Scott Walker is trying to make up for his foreign policy stumbles. Here’s the problem:
In contrast to the compelling and confident way Walker talks about his Wisconsin record, he has been shaky on foreign policy. He has traveled only rarely overseas and showed little interest in world politics in college or as governor. Policy experts and donors who have met with him privately said he lacks depth of knowledge about the international scene and speaks mostly in generalities [bold mine-DL].
No one expects Walker to be an expert on these issues, but it is more than a little troubling that he is seriously running for president and is being taken seriously as a leading contender for the nomination when he is so thoroughly unprepared on one of the most important parts of the president’s job. It’s good that Walker is now trying to catch up, but it is doubtful that he will be able to make up enough of the deficit by the time the nomination contest is in full swing. It isn’t surprising that a governor isn’t well-versed in foreign policy. It is fairly remarkable that someone aiming to be president seems as poorly informed about foreign policy as Walker appears to be. This isn’t a matter of the kind of policies Walker favors. It is a matter of basic competence that we should expect from our elected leaders. Dan Drezner put it well last week:
This isn’t about whether Walker should profess a more dovish or hawkish foreign policy posture. This is whether he wants to sound like a smart hawk or a dumb hawk. It’s about whether he wants to improve on the truly dismal 2012 foreign policy performance of the GOP field.
The story suggests that Walker wants to do better, but it doesn’t give us much reason to think that he can. Some conservatives insist on making excuses for Walker, and those excuses aren’t very compelling:
Still, several conservatives who have met with him said Walker has the right temperament and with time can gain more knowledge, comparing his foreign-policy outlook to President George W. Bush [bold mine-DL].
Temperament matters, and depending on what one means by “the right temperament” it is preferable for politicians to have it, but it is a complement and not a substitute for understanding. A politician with the most balanced, sensible temperament in the world could make appallingly bad decisions if he relied on a superficial or false understanding of an issue. It’s true that any candidate can “gain more knowledge” over time, but that’s not much of a recommendation for the candidate right now. It’s simply not good enough to say that a candidate has “the right temperament” and will learn what he needs to know later. For one thing, there is only so much time that a candidate can spend catching up on these issues, and there is only so much new information anyone can be expected to retain and understand in the meantime. If a candidate is starting at or near zero, he could acquire a huge store of knowledge in the next nine to twelve months and still not be ready. The other problem with this is that a candidate for president shouldn’t be starting off with so little knowledge of the rest of the world.
Comparing Walker’s “outlook” to that of George W. Bush is hardly encouraging, since Bush’s view of the world was an extraordinarily simplistic one made worse by his own lack of curiosity. Insofar as a Walker candidacy promises more of the same, conservatives that are interested in having a competent nominee should look somewhere else. Walker’s views happen to be hawkish, and that is frankly the only reason why his candidacy isn’t being written off right now. He is being given a temporary pass because his views line up with what the party’s hawks want, but if he were inclined to espouse unconventional or dissident views on foreign policy it is certain that his would-be hawkish advisers would be the first to declare him unready to be president.