Around the World in Five Half-Hour Listens

FP’s five best podcast episodes of 2021.

By , the executive editor for podcasts at Foreign Policy.
i-spy-podcast-frank-snepp-vietnam-hp
i-spy-podcast-frank-snepp-vietnam-hp
Guy Shield illustration for Foreign Policy

2021

Foreign Policy podcasts in the past year tackled some of world’s biggest problems, but one issue—climate change—came up again and again. It surfaced in discussions about diplomacy and debates on the economy. It was the first issue we covered in our podcast on how to build a better world after COVID-19. And it’s the subject of our ongoing show, Heat of the Moment.

Climate change is notoriously difficult to cover. How do you convey the scale of the problem and policymakers’ crushing failure to address it properly without causing listeners to tune out? We tackle climate change the same way we tackle most things on our podcasts: by telling the stories of individuals whose lives intersect with the biggest issues of our time.

In an episode on The Negotiators this year, a former Buddhist monk described leaving his monastery because he felt he wasn’t doing enough to save the planet—going on to help mediate an international climate agreement. In a show spotlighting women entrepreneurs, a Nigerian rancher told us about the rising impact of regional droughts on her cattle business.

Foreign Policy podcasts in the past year tackled some of world’s biggest problems, but one issue—climate change—came up again and again. It surfaced in discussions about diplomacy and debates on the economy. It was the first issue we covered in our podcast on how to build a better world after COVID-19. And it’s the subject of our ongoing show, Heat of the Moment.

Climate change is notoriously difficult to cover. How do you convey the scale of the problem and policymakers crushing failure to address it properly without causing listeners to tune out? We tackle climate change the same way we tackle most things on our podcasts: by telling the stories of individuals whose lives intersect with the biggest issues of our time.

In an episode on The Negotiators this year, a former Buddhist monk described leaving his monastery because he felt he wasn’t doing enough to save the planet—going on to help mediate an international climate agreement. In a show spotlighting women entrepreneurs, a Nigerian rancher told us about the rising impact of regional droughts on her cattle business.

Our most popular show, I Spy, also took a similar approach, highlighting small real-life spy stories that illuminate larger events. In season three, an FBI agent described the bond he formed with deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during months of interrogations. And a British agent told us about infiltrating Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland to help nudge the group toward diplomacy.

We asked our podcast team to choose five episodes they liked the most in 2021. Here’s what they said.


1. The Cassandra, Part 1 and Part 2

I Spy, Season 3, Episodes 7 and 8

CIA officer Frank Snepp was one of the last Americans to leave Saigon, Vietnam, in 1975, in a helicopter that whirled off the roof of the U.S. Embassy. In this two-part story, Snepp described the frenzied final weeks of the Vietnam War and the allies the United States left behind. The story evokes the chaos and calamity of a more recent withdrawal: the one made by U.S. troops from Afghanistan this past August.


2. Inside the Secret Talks That Led to a U.S. Prisoner Exchange With Iran

The Negotiators, Season 1, Episode 4

ANUJ SHRESTHA illustration for Foreign Policy

This show features diplomats, mediators, and troubleshooters describing their most dramatic negotiations. In episode 4, Mickey Bergman, who excels at hostage negotiations, told Foreign Policy about his efforts to win the release of Americans imprisoned in Iran in recent years. His talks with Iranian officials were difficult enough, but negotiating with the U.S. government proved to be even more challenging at times.


3. Do We Need to Worry About the Great Resignation?

Ones and Tooze, Episode 10

On each episode of this show, columnist Adam Tooze and deputy editor Cameron Abadi discuss two data points that explain the world. One of their recent episodes, dedicated to understanding why Americans are quitting their jobs these days, also includes a surprisingly stirring conversation about COVID-19 and the economics of death.


4. Bernice King on Racial Justice

Global Reboot, Season 1, Episode 8

This show begins with a question: What if world leaders could turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity—an occasion to address not just global health care but the world’s other big problems? Episode 8 features a mesmerizing conversation with Bernice King, daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., on the ongoing challenge of achieving racial justice in the United States and around the world.


5. Olympic Judoka Fights for Women in Afghanistan

The Long Game, Season 1, Episode 1

On this show, we spotlight athletes who have shown courage and conviction not just on the field but off as well. Episode 1 tells the story of an Afghan woman who competed in Olympic judoka competitions in 2004, only to face gender discrimination—and death threats—back at home.

Dan Ephron is the executive editor for podcasts at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @danephron

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