we put the money into it. Our military is smaller in manpower today than it was on the eve of World War II. So we need to put more money into it, but we also need to do things to optimize our defense spending so that there are no guaranteed profits no matter how inefficient the manufacturers are. There are things we can do to boost our military production and take advantage of our innovation base.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's interesting to hear you, and before you, the general, talk about the magnitude of the problem facing the President of the United States and the next Commander in Chief. That's why I think it's important to have this conversation this week. Indeed, you resigned from the Trump administration following the violent attack on the Capitol on January 6. You then testified to Congress that you feared that US national security would be at risk that day, that she “gave ammunition to fuel a narrative that our system of government is not working,” the US is in decline. “If you continue to participate in elections, you are not just participating in elections,” “you are actually challenging the Constitution itself.” Are you concerned that erosion is happening right now, given what we're hearing during the campaign?

POTTINGER: Well, look, I think the perception of erosion is, I actually think the United States is incredibly strong. We have all these advantages. This century can be ours if we don't lose our nerve. I think, look, Election Day will be a referendum. It's the best kind of referendum. It is the place where the American people get to decide who will be the next president. I hope the outcome is decisive so that neither side questions the results. But if they do, the courts, as in previous elections, will determine that. We have a system that allows us to assess the results of our elections.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But now even a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee is coming out and repeating things that undermine our justice system, comparing the United States to the Soviet Union?

POTTINGER: Yeah, look, there's no way…

MARGARET BRENNAN: What does Beijing think about that?

POTTINGER: Yeah, look, look, well, Beijing, it's quite an interesting moment, because Beijing really loves propaganda that is designed to discredit the United States, or to make us doubt our system of government. But at the same time, you have a jury that just convicted a president of the United States, you also have the son of a sitting president now being indicted, just like you heard from Preet Bharara earlier. Beijing's propaganda can only go so far. At the end of the day, Americans live – thank goodness we live in a system where the American people are going to decide who their president is. They have all the information available to them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we'll try to bring it to them here. Thank you very much, Matt. We will be right back.

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