Scott Walker’s latest flub: foreign policy

Take a bit of out-of-control Reagan worship, add some anti-union preoccupation, and throw in a dash of unpreparedness. The result is a presidential hopeful who seems less prepared for the White House with each passing day.

Walker contended that “the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime” was then-President Ronald Reagan’s move to bust a 1981 strike of air traffic controllers, firing some 11,000 of them.

“It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world,” Walker said. America’s allies and foes alike became convinced that Reagan was serious enough to take action and that “we weren’t to be messed with,” he said.
Walker made similar comments at an event two weeks ago, but these new remarks, delivered at a Club for Growth gathering, mark the first time Walker has described the firing of air-traffic controllers as “the most significant foreign policy decision” of his lifetime.

It’s also an incredibly foolish thing for anyone, least of all a White House aspirant, to say out loud. This is an important stage for Walker’s national campaign, and these comments might be the most striking evidence to date that the governor hasn’t yet prepared for the task at hand.

Substantively, Walker’s argument borders on gibberish. He was born in 1967, which means his “lifetime” includes a wide variety of foreign policy decisions from U.S. officials: two wars in Iraq, a series of START treaties, Nixon going to China, the end of the war in Vietnam, the Camp David Accords, the war in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iran/Contra, the U.S. role in negotiating the Northern Ireland peace process, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the Iranian hostage crisis, etc.

According to the governor of Wisconsin, none of these was quite as “significant,” in terms of U.S. foreign policy, as Reagan firing air-traffic controllers. I find it very difficult to imagine even the most enthusiastic Walker supporter arguing that this is in any way coherent.

For that matter, Walker’s understanding of the firings’ impact is plainly silly. Firing striking workers let the whole world know “we weren’t to be messed with”? I hate to break it to the governor, but after the air-traffic controllers lost their jobs, plenty of foes messed with us anyway. The fact that Walker doesn’t know that isn’t a good sign.

Making matters slightly worse, the governor has tried to defend this argument by saying documents released after the Cold War by the former USSR prove that “the Soviet Union started treating [Reagan] more seriously” after he fired air-traffic controllers – a claim with absolutely no foundation in reality. In fact, Walker appears to have just made this up. Reagan’s own ambassador to Russia described the claim as “utter nonsense.”

What we’re left with is an inexperienced candidate whose views of the world lack any depth or maturity. If he considers the firing of air-traffic controllers “the most significant foreign policy decision” of the last 47 years, it’s not unreasonable to wonder how, exactly, Walker defines “foreign policy.”

Indeed, for weeks, Walker’s principal focus has been on trying to convince people that opposing labor unions is precisely the kind of experience presidents need to excel in global affairs. Repetition, however, is not improving the point’s ridiculousness.

Yes, it’s early, and unprepared candidates who make mistakes now can learn and adapt as the campaign progresses. But this is also the point at which would-be presidents make a first impression, introducing themselves to the public, and developing reputations that tend to stick.

And Scott Walker is quickly positioning himself as a candidate who simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Steve Benen, MSNBC

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