Scott Walker Will Avoid Foreign Policy Criticism While Abroad

The Wisconsin governor says he will avoid sharp foreign affairs comments on his visit to Europe.
by | April 9, 2015 AT 3:30 PM

By Jason Stein

White House hopeful Scott Walker said he won't stray from his much questioned approach of avoiding sharp, substantive talk on foreign affairs during his tours of Western Europe next week and Israel next month.

As the Wisconsin governor packs his bags for Germany, France and Spain, he's packing a punch for President Barack Obama in their fight over foreign affairs. But Walker said Wednesday he won't deliver any blows while abroad.

"Like I said, I'm old school. I don't think any elected official (without) regards to party with regards to the president should be talking about foreign affairs, at least publicly on foreign soil," Walker said in a brief interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

As a governor, Walker's natural weak point in a potential 2016 campaign has been a lack of foreign policy experience, and his taxpayer-funded trips abroad carry high stakes, since they can serve as an answer to his critics or further confirm their doubts.

Walker leaves on Sunday on a state-sponsored trade mission paid by Wisconsin taxpayers to the cities of Hannover in Germany, Bilbao in Spain and Montpellier in France. In another sign of his all but certain presidential run, he is expected to cut off his participation in the trip several days before other state officials to join other likely GOP presidential contenders for a New Hampshire event on April 17 and 18.

Walker's trip to Israel next month will be funded by his political operation.

In a February trip to Great Britain, Walker drew more criticism than praise for avoiding almost all remarks on foreign policy, including at an appearance at the prestigious think thank Chatham House.

But Aaron David Miller, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., said presidential candidates may have more to gain than lose by presenting their foreign trips as opportunities to learn and staying guarded in their comments.

Candidates can be tripped up by everything from simple pronunciation of foreign names and places to the mind-bending nuances of geopolitics, he said.

"It really only matters at this stage (of the campaign cycle) if there's a screw-up. The question here is staying out of trouble," said Miller, who worked on the Arab-Israeli peace process at the U.S. State Department from 1978 to 2003, serving under both Republicans and Democrats. "Let's be clear: the more you say, the more risk of getting trapped in questions you can't answer."

At home, Walker is increasingly bold in his attacks on Obama, with the two leaders engaging in a personal clash this week.

In response to a question from National Public Radio this week, Obama scoffed at Walker's recent comments that he would _ on Day 1 of his presidency _ revoke the pact the United States and allied nations recently negotiated with Iran.

"It would be a foolish approach to take," Obama said in the interview aired Tuesday. "And, you know, perhaps Mr. Walker _ after he's taken some time to bone up on foreign policy _ will feel the same way."

On Wednesday, Walker responded to the president by pointing to Ronald Reagan, the former president and governor of California, as evidence that governors could capably step from their roles as domestic leaders into the arena of international affairs.

"The best president in my lifetime when it comes to foreign affairs was a guy who was governor of California. Arguably one of the most challenged was a first term senator from Illinois," Walker said, returning the president's jab. "So I think people, a lot of people agree with _ including a good number of United States senators _ agree with my sentiment about Iran."

Walker made his brief remarks to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter as he left a 50-minute long meeting Wednesday with state Republican senators who are ramping up work on the governor's budget bill.

But Miller said that comparisons between Walker and Reagan break down both because of the differences between the two men and the world itself, which has changed radically between 1980 and 2015.

"There are very few Ronald Reagans," Miller said. "There's only one, actually."

In 1980, the United States faced its principal opposition from the Soviet Union and could bring its full resources as a superpower to bear on that challenge. Today, the nation is grappling with international terrorist groups that cross borders and evade easy targeting by the country's formidable military.

A presidential candidate now must grasp both the necessities and limits of American action, Miller said.

"The nature of the world is so profoundly different in 2015," he said.

(c)2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel