from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Scott Walker’s Foreign Policy Speech

August 28, 2015

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Gov. Scott Walker gave a major foreign policy speech today at The Citadel, and it contained some points worth noting. I’ll skip over some of the rhetoric and the criticism of Clinton and Obama, which is to be expected in a political contest. (Disclosure: I am not supporting Walker or any other specific candidate for the Republican nomination.)

Walker made six points of significance:

  1. America is less safe than it was when Obama entered office. The more aggressive conduct of Russia and China, plus the rise of ISIS, have changed our situation.
  2. We’re at war with radical Islamic terrorism, and we must do what it takes to win. That means more spending on the military; recruiting and training far more Syrian fighters; and embedding our people as advisers with Iraqi, Sunni tribal, and Kurdish forces. Walker’s statements about ISIS are not in the passive voice, as in “ISIS must be defeated,” but put the United States at the front of that effort.
  3. Walker notes the two faces of Islamic terrorism, Sunni and Shia, and he explains how they feed on each other. He’s got a very good paragraph stating that “Confronted by these two forms of evil, President Obama and Hillary Clinton seem to believe they can sit on the sidelines, hoping Iran will defeat ISIS for them. They fail to realize that, in the prevailing anarchy, the two sides feed off of each other, growing stronger at the expense of our Sunni and Shia allies trapped in the middle.” He’s also right to say that “No strategy to defeat ISIS can succeed while Assad is still in power and Iran, his patron, has a base of operations in Damascus.”
  4. He repeats his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and says again that he’ll start getting out of it on “Day One.” He would reimpose sanctions on Iran, “work with Congress to impose even more crippling sanctions,” and “work to convince our allies to follow my lead on Iran. So we are clear, I have no illusions that this will be easy.” He adds a “vow to turn up pressure across the board on Iran.” He sees Iran as a regional threat: “Iran’s nuclear program is part of its broader effort to dominate the region threatening our Sunni Arab allies. Once we show them we’re committed to rolling back the power and influence of Iran, it will encourage our allies to join in our efforts against ISIS.”
  5. He criticizes the distance between the United States and Israel, promises to “restore our alliance,” and says “there should be no daylight between our two countries.” He says that as Israel and the Arabs moved closer, we failed to notice: “To defeat radical Islamic terrorism, we need to restore frayed alliances across the Middle East. Our traditional allies—Israel and the Sunni Arab states—are divided on many issues. But one thread unites them all, the threat from Iran and its proxies. “
  6. Early in the speech Walker derides “nation building,” but later (discussing Iran) says “America must always be a bright and steady beacon of hope for freedom.” He also complained that Clinton “downplayed China’s abysmal human rights record.”

What to make of it? These are not novel positions for a Republican and do not separate him from most of his competitors. He was clear in stating that we need more soldiers on the ground in Iraq, and need to increase the military budget. He did not back down an inch on Iran and the nuclear deal. He was particularly clear on defeating ISIS, including his good explanations that Iran and ISIS feed on each other and that ISIS cannot be defeated with Assad in power and Iran running Damascus.

The speech leaves many questions unanswered, of course, such as where he stands on promoting human rights. Does that constitute objectionable “nation-building” or being a “beacon of hope for freedom?” How would he apply this to countries like Egypt, an ally against Iran and ISIS but increasingly repressive? But Walker’s speech puts him squarely in the internationalist wing of the Party, wanting to do more rather than less abroad and committed to defeating ISIS. You won’t like it if you’re a fan of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, a Rand Paul supporter, or someone praying for a new and this time real “pivot to Asia.”

 

 

 

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