If it’s the 1930s All Over Again, Will Trump or Biden Challenge Americans to Face the Moment?

If it’s the 1930s All Over Again, Will Trump or Biden Challenge Americans to Face the Moment?

President Biden began this year’s State of the Union by citing Franklin Roosevelt’s famous1941 “Four Freedoms” speech, in which FDR warned that “the democratic way of life … was being directly assailed in every part of the world”

But as the first presidential debate approaches on June 27, American voters don’t feel this urgency, and it isn’t clear whether either President Biden or former President Trump are prepared to make the case for why they should.

Just 4% of voters rank foreign policyas the top issue facing the country, behind 20 other issues in the most recent Harvard/Harris poll.

Recently, No Labels spoke to two of America’s top national security thinkers – Seth Cropsey and Dr. Kori Schake – and both believe America is facing a security situation analogous to the 1930s. Cropsey suggests the threat to the U.S. now is even more direct than it was then:

  • “The ambitions of the Axis Powers then [Germany, Japan, and Italy] were the British … in the European theater and the United States in the Pacific theater. Today, the targets are more unified, including North Korea, Russia, Iran, and China, with their collective target being the United States.”

Here’s the problem: By most measures, the U.S. is unprepared to deal with this as we are spending significantly less on national defense than we were in the past.

For decades, U.S. defense policy was oriented around a “two-war” construct, meaning we should have sufficient warfighting capacity to fight simultaneous wars in two different theatres. But Kori Schake says America now has “a two-war strategy and a one-war military.”

Under former President Trump, U.S. defense spending toppedout at 3.4% of our GDP, barely half of what we spent in the mid-80s. The just-released Biden budget would cut our defense spending for the next two years if you include the impact of inflation.

Meanwhile, Chinese defense spending is now on par with the U.S. by some measures. China has a bigger navy than we do and, according to a leaked U.S. Navy slide, may have as much as 200 times more domestic shipbuilding capacity than the U.S.

When former President Trump and President Biden gather on June 27, here are several questions CNN debate moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper should consider asking about how they plan to execute their foreign policy in January 2025 and beyond:

  • Do you think the world America faces today is as dangerous as the one we faced in the 1930s before the outbreak of World War II? If so, what are you prepared to do about it?
  • The ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee says the U.S. should be spending about 5% of our GDP on defense, which is about 60% more than we spend now. Do you agree? If so, how would you pay for it?
  • What should the endgame be for the United States in Ukraine? What precisely should we be trying to achieve there?
  • The current and longstanding policy of the U.S. is to forge a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians. But, according to recent polls, the majority of Israelis don’t support a two-state solution, and it isn’t clear whether the leaders who govern Palestinian territories would either. So how can the U.S. force two people to live side by side in separate countries when so many of them don’t want to?
  • If the United States blockaded or invaded Taiwan, should the U.S. intervene militarily to stop them?
  • Both of you have said it is the policy of the United States to ensure Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. Still, according to recent estimates, Iran could produce several nuclear weapons within a month. How will you stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold?
  • During the Trump administration, the national debt of the U.S. grew by about $8 trillion. It has grown another $6 trillion under President Biden, and this year, America will spend more on debt interest payments than national defense. Why should voters think either of you can get our budget balanced when both of you have racked up so much debt?