The Score: $22 Trillion, North Korea, Trump’s Emergency, 1960s Geopolitics
This week on The Score – The US national debt reaches 22 trillion dollars. What can we expect from the next U.S.-North Korea summit meeting? Can we learn from the peacekeeping mission in Somalia? A look back at Kennedy and Johnson’s foreign policy.
$22 Trillion and Rising
Much of our show will focus on foreign policy this week, with experts talking about Somalia in East Africa and North Korea in East Asia.
But first – the national debt of the United States reached a record high of 22 trillion dollars this week. The U.S. government has been continuously in debt since 1835, so it’s something of a natural condition for our treasury and our economy.
In fact, the national debt is so commonplace that presidents have seldom addressed the issue in formal policy addresses. Only twice in the past 50 years has a president talked about the debt in a State of the Union message in more than a passing fashion.
In the audio montage that opens this week’s episode of The Score, we hear Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton talk about the national debt. Note the numbers Ford reports with such concern:
This year’s federal deficit will be about $30 billion; next year’s probably $45 billion. The national debt will rise to over $500 billion. Our plant capacity and productivity are not increasing fast enough. We depend on others for essential energy.
Consider Clinton’s optimism on the occasion of his farewell address in January 2001:
Through our last four budgets we’ve turned record deficits to record surpluses, and we’ve been able to pay down $600 billion of our national debt—on track to be debt-free by the end of the decade for the first time since 1835. Staying on that course will bring lower interest rates, greater prosperity, and the opportunity to meet our big challenges. If we choose wisely, we can pay down the debt, deal with the retirement of the baby boomers, invest more in our future, and provide tax relief.
The first clip comes from one of FDR’s fireside chats in April 1938, followed by Kennedy’s address at Yale in 1962, Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech in 1964, Ford’s 1975 State of the Union, Reagan’s 1983 State of the Union address, and then Clinton’s farewell.
Later in the show, we touch on the national debt in a conversation with Libertarian party leader Jim Lark.
Hanoi Summit, Part One
John Dale Grover is assistant managing editor at The National Interest, a conservative journal of foreign policy. He has written extensively about U.S.-North Korean relations, most recently an interview with Chung-in Moon, an advisor to the South Korean president, as well as “At Trump-Kim 2.0, Don’t Forget North Korea’s Markets” and “North Korea and America’s Second Summit: Here’s What John Dale Grover Thinks Will Happen.”
Given his interest in the subject, I was eager to ask him about the upcoming summit meeting in Hanoi between President Donald Trump and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong Un.
You can find Grover on Twitter as @JohnDaleGrover.
Keep listening: There will be more about North Korea in the second half of The Score.
Pie in the Sky?
There was a lot in the news this week, so I sat down for a brief conversation with Jim Lark, former national chairman of the Libertarian Party. We talked about the President’s plan to declare an emergency at the southern border, the $22 trillion national debt, and the “Green New Deal” proposed by progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (known colloquially as @AOC), which is already getting pushback, even from fellow liberal Democrats because of its all-benefits, no-costs design.
Dr. Lark concluded our conversation by noting
I am a libertarian politically; I’m a conservative in terms of my view of the world. I’m actually very suspicious of grand philosophical schemes and that includes my own, by the way, and I think that most human beings are actually, in many ways, very conservative. They are not terribly inclined to buy in to the pie-in-the-sky vision. So if those who support a Green New Deal actually try to take it on the road and convince the typical American — particularly somebody who actually works for a living — I think they’re going to find it very tough sledding.
Jim Lark previously appeared as a guest on The Score to discuss the 2018 Bill of Rights Day celebration in Charlottesville.
Peacekeeping in Somalia
Paul D. Williams teaches in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He is the author of the recent book, Fighting for Peace in Somalia. I spoke to him on Wednesday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, where he had just given a presentation about the findings in his book. Williams is co-editor (with Matt MacDonald) of Security Studies: An Introduction, author of War and Conflict in Africa, and co-author (with Alex J. Bellamy and Stuart Griffin) of Understanding Peacekeeping.
I asked Williams about the depth of U.S. involvement in the peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM:
On the military side, the United States is involved in a couple of ways. One is, it’s training and equipping and security assistance to the troop contributing countries [TCCs] and there it’s been the most important partner for Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Sierra Leone … then secondly the American military is also trying to build up the Somali national army. So there’s various security assistance programs for the Somali forces, the Somali Ministry of Defense, and the like.
And then thirdly, there are actually kinetic U.S. military operations going on in Somalia. Since 2007, there’s been various airstrikes — used to be more sort of fighter jet aircraft but nowadays it’s more drones, but there’s also been Special Forces raids done, often now in tandem with Somali Special Forces, but those are the three ways that the American military is involved in in Somalia,
Follow Paul Williams on Twitter at @PDWilliamsGWU.
Hanoi Summit, Part Two
In the first half of the show, we heard the perspective of John Dale Grover of The National Interest on relations between the United States and North Korea. The same day he and I met, I also talked about that topic with Eric Gomez, a policy analyst in defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute, where his research focuses on His research centers on U.S. military strategy in East Asia, missile defense systems and their impact on strategic stability, and nuclear deterrence issues in East Asia.
Gomez has written several recent articles on U.S.-North Korean relations, including “The Second Trump-Kim Summit: The Devil Is in the Details,” “The Revenge of Expectations: Trump’s Rhetoric and Kim’s Missile Bases,” and “Democratic Gains, North Korean Pains? Congress’s Limited Impact on DPRK Policy.”
Our conversation focused on the upcoming meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim scheduled to take place on February 27-28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Gomez is on Twitter as @EricGomezAsia.
JFK and LBJ
Since we had such a focus on foreign policy this week, I thought I’d search through the archives for an interview on international topics. I found one from the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2014 with Stanford University historian Robert B. Rakove, author of the 2014 book Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World.
Next week’s episode of The Score is still a work in progress. Be sure to come back for more news, reviews, and interviews. Don’t forget to tell your friends where to find us and let us know what you think by leaving comments below.