Transcript: Matt Pottinger, former deputy National Security Adviser, 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” that aired on June 2, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’re joined now with- 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,” available in July. Matt, you say the clock’s ticking. Beijing has been engaged in the most comprehensive peacetime military buildup of any nation since World War II. Are you predicting that conflict will happen either on President Biden, or Pres- President Trump if he’s reelected, on their watch?

FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR OF THE UNITED STATES, MATTHEW POTTINGER: Well, what is clear is that the dictator in Beijing, Xi Jinping, intends to try to take Taiwan, to 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 that we’ve got to take some steps urgently. These are workable steps. It doesn’t require massive new investment. We’ve got the technologies we need. But Taiwan, Japan, and the United States in particular, need to take the steps that we think we’ve laid out in the book.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The- this week, the Defense Secretary is in Asia and he actually met with his Chinese Defense Minister counterpart. You can see it there. This is, like, the first meeting since 2022. Last guy disappeared. But Austin said, “a fight with China is neither imminent. . . or unavoidable.” When we hear the kind of rhetoric out of Washington right now, it sounds like we are headed towards conflict. What are the things you’re saying need to be done to avoid it?

POTTINGER: Yeah, well, for starters, we need to invest more in munitions making. Okay, so one of the things that the Chinese government is looking at is, would we be able to stay in a fight more than just the first, you know, the initial battle that would be involved in taking Taiwan? If they don’t think we have the industrial base, and right now, we haven’t optimized our industrial base to do that–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Even with the National Security Supplemental investment in the can? 

POTTINGER: Absolutely. Look, we- we- 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 that. Our military in terms of manpower is smaller today than it was on the eve of World War II. So we have to put more money into it, it’s- but we also have to do things to optimize our defense spending so that it’s not guaranteed profits, no matter how inefficient the manufacturers are. There are things that we can do to supercharge our- our military manufacturing to take advantage of our innovative base.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s interesting to hear you, and before you, the general, talk about the scale of the problem set facing the president of the United States and the next commander in chief. So that’s why I think it’s important to have this conversation this week. You did resign from the Trump administration after the violent attack on the Capitol on January the 6th, you then testified to Congress that you feared America’s national security was in harm that day, that it gave “ammunition to feed a narrative that our system of government doesn’t work,” the U.S. is in decline. “If you continue to contest an election, you’re not just contesting an election,” “you’re actually challenging the Constitution itself.” Do you fear that erosion is taking place right now with what we are hearing on the campaign trail?

POTTINGER: Well look, I- I think the perception of erosion is- I actually think the United States is incredibly strong. We have all of these advantages, the- this century can be ours if we don’t lose our nerve. I- I think that, look, Election Day will be a referendum. It’s the best kind of referendum. It’s where the American people get to decide who the next president’s going to be. I hope that the outcome is decisive so that we don’t end up with either side challenging the results. But if they do, just like with the last election, the- the courts will- will determine it. We have a system in place that allows us to adjudicate the outcomes of our election.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But now you even have, like, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee coming out and repeating things that undercut our judicial system, comparing the United States to the Soviet Union?

POTTINGER: Yeah, well, look, there- there- there’s no way–

MARGARET BRENNAN: What does Beijing think of that?

POTTINGER: Yeah, look, look, well- Beijing- it’s kind of an interesting moment, because Beijing really relishes propaganda that is designed to discredit the United States, or to cause us to doubt our- our system of government. But at the same time, you have a- a jury that has just convicted a president of the United States, you- you’ve also got the- the son of a sitting president who’s- who’s now under indictment, just like you heard from Preet Bharara earlier. Beijing’s propaganda can only go so far. At the end of the day, Americans- thank God we live in a system where the American people are going to decide who their president is. They- they have all the information available to them.

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

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