Sebastian Gorka, former deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, is author of the new book, “Why We Fight: Defeating America’s Enemies—With No Apologies.” He recently spoke to The Daily Signal. Listen to his full interview on our podcast. A slightly edited version is below.
Rob Bluey: What are the most serious threats that America faces today?
Sebastian Gorka: In “Why We Fight,” I go through the whole catalog of the threats that face us today—whether it’s North Korea, Russia, Iran, or China, or global jihadism, which was a subject of my first book “Defeating Jihad.”
After my time in the White House, it’s very clear to me that we’re going to deal with all of these threats. The ISIS caliphate is already gone. The Iran deal is dead. Russia is being put back in its box. But there is only one remaining strategic threat to America and that’s China.
China has a plan. It’s not secret. Anybody can read it. It’s called One Belt, One Road. It is predicated on China, communist China, replacing America as the most powerful nation in the world by the 100th anniversary of their communist revolution.
They are going at it on all cylinders, whether it’s buying up interests in Africa, whether it’s corrupting politicians in Australia, whether it’s building fake islands in the South China Sea to intimidate our friends and our partners.
The good news is Donald Trump understands the threat and, as you’ve seen by recent decisions, he’s taking it very, very seriously.
Bluey: The threats that we’re facing today are quite different from those of the past. What does that mean for how we go about addressing them?
Gorka: The book doesn’t just address threats. It’s about the evolution of warfare—what every taxpayer, what every patriot needs to know about how war has changed over the ages. I’ll just illustrate it with one simple example.
If you say to the average American “war,” what kind of images come to mind? For most people, if you haven’t served in special forces in the Middle East, you think of what? “Saving Private Ryan.” You think of mass tanks fighting each other. You think of dog fights. We think about the conventional wars of the 20th century.
As I demonstrate in “Why We Fight,” that’s the exception to the rule. More than 80 percent of all wars since Napoleon—for the last 200 years—are what is technically called irregular warfare or unconventional, meaning a military in a uniform is fighting a non-state actor. Not another country’s military, but a group, a guerrilla force.
Or, if you look at one of our first ever engagements as a republic, the Barbary pirates. We didn’t just start fighting jihadis after 9/11. We started almost as soon as the republic was born, fighting the Barbary pirates off the shores of Tripoli, a phrase that might be familiar from the Marine Corps anthem. Those were jihadis, and that was almost 200 years ago.
Ginny Montalbano: You mentioned China and North Korea. There are certainly a lot of challenges we’re facing. How can President Trump most effectively communicate all of these challenges to the American people?
Gorka: I can’t keep track of it because it grows so fast, but I think having 55 million Twitter followers certainly helps. He is the arch communicator, whether it’s how he labeled his opponents during the election campaign, whether it’s the MAGA hat. I mean, look at Kanye West, what happens when a billionaire puts on a red hat. That’s a political statement.
So how does he communicate? He has to take his branding tools from politics into the national security arena, and I think he’s doing it.
I was in the White House when he prepared his first address to Congress. It wasn’t the State of the Union, if you recall. He gave a special address to the joint session of Congress, and in it, what did he do?
Everybody, all the Never Trumpers, “He’s going to go soft on us. He’s going to go soft. He’s not going to talk about radical Islamic terrorism.”
What did he do? It’s the most powerful moment in his speech if you watch the video. He stops. He pauses. He looks right into the camera and he says, “And we will defeat radical Islamic terrorism.” This is a man who, I don’t think he went to PR school, but he understands communication and PR branding like no other man I’ve met.
Bluey: Let’s go back to China just for a moment. The president is now talking about some sort of a trade deal with China. Obviously, he’s had engagement with high-level officials there. What do you make of some of the next steps that you expect to see from this administration when it comes to China?
Gorka: There’s two things. There’s two broad baskets. No. 1 is what they’re doing illicitly. This is declassified now. Your listeners can look it up thanks to the Department of Justice, which brought the case and then declassified it a few years ago.
A Chinese agent was intercepted in the Midwest in a cornfield. Not in the bowels of the Pentagon or the National Security Agency. He was apprehended in a cornfield. Why? Because he was stealing samples of American genetically-modified, blight-resistant corn to take home to China so the communist government could reverse engineer that intellectual property that had been developed at the costs of who knows how many millions of dollars here in America.
No. 1, we have to counter the subversion, the theft of our intellectual property, the work of the Confucius Institutes in America, which are funneling anti-Western messages.
Then on top of that, the second basket is what the president does in the overt domain, in the public diplomacy domain. We have to send a very clear message to American companies.
Let’s just internalize one thing. The most powerful information processing company in the world, Google, is happy, in the name of profit, to assist the Chinese communist government in censoring information from its own populous. There’s a very, very serious word for that that begins with a T, that in a prior age we would have used against any company that supports dictatorships that wish to undermine us.
We have to build, with The Heritage Foundation and everybody else, an information campaign that educates Americans that communism. On Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall may have come down, but communism is not dead.
Montalbano: It certainly isn’t. President Trump has had so many foreign policy successes. Which of those do you think have made America safer?
Gorka: Trump has embraced 64 percent of the 360-some conservative policy recommendations in Heritage’s “Mandate for Leadership.”
Let me tell you what’s most important for me. Because actually there’s some photographs in the book from my time in the White House and one of them really, for me, is very personal. It’s the one I’m proudest of, beyond being the president’s strategist.
I snuck into the back of the Rose Garden to watch the president make his announcement on our exiting the Paris climate accords. For me, that was a seminal moment. It’s not about nuclear weapons. It’s not about building a wall, but the spiritual and the philosophical weight of that moment cannot be overestimated.
When the president said in that speech, “I was elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh to be their president, not the citizens of Paris,” that is why Donald Trump won the election.
So people miss it. Even conservative commentators miss it. There is an underpinning to everything the president did in his campaign and everything he does as the commander in chief.
The philosophical bedrock is national sovereignty. It’s the concept that national sovereignty is good—whether it’s building the border, crushing ISIS, revitalizing our trade relations, rebuilding NATO.
National sovereignty is not only good, it is healthy for a nation, and Donald Trump is doing it. Wherever you look, he’s rebuilding national sovereignty.
Bluey: Heritage’s founder, Ed Feulner, was there and so many others have recounted other stories similar to yours.
Gorka: And let me just say, I joined the transition team before we won the election. It’s a peculiar system. I don’t know if the listeners are familiar, but the last two candidates before an election get given federal offices a few blocks from the White House to build their transition team.
So Hillary Clinton was on one floor and we were on the other floor, and it was very nice, very reassuring the first day we walked into the transition offices—I think it was in October—to see a certain Dr. Feulner sitting in one of the cubicles. That made us feel much, much better.
Bluey: It goes to the heart of my question. I wanted you to take our listeners back to your first encounter with Donald Trump and where that journey kind of took you.
Gorka: I actually wrote the bulk of this book before I joined the administration, but I wanted to tag on at the end a chapter on “How a kid from West London ended up in the West Wing.” It’s an American story.
I found myself, the day after the—I don’t drink so I didn’t have a hangover. So Saturday, Jan. 21, at 8 a.m., I was walking around the White House. A guy with a funny accent walking around the White House by himself, only in America. But how did I get there?
Summer of 2015, I’m a professor. I have the chair of military theory at the Marine Corps University in Quantico. Love my Marines. I get a phone call from a guy called Corey Lewandowski. Never heard of him. Didn’t know who he was.
And he said “I work for Donald Trump, candidate”—then candidate Trump—”and he’s preparing for the GOP debate this fall on national security, and he’s looking for somebody to advise him on national security issues. Would you come to New York?”
I’d never done anything like that before in my life. Spent most of my career working with the military and the FBI in counterterrorism issues, and I said, “Sure.”
So I flew to New York a few days later, went to Trump Tower, went to the future president’s private office, sitting as close to him as I am to you, just me and Donald Trump, and in the corner, Corey. We’d never met before, and we had this incredible, wide-ranging, blue-sky discussion for about 40 minutes on you name it.
It was national security, but we went from the Civil War to nuclear weapons to ISIS, what have you. Then halfway through, classic Trump, he stops the conversation dead, turns to Corey, and says, “I like this guy. Let’s hire him.” Just quintessential Donald Trump. He sees something, he makes a decision.
I signed my non-disclosure agreement, which I actually obey—unlike certain people—and then I started writing him some policy papers for the debates, got to know Gen. Michael Flynn a little bit as the campaign progressed, and then was invited onto the transition team for the National Security Council.
In the last week, literally, I think it was four days before the inauguration, a guy who knew me named Steve Bannon reached out and pulled me out of the NSC transition team and said, “You’re coming to work for me. I’m the chief strategist to the president, and you’ll be the strategist to the president.” So it’s an American tale.
Montalbano: And what a journey it’s been. I love all the photos in the book.
Gorka: Thank you.
Montalbano: Support for socialism seems to be growing in America. What is your message to those who embrace it, especially young people?
Gorka: As the child of people who suffered under fascism and then communism, it’s really galling to me. It’s hard to internalize when the Victims of Communism Foundation does a poll and the result is they find 42 percent of millennials would like to live in a socialist or communist America. It’s hard. I mean, my father was tortured by communists.
So what’s my message? My message is Justice Brett Kavanaugh. There’s a moment in his testimony before the House after he was accused of heinous crimes, which clearly he was innocent of, where he says, clearly a righteous man, a godly man, and he looks at those senators who are trying to destroy him—like Whittaker Chambers many, many years before him, who I write about in the book—and he says, “I don’t care which way you vote. I don’t care what happens, but I’m not going to allow you to get away with this.”
That’s my message, whether it’s the local chapter of Turning Point USA, whether it’s a Heritage subscriber, whether it’s somebody at Hillsdale who’s going on to a grad school in some kind of hive of liberal insanity. Never give up and never let their lies undermine your confidence in the nation.
I’ll talk about my personal experience. So I’m in the White House, I’m a deputy of the president, and I understand I’m going to get attacked. It’s politics. I’m a proxy for Donald Trump and a proxy for Bannon, so I’ll get attacked.
But when it’s 42 attack pieces by one journalist in three months, when they start attacking my children, when they start attacking my wife, the reputation of my dead mother, you realize that things get heavy. Let’s say things get heavy. You have a little crisis of “Is it worth it for that massive paycheck?” Right? That massive government paycheck.
I came to a very simple realization. I’m not hanging by my wrists from the ceiling of a torture chamber in a basement in Budapest like my father was. It’s just words. So bring it, Huff Po. Bring it, Daily Beast. You’re not going to win. Never give up.
I have four stories in the book of American heroes, and the lesson from each of them is you never give up because the stakes are too important. This nation was the only nation, still is the only nation, founded on the principles of individual liberty and freedom, and we have to fight for them every day.
Bluey: Thank you for sharing that. The other thing that I want our listeners to know is you have been speaking about this topic and others to Heritage Foundation audiences all across the country, and we appreciate you sharing those personal stories with them. The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive.
Gorka: That’s very kind of you. I’ve loved working with Ed Feulner before he stepped down. I am incredibly, incredibly excited by Kay James’ understanding that socialism isn’t a chapter in history. Socialism is a threat to America today. So wherever I can talk about it, the president’s club day or anywhere else, and get the word out, it’s an honor for me. Thank you, Kay. Thank you, Ed. Thank you, you guys.
Bluey: You mentioned Justice Kavanaugh in your answer to that last one. You’ve said this has created a version 2.0 of the Republican Party. What do you mean by that?
Gorka: I never thought—did any of us think that Sen. Lindsey Graham would teach the GOP how to be men? I never thought I’d say those words. I’ll tell you the proof of what I mean by GOP 2.0.
The Kavanaugh hearing was incredible. Even more important was, I think, the Saturday after when he was confirmed, when the president, in front of the world’s cameras, in front of billions of people, next to Kavanaugh, next to his family, from the White House declared that this man is innocent. That was the right thing to do. That was the just thing to do.
But the pivot from the political perspective, the pivotal moment is the GOP press conference on the Friday before that when the senior members of the judicial committee kind of wrapped up the events.
Watch that video again. Watch Sen. Chuck Grassley. Watch everybody else. I have never ever seen that level of anger amongst the most senior Republican politicians in America. I think something changed. I think politics is usual in thinking, “Hey, it doesn’t matter if they’ve got a D behind their name or an R behind their name. It’s all a nice elite club.” I think that was broken.
The behavior of the Democrats in those hearings, when you have people like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who had a Chinese intelligence agent on her payroll for 20 years. You have individuals like Sen. Cory Booker, who actually admitted [to groping] somebody in high school. You’ve got Sen. Kamala Harris who built her political career on questionable relationships—let’s just leave it at that.
Those people are sitting in judgment over a man who—this isn’t an insult—is literally a grown-up Boy Scout, is a church volunteer, volunteer coach, is the most quoted federal judge in Supreme Court history in the modern age, and they’re going to judge him?
I think the GOP, I think the scales fell from their eyes. I think we’re going to see a new GOP evolve from that Rip Van Winkle coming out of the cave.
Montalbano: I’ve had the opportunity to travel to several Trump rallies the past couple of weeks. I can tell you firsthand that people are fired up. They are upset about what happened to Justice Kavanaugh.
You immigrated here legally. What do you make over the current battle about the caravan, birthright citizenship, and immigration in general?
Gorka: I think there’s two massive topics that we don’t touch, the third rails in D.C. One of them is the deficit and the budget. Nobody wants to seem to solve that.
The other one is 30, 40 years of a flawed immigration system, an utterly flawed immigration system. The whole concept of chain migration.
Right now, don’t take my word for it. Go online. Look it up. There are baby factories in Florida. There are companies that simply give opportunities for people from the Middle East, from Russia, or elsewhere to come here pregnant, have their baby, and then use that baby’s anchor citizenship to legalize the rest of their family’s immigration to America.
I don’t care who you vote for, does anybody really think that’s what the Founding Fathers meant by any amendment to the Constitution? What we’re talking about today is an amendment that was designed to do what? To stop, let’s get accurate, to stop Democrats denying free slaves and their children citizenship. That’s the real history.
Let’s not try and give into the propaganda. It has nothing to do with people who are looking for asylum from other countries, and as an immigrant, a legal immigrant to America of people, parents who were refugees, this is personal to me.
Forget that for a second. Look at the law. In international law, if you really are persecuted and you want asylum, if you get out of the country you’re persecuted in, what are you supposed to do? You’re supposed to apply for asylum in the first country you land in.
So what are they doing? They’re walking what? Two thousand miles, 3,000 miles to get to America. Well, what about Mexico? What about all the other countries they cross? You get out of Honduras, you get out of El Salvador, if you really are, if you’re not an economic migrant, if you’re a politically persecuted one, you’re supposed to stop where you are and apply for asylum status. None of them are. What does that tell you?
Bluey: Sebastian, this was a great interview. We appreciate you being on The Daily Signal podcast.
Gorka: It’s my pleasure. Thank you, guys. Follow me @SebGorka. God bless.
Bluey: Again, the book is called “Why We Fight.” Thank you.