Gov. Scott Walker embarks on his second European trade mission of the year Friday, as he considers a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
The weeklong visit to Germany, France and Spain is being organized by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., and Walker’s schedule doesn’t include visits with those nation’s top leaders.
But it comes as Walker rides high among more than a dozen potential GOP presidential candidates, a position that has come with intense scrutiny of his lack of foreign policy experience.
It also comes two months after a trade mission to the United Kingdom, which state officials said Thursday cost taxpayers about $138,000. After an appearance there at an international affairs think tank, he faced criticism for ducking questions about foreign policy and evolution.
He has since undergone a foreign affairs crash course and hired a team of foreign policy advisers through his political nonprofit group Our American Revival.
This week, President Barack Obama criticized Walker for saying that he would cancel an Iranian nuclear deal on his first day as president. In an interview with National Public Radio, Obama called Walker’s approach “foolish” and said maybe Walker “after he takes some time to bone up on foreign policy will feel the same.”
Walker responded in an interview Wednesday night with Fox News host Sean Hannity, criticizing Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a likely Democratic presidential candidate, for their handling of Islamic terrorism and the conflict in Ukraine.
“This is a guy who I think had the audacity to be talking about schooling anyone when it comes to foreign policy,” Walker said. “I’ve talked of late to a number of our allies in the Arab nations in the Gulf states in the Middle East who are frustrated as well because they don’t much like the idea of Iran getting this sort of special treatment from the United States when they feel they are a real threat, not just to Israel, but to their own interests in the Middle East.”
Walker said he wouldn’t negotiate with Iran unless its leaders withdrew all support for terrorism, something the Obama administration has said was not part of the negotiation.
“We should have been saying, ‘Here’s the deal, you take it or if not we’re going to go back to our allies and push for even stronger sanctions,’ ” Walker told Hannity. “And the deal is you’ve got to get out of terrorism and you’ve got to prove that you don’t have any nuclear weapons, and that’s the only deal we’re negotiating.”
Foreign policy study
Scrutiny over Walker’s foreign policy experience also surfaced when he said this year that facing 100,000 protesters at the state Capitol over his collective bargaining changes prepares him to confront the Islamic State terrorist threat.
Since mid-February, Our American Revival has hired several foreign policy advisers, including Mike Gallagher, a Green Bay native and former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer; former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent; Dan Vajdich, a former lead Russia expert on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Reagan Thompson, a former national security adviser to New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
Walker recently told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he begins his daily briefings with Gallagher, a Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq.
“Every day, he gives us great information, great briefings, and I obviously reach out to a lot of others,” Walker said.
The Washington Post reported last month that Walker was meeting regularly with national foreign policy experts as some Republicans and donors expressed doubts about his experience.
Walker also plans to travel to Israel in May. That trip will be paid for by OAR, according to his OAR spokeswoman.
Over the next week, Walker’s schedule includes:
• Speaking about free trade opportunities between the United States and the European Union at the Hannover Messe trade show, the world’s largest industrial fair, in Hannover, Germany.
• Meeting with representatives of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases to discuss possible collaboration; Stephan Weil, the prime minister of the German state of Lower Saxony, to discuss economic development opportunities; and Arantz Tapia, the minister of economic development and competitiveness in the Basque Country of Spain, to discuss the region’s industries.
• Participating in a business roundtable discussion in Paris hosted by the French-American Foundation and a “Doing Business in the U.S.” roundtable in Spain with more than 20 Spanish companies.
WEDC, which is helping coordinate the trip along with Walker’s office, reported Thursday that the United Kingdom trip cost $138,192. The trip included nine people, two of whom paid their own way.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the primary purpose of the UK trip was to attract foreign direct investment in Wisconsin. She said Wisconsin’s total exports have increased 18.3 percent and agricultural exports have increased by 50 percent since Walker took office.
“The increase in export numbers is due in part to our administration’s work to build and foster foreign relationships, as well as our proactive outreach and education for small and mid-sized companies through buyer’s missions and seminars to make them aware of the export opportunities available to them,” she said.
Though Walker has maintained that the taxpayer-funded trips are intended to boost Wisconsin companies in foreign markets, he hasn’t shied away from using them to burnish his foreign policy credentials as a potential presidential candidate.
Asked in a Fox News interview in late February how he would address the Islamic State, Walker mentioned his recent meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“There is a way we could put together a global coalition to take this on,” he said.
Walker leaves for Germany after speaking Friday at a National Rifle Association convention in Nashville. The trade mission is scheduled to run through April 20, though Walker’s participation ends April 17. On April 18, he joins more than a dozen GOP presidential contenders at a New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit.