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Dr. Matt Spalding on the North Korean crisis and Donald Trump’s Poland Speech

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HH: This is the last radio hour of the week, which means it is the Hillsdale Dialogue. Each week at this time, I talk with Dr. Larry Arnn or one of his colleagues. In this case, Dr. Matthew Spalding, the director of Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center in Washington, D.C. about matters of longstanding consequence, big subjects, big issues. And Dr. Matt Spalding runs the Kirby Center, but if you wish to have all things Hillsdale, you go to, and you can apply to the college. And now is a good time to do that. Or you can visit to get all of these dialogues dating back to 2013. They are quite an incredible archive. Good morning, Matt Spalding, good to talk to you again.

MS: Good morning, Hugh. How are you?

HH: I’m great. I’m going to cover North Korea, the Poland speech by President Trump, but first, I have to read to you, it just came out, Ted Cruz, our friend, a frequent visitor at the Kirby Center, has put out a memo on the Consumer Freedom Option that he hopes will save repeal and replace. It says specifically Obamacare’s insurance mandates caused premiums to skyrocket. To address this problem, the Senate health care bill should add a provision that would allow consumers to buy and insurers to sell health insurance free from Obamacare’s insurance regulations, but still subject to state law, while also permitting consumers to continue to buy plans subject to Obamacare’s insurance regulations, including preexisting conditions with financial assistance. Specially, under consumer freedom, if an insurer sells at least one Obamacare-compliant plan on a state’s exchange, that insurer would be permitted to sell any other plan that consumers want. Freedom plans would still be subject to state insurance protections. Premiums of freedom plans could be paid from HAS’s. Obamacare’s insurance regulations, including preexisting conditions, are maintained. Consumers would have the ability to buy plans subject to these regulations on Obamacare’s exchanges. And in order to reduce costs, these on-exchange Obamacare-complaint plans will continue to receive federal and state financial assistance through premium tax credits, through stability and innovation funds and other innovative funding mechanisms. End of memo. Very sweeping, Matt Spalding. What do you think of this?

MS: Well, I think we’re moving towards deal, it sounds to me like. The domestic policy head at the White House, Marc Short, made it sound like the White House is good with that amendment. And McConnell, reports are that McConnell said that amendment was one of the things they sent to CBO to get analyzed. So I think he’s figuring out how to bring in, you know, that’ll bring in Cruz, Lee, Johnson, probably not Rand Paul. But that’s the way you do it.

HH: Why not Rand Paul? This is so pro-freedom, why not Rand Paul?

MS: Well, I think Rand Paul is an unusual case given his pedigree. To what extent is he, you know, this is a test of him, right? He’s trying to make, distinguish himself from his father, Ron Paul, who never voted for anything, hardly, because he kept true to his, you know, strict libertarian philosophy that didn’t allow him to make prudent decisions, to go back to our constant theme here. So he’s kind of an outlier. He’s put himself farther out on a limb. You know, Cruz and Lee and Johnson are solid conservatives, but they also know that to advance conservative ideas, sometimes you’ve got to figure ways through the maze and make, take some steps. Libertarianism, or at least, and like I said, this is a challenge for Rand Paul. He’s trying, he’s tried to adjust his views on this somewhat. It’s a harder case. There, I think what’s probably more likely to get him is, you know, McConnell, remember, McConnell’s the only one who endorsed him during his presidential campaign, his fellow senator from Kentucky. It’s probably going to be that kind of thing that cajoles him into maybe supporting this. But he might be one of the two they’re not going to get.

HH: On an intellectual level, this is as freedom-advancing health care initiative as I have seen in eight years of Obamacare coverage. And Ted Cruz, not surprisingly, the smartest guy in the Senate, has come up with it. And I assume Mike Lee and Ron Johnson, will come along with it. And indeed, along with subsidies to Medicaid and additional, you know, the $45 billion fund that Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito wanted, I think we might get 52, because Susan Collins can’t object to, I mean, Susan Collins might object on the basis of being pro-abortion rights. That would be her only reason. So you might lose one there. But I really do think this threads the needle, and I really am optimistic about next week. Do you think it would survive in the House if it, by the way, and if the parliamentarian rules it out of order, I’d overrule the parliamentarian, because this is clearly got budget impacts.

MS: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, this, that’s going to have to be the call. I mean, and if they try to throw this out of reconciliation, they’ve got to go over that. But you’re right. It’ll pull others in as well. And then there’ll be, the hard cases will be very individual, particular cases. I mean, you know, Heller has put himself out pretty strongly on a limb, too, and he’s looking at his reelection. So you know, there will be a couple of hard cases here. I am, I was less optimistic before, for a little bit, but this is an optimistic move. And I think if Cruz is behind it, they’ll have a strong position in the House.

HH: Yeah, I think so, too, and I believe that I’m just getting too optimistic. Bad stuff can happen over the weekend, but I do trust in Mitch McConnell, and I do think Ted Cruz will bring along Mike Lee, who put himself into something of a corner, and he can get out of it. And Dean Heller’s got a massive, you know, destruction of health care insurance in Nevada is underway under the old system, so he’s got a reason to change plans. We will see. Let’s turn now to North Korea. I learned from Duane that you and Secretary Rumsfeld used to work on missile defense. Explain for our audience your background in this, Matt Spalding.

MS: Well, I worked for a fellow named Steve Cambone…

HH: Oh, you bet.

MS: And I did research for him on missile defense. And starting back in the 1980s with the original SDI for the Reagan administration, and Steve was then later Rumsfeld’s right hand man doing all his work on missile defense.

HH: You know, I spent yesterday at Carderock of the Navy Sea Systems, one of their great research facilities. They’ve got so many great scientists, and we talked in whatever unclassified could be talked about, about missile defense, and how you have to hit stuff. What Reagan imagined is reality now. And our interceptors are working. And North Korea’s got to worry that even if they do get their ICBM, it won’t get past, you know, a hundred miles past Korea.

MS: Well, what amazed me about this whole conversation going back to the 80s, at the time, right, Reagan’s vision was a very large vision. I think it’s still not completed by any means. It’s still, I think, the strategic argument to be made. But North Korea was an issue in the 80s. The argument for a limited strategic defense was to deal with a rogue state like North Korea. So you know, we can talk about all the other options here, but strategic defense is the key to solving this situation. The problem is, I think, North Korea is near a breakout. They’ve crossed a line. And now, I think, it’s they’re ahead of where we are in terms of our defense. So we’ve got to catch up real quick. You know, you have theater defense like THAAD. We don’t have a midterm defense system deployed that’s good enough. And eventually, you’re going to need to get up, you’re going to need assets in space, because you have limits about what you can strike.

HH: There are some great, I think it was Raytheon, and it might have been Boeing, it might have been Lockheed, intercepted, they ran a test last month of an intercontinental…

MS: That’s right.

HH: And it was successful.

MS: It was very successful, and it’s extremely important. But we’ve got to, you know, get that moving, and the Obama administration set back a lot of this work, and now we’re behind.

HH: That is the other thing, is that for eight years, yesterday Poland announced they’re buying the Patriot system, and good on them, but we’ve got to remember Obama cancelled that unilaterally to the dismay of our Polish allies.

MS: Right.

HH: …eight years ago, and we took like another eight year holiday from history, just like we did with Bill Clinton.

MS: That’s right, and you know, we have for our own defense. We have, what, 30 or so THAAD interceptors in Alaska, we have two in California, right? South Korea, where this is now the key moment, they’ve got a couple, but the president over there has kind of slow-walked the system. You know, it’s operational, but not completely set up. We’re behind. This is where we start talking about, which you talked to with Graham Allison one time before, the trap you get into by you know, when great powers are competing, and you’ve got another power who’s kind of a rogue in the middle, and you might have something trip a conflict. Well, how do you prevent that thing from happening? I think from our end, it’s really being ready with the technology to prevent it from happening.

HH: Yeah, a Manhattan Project acceleration of what has already become…the Carderock scientists showed me yesterday that we are capable of amazing things, given the brains that work for the American military. When we come back, we talk about the President’s Poland speech with Matt Spalding, director of Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center. The lantern of the north, Hillsdale College, all things Hillsdale at, has a lantern in D.C. in the shade of the Capitol called the Kirby Center, and we talk with Matt Spalding, its director, when we return, about an amazing speech.

— – – – –

HH: He and I are going to go walk through the President’s speech now, Matt Spalding. Let’s play the first clip. He’s standing before the monument in Warsaw with an enormous crowd, which has been belittled by critics of the President for having been bussed in, even though people were bussed into John Paul II’s historic mass as well. That’s what you do to get to a speech. You get bussed. Here’s President Trump in front of the memorial to the Warsaw uprising, cut number two:

DT: The Poles have not only greatly enriched this region, but Polish-Americans have also greatly enriched the United States, and I was truly proud to have their support in the 2016 election. It is a profound honor to stand in this city by this monument to the Warsaw uprising, and to address the Polish nation that so many generations have dreamed of – a Poland that is safe, strong and free. President Duda and your wonderful first lady, Agata, have welcomed us with a tremendous warmth and kindness for which Poland is known around the world. Thank you. I sincere, and I mean sincerely, thank both of them, and to prime minister Szydlo, a very special thanks also. We are pleased that former president Lech Walesa, so famous for leading the solidarity movement, has joined us today also. Thank you. Thank you.

HH: Matt Spalding, what do you think is the significance of having Lech there, and of checking off, the size of the crowd, just the entire, we’ll get into the substance of the speech, but the entire pageantry of the day?

MS: Well, I think you’re right in pointing out that it was an amazing event at an amazing place. His tone and how he approached it is a key portion of that. This, you’ve already alluded to John Paul II’s great events in Poland. But he’s also channeling, it’s a very Reaganesque speech. It’s a big speech. It’s a big thematic speech. And throughout, and you see it in these earlier passages here, he’s weaving some themes together, which is very important. You know, one is his nationalism theme. He talks about Polish citizens and American citizens. Later, when he talks about Jewish Poles, he talks about your Jewish citizens, right? So the nationalism is there. But he’s clearly putting that in a broader context. We’re going to learn more as you go through this speech. It’s going to be a big context. He’s alluding back to the Cold War, the end of the Cold War, the rebirth of Poland, and this great nation of Poland. So he’s tying together, I think, his nationalism themes, which is often criticized, I think, never quite fully developed, but now they’re developing it and we’re realizing what that nationalism means. And it means something larger than the narrow view he’s often accused of. It’s going to be a defense of the West.

HH: You know, and that is, there’s, what’s amazing to me, Matt, and we’ll play more after the break. We’ve got a minute to the break here. Most people didn’t even hear the speech. They missed it, because they’re so anti-Trump, they can’t hear what he’s saying.

MS: No, that’s right. Or they’ll pick up on a few things, or they’ll make narrower criticisms. I mean, this is a case where you’ve got to hear the guy out and hear it, but also, you know, read through it. I think this was a wonderful speech. I loved the speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I think that was very important. But this is extremely significant. I would probably say the most significant foreign policy speech he’s given thus far.

HH: I agree, and when we come back, I’m going to play for the audience to hear some of the reasons why Matt Spalding, director of the Kirby Center for Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C. is absolutely correct. The West will not be broken is going to go down there with President Trump’s demand of imams in Islam to say to their believers their souls will be fully condemned. Already, six months into the presidency, we have two memorable lines – their souls will be fully condemned, the West will not be broken. Ask yourself what memorable line do you get from President Obama’s speeches?

— – – —

HH: Matt, I asked the team to marry the two key phrases of the Trump presidency in speech. The first abroad, the first in Riyadh last, two months ago, and the second, yesterday. Let’s play them back to back.

DT: Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear. Barbarism will deliver you no glory. Piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be fully condemned…Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.

HH: So Matt Spalding, two speeches, two different highlights. What do you make of them both?

MS: Those are both very good highlights. These are excellent speeches, and they both point to, I think, a very important difference between the speeches. The speech in Riyadh, which was also brilliant, the distinction there was between barbarism and decent people, right? This is a battle between barbaric criminals and decent people. This is a battle between good and evil. It was the negative side, if you will, right? He made that clear distinction. And you’ve got to choose. He comes to Poland, and his theme really changes here. He alludes to his speech in Saudi Arabia, and this menace which threatens all humanity, he talks about how we have these threats, one of which, by the way, included, he makes a reference to the threat of bureaucracy. But then he makes a turn, and he makes a positive argument, which I was alluding to earlier, where his idea of nationalism now evolves, and he’s now going to make the positive case for the West. And if we don’t forget who we are, he says, we just can’t be beaten. And then he lays out what he means by that, which I thought was quite amazing. There’s never been anything like this community of nations, which is now about Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe. And what does he say? We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate heroes. We reward brilliance. It was wonderful.

HH: Let’s play a little bit of that. Let’s play cut number four, yeah. This is Donald Trump talking about Poland, cut number four:

DT: Despite every effort to transform you, oppress you or destroy you, you endured and overcame. You are the proud nation of Copernicus. Think of that. Chopin, St. John Paul II, Poland is a land of great heroes. And you are a people who know the true value of what you defend. The triumph of the Polish spirit over centuries of hardship gives us all hope for a future in which good conquers evil, and peace achieves victory over war.

HH: You know, Matt Spalding, that is, that’s actually profound, because Poland does represent that.

MS: No, that’s right. And he’s now turned to, I mean, as he said, Poland is the heart, the center of Europe. And he’s drawn that out. He went there in particular to make this speech. I think he’s making an actually quite profound statement about Poland, about Europe, and about the West. I mean, think about it. This is a theme which has been out of our politics for some time. The Obama doctrine, the theories of modern liberalism in the world, is to get rid of references to not only nation-states and what they stand for, but the idea that there is something called the West, right? They find that objectionable in and of itself.

HH: They do.

MS: And here is a full-throated defense of all of those things.

HH: And a full-throated defense of NATO. In fact, I want to play that.

MS: And NATO, correct.

HH: Cut number five:

DT: As long as we know our history, we will know how to build our future. Americans know that a strong alliance of free sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms, and for our interests. That is why my administration has demanded that all members of NATO finally meet their full and fair financial obligation. As a result of this insistence, billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO. In fact, people are shocked. But billions and billions of dollars more coming in from countries that in my opinion would not have been paying so quickly. To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out that the United States has demonstrated not merely with words, but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment. Words are easy, but actions are what matters. And for its own protection, you’re, and you know this, everybody knows this, everybody has to know this, Europe must do more. Europe must demonstrate that it believes in its future by investing its money to secure their future. That is why we applaud Poland for its decision to move forward this week on acquiring from the United States the battle-tested Patriot air and missile defense system, the best anywhere in the world.

HH: And Matt Spalding, this is so amazing on so many levels. He’s holding up Poland as an example. He’s rebuking the European Union. He is saying freedom isn’t free. He’s accomplishing a lot in a very short space here.

MS: He is, and Poland is one of the countries that actually is meeting its obligations to NATO.

HH: Yup.

MS: Financially.

HH: Yup.

MS: So that’s extremely significant, and an important subtheme here. He’s pointing to, he’s in the heart of Europe, this nation is doing it, and it’s got this great story. The other theme that came out in that quote is he has made the argument that our interests, right, he’s a man who wants to revive American interests, our interests are to be found in common defense with our allied nations who are part of our civilization. That’s a very important argument. I mean, it harkens back, among other things, to Washington’s farewell address, right? Our interests guided by justice, there’s a sense of what is just about the civilization, and good, and what is in our interest in terms of defending it. And the fact that he picked Poland is fabulous.

HH: It is fabulous. And people need to know, and he gave them the Polish history lesson to begin.

MS: Right.

HH: The predicate is there, if people listen to it. Here is now to the, this is the essence of the West, cut number six:

DT: There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations. We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand new frontiers. We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy at the center of our lives, and we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves. And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations.

HH: Those are the priceless ties that bind us together, Matt Spalding. This is, look, he doesn’t have the eloquence of Reagan, but he’s got the ideas of Reagan and permeate this speech.

MS: No, that’s right. This is a powerful, powerfully done speech. But the way he’s, look, there’s a way in which he’s, his bar has been set in a way since he’s so hated. He’s so vilified that coming from him, it’s all the more powerful. And I think that the fact of the speech given now, given at this moment, the timing of it, in Poland, right in the center of Europe, is not only strategic and thought out and intended, but really kind of defines now what’s going to go forward in terms of his foreign policy. But the essential argument here about what is this civilization, what is this culture, that long quote, the passage you just played, is really the centerpiece of this, and I can’t think of a better way to have stated it and laid out the parts. Everything is there up to and including the idea of human life and the soul living in freedom. I mean, that’s, I can’t imagine a better way of arguing…

HH: Everything is there.

MS: …what the essence of the West is.

HH: Everything is there. 30 seconds to our break, though, Matt Spalding, but I don’t, again, it’s like explosions concussed most of American media. They spent yesterday obsessing about everything but what he said.

MS: No, that’s right. They just, I think they’ve, if not read this, or they’re so, they so do not want to recognize this that they’re not willing to give him credit for it. But think back to the earlier presidencies like President Reagan. I think the problem is that we’re now far enough into this administration, they need to get over that, and if they want to criticize it, that’s fine. But they should take it seriously for what it is and take him at his word and see what he says. There’s something very important is going on here. The rest of the world, I think, is seeing this in a way that our own media is not, and that’s significant, but also could be problematic.

HH: Problematic if people don’t change, if they don’t open their ears. They’ve got to have ears. Let those with ears hear. Let those with eyes see, and criticize when criticism is appropriate, and then listen and applaud when that is appropriate. I’ll be right back with Matthew Spalding, director of the Kirby Center, Hillsdale College’s outpost in Washington, D.C. All things Hillsdale available at

— – — –

HH: Matt Spalding, I want to play one more cut from Donald Trump’s speech in Poland yesterday, and then we can wrap up talking about this amazing week, cut number 7, please.

DT: And that every foot of ground, and every last inch of civilization is worth defending with your life. Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield. It begins with our minds, our wills and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture and memory. And today, as ever, Poland is in our heart, and its people are in that fight. Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.

HH: Matt Spalding, there is a book by a fellow named Leo Strauss called The City And Man. And in the introduction, he says the West will never be defeated, even if it goes down in battle, if it holds to its principles.

MS: Right.

HH: And I thought of that when I heard the West will never be broken. I don’t know that a Straussian helped write this speech, but there was an echo there, as well as an echo of the mystic chords of memory.

MS: Well, whether Straussian or not, but it might have been a Hillsdale graduate. I can tell you that.

HH: You bet. You bet.

MS: No, there’s something actually quite profound here. I thought of Lincoln. If you recall, right, that this country will never die by being defeated. If it dies, it will die by suicide.

HH: Yup.

MS: It has to believe in itself. And Trump says that here. I mean, that passage you read, but also earlier, he says you know, it requires not just a commitment of money, it’s a commitment of will. We don’t forget who we are. We just can’t, if we don’t forget who we are, we just can’t be beaten. Spirit, will are throughout this speech. Probably the word used most often is spirit. If you combined that, the spiritedness of it with this profound discussion of what the West is, and you put those two together, this is very deep speech, very powerful speech combining those things about how we’re going to defend ourselves. But therein is the challenge, right? The challenge is not merely the battlefield, or being ready and prepared if necessary for the battlefield. The challenge here is being, you know, can we have the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who want to subvert it? And that’s always been the challenge of the West, yeah.

HH: And indeed, he brings that up, Matt. I want to play that so people understand that he was talking specifically to our adversaries, cut number 9:

DT: Today, the West is also confronted by the powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests. To meet new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes and cyber warfare, we must adapt our alliance to compete effectively in new ways and on all new battlefields. We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran, and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies, and in defense of civilization itself.

HH: And so Matt Spalding, I don’t know anyone criticizes this speech. I really don’t.

MS: Look, this is a, he’s redefined what we mean by alliances. This is not an isolationist or a non-interventionist, but on the other hand, he’s not a globalist in which it’s everybody and anybody as long as we all continue diplomatic talks. His idea of alliances is built around common things while understand regimes, and then making distinctions that we commonly agree to. And there is a civilized world, and there’s a barbaric world. And I mean, this is quite wonderful, and I would argue, very much in line with the American tradition of how to understand the world. But it was the West’s understanding of itself.

HH: It is powerful, because it is true. Matt Spalding of Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center, thanks for providing color commentary to President Trump’s speech, the North Korean debate and all the other news of the week, including the health care bill. Maybe the Cruz amendment will be the subject of next week’s Hillsdale Dialogue as we pop corks over a pass of repeal and replacement of Obamacare. We shall see.

End of interview.


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