There may be no sadder political spectacle than a Republican governor running for president. He knows nothing about foreign policy. But he panders to Neocons who dominate the GOP and expect the nominee to advocate perpetual war. Then his presidential campaign collapses.
So it was with Rick Perry. Now it is with Scott Walker, who last week abandoned his presidential bid.
The Wisconsin governor won some significant domestic political victories. He tried to compensate for his nonexistent foreign policy credentials by claiming to be tougher and meaner than any other Republican presidential candidate.
Walker assumed that to prosper “we need a safe and stable world.” Which was simple nonsense. When has the earth been “safe and stable”?
Naturally, Walker lauded Ronald Reagan, who deployed the military in only three limited actions. Reagan was appalled by the possibility of war. Neocons denounced him as an appeaser for dealing with the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev and withdrawing from Lebanon’s civil war.
Walker contended that “America is not safer” than seven years ago. True, but mainly because of the dangerous military interventions he and other Republican candidates reflexively supported.
The Wisconsin governor talked in clichés: “We just need to lead again,” he declared. The U.S. did lead in Iraq, with disastrous results.
On the Islamic State Walker declared: “I’d rather take the fight to them than wait for them to bring the fight to us.” Alas, Walker confused ISIS with al-Qaeda. The latter attacked the U.S. The former wanted to create a state, which gave ISIS reason not to attack America—until the U.S. joined the Mideast’s latest sectarian war. Yet, argued Walker: “we have to be prepared to put boots on the ground.”
Walker wanted the U.S. to jump into the Syrian quagmire: train more “moderate” guerrillas, establish a no-fly zone, and create “a broader, U.S.-led regional coalition, with real buy-in and iron-clad guarantees from our allies that they will help us shoulder the burden.” The first has been a bust. The second would trigger much deeper American military involvement. The third is a joke.
The governor promised to tear up President Obama’s nuclear agreement on his first day in office. Then, he said, he would apply “crippling economic sanctions and convince our allies to do the same.”
How? America’s friends would be less than pleased with Washington leaving them high and dry. Nor would Tehran be likely to yield to American pressure, having responded to every previous U.S. rebuff by expanding its nuclear activities.
Walker also pledged to continue treating American defense policy as welfare. He echoed other GOP contenders in arguing that “we need to stand with our friends” since “our allies are among our greatest source of strength.” In fact, Washington collects allies like Facebook Friends. The Europeans, South Koreans, and Japanese all could defend themselves but don’t.
Of course, Walker wanted to spend more on the military, even though very little of the Pentagon’s effort actually goes for America’s defense. The bulk is devoted to defending wealthy allies, rebuilding failed societies, propping up dictatorial allies, engaging in foreign social engineering, and undertaking other similarly dubious tasks.
Being a superpower means America has interests everywhere, but few of them are vital or even important. Being a leader means distinguishing between critical and minimal interests.
“America will not be intimidated,” Walker insisted. But that’s not the issue. Avoiding involvement in unnecessary wars is the issue. He claimed: “we can no longer afford to be passive spectators while the world descends into chaos.”
But as I pointed out for Forbes online, “there is little the U.S. can do to create order out of chaos. Far more often Washington inadvertently delivers disaster. It would be far better to stay out of foreign imbroglios instead.”
Other candidates likely soon will follow Walker out of the presidential race. Posing as uber-hawks is likely to work no better for them than for Scott Walker.