At the outset of his presidential campaign, Scott Walker was keen to recast his record as governor as legitimate foreign policy experience. He ridiculously compared ISIS to the tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens who exercised their democratic right to protest his union-busting policies and asserted that Ronald Reagan’s strike-breaking of the air traffic controllers union intimidated the Soviet Union. These whoppers landed Walker in a Sarah Palin-like foreign policy boot camp, which according to press reports is ongoing.
It is tempting to laugh off Walker’s foreign policy pronouncements, but this would be a grave mistake. Walker, a shrewd political operator who should not be underestimated, has pivoted from his early foreign policy missteps by taking shockingly belligerent foreign policy positions. Walker has apparently calculated that a bellicose foreign policy stance will make up for lack of international credentials by making him seem like a strong leader.
The problem for Walker is that to get to the right flank of the current Republican primary field is challenging indeed. The Obama administration has relied too heavily on military force, engaging in massive airstrikes and drone attacks that have increased instability and killed thousands of innocent civilians, creating the kind of seething hatreds that extremists exploit.
The Republican response to Obama’s foreign policy has been to call for pouring more gasoline on the fire of war, demanding still more military force. To be even more belligerent than a very hawkish set of major contenders, Walker has had to take arguably the most extreme foreign policy positions of any viable candidate for a major party presidential nomination since Barry Goldwater in 1964.
On terrorism, Walker wants to declare unlimited pre-emptive war in multiple countries, promising to attack terrorists wherever they are in the world. As the U.S. is already engaged in constant air and drone attacks against ISIS and other suspected terrorists groups, Walker takes an even more extreme position. When pressed by Martha Raddatz of ABC News on how he would be even more aggressive than over 2,000 airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Walker said, “We have to be prepared to put boots on the ground” in Syria. Walker also says that Cold War style “containment” will not work, that terrorism is like a virus that will come back stronger if we don’t take it all out. Walker seems oblivious to the lesson of recent history that the over-reliance on force breeds more terrorists. If George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had not needlessly invaded Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, there would be no ISIS.
Walker promises to cancel the Iran nuclear deal on Day One of his presidency, before he even has a Cabinet in place or consults with our allies. In response to criticism from Jeb Bush that Walker’s promise of rash action reflects immaturity, Walker upped the ante to a shocking extreme, saying he would be prepared to take military action against Iran on the first day, apparently without congressional approval or any intelligence indicating an immediate threat. Even more extreme, one of Walker’s foreign policy advisers, former Iranian hostage Kevin Hermening, called in the wake of 9/11 for the “prompt and massive military” destruction of seven Middle Eastern capitals, potentially with nuclear weapons.
Walker would unilaterally abrogate the agreement with Iran that involves our major allies, plus China and Russia, and includes the most intrusive nuclear inspection regime ever negotiated. As Richard Kirsch puts it: “For once, instead of pouring more gasoline on conflicts, the agreement with Iran to derail their nuclear weapons program is a stellar example of fire prevention.”
Walker’s interventionist foreign policy is not limited to the Middle East and South Asia. He is also campaigning on a more militaristic stance against two major nuclear powers, Russia and China, calling for a foreign policy that “puts steel in the face of our enemies.”
Walker’s saber-rattling could be dismissed as campaign posturing, save for his record in Wisconsin. While he is known for sneak attacks on his opponents, his record also shows a propensity for stubbornly following through on extreme positions, no matter the public outcry. If Walker managed to become president running on his warmongering foreign policy platform, his propensity to follow through would make the world a more dangerous place.
Robert Kraig, Ph.D., is executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Kraig is a regular panelist on Milwaukee Public Television’s International Focus, Wisconsin’s only foreign relations television news program.
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