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Walker and the Trust of Allies

Zachary Keck interviewed Scott Walker for The National Interest recently. The headline of the article quotes Walker’s main complaint against Obama’s foreign policy:

Our allies do not trust us, and our enemies do not fear us.

That’s a standard line for hawkish critics these days. It’s a questionable assertion, but it’s a common refrain from opposition politicians against an incumbent president. At least some version of the first part of this phrase was used frequently to criticize Bush a decade ago. The criticism was certainly valid then. It’s usually a safe, generic criticism to make, and since the U.S. has so many allies and clients around the world it is likely that a candidate can find at least a handful that are annoyed with something the U.S. has done or “failed” to do.

What makes Walker’s criticism harder to take seriously is that he has made clear that one of his top priorities as soon as he is president is to tear up U.S. commitments in the nuclear deal:

As president, I will terminate the deal on day one by immediately re-imposing sanctions against Iran, working with Congress to impose new crippling sanctions, and convincing our allies to do the same. This will not be an easy task, but given how bad this deal is, we cannot delay. When America truly leads and works with our allies, we can negotiate with Iran from a position of strength, prevent the regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and roll back Tehran’s influence across the Middle East.

That would immediately cause a very public and unpleasant rift with at least three of our major allies, none of which would agree to cooperate in wrecking the deal. Britain, France, and Germany were closely involved in working out the deal as part of the P5+1, and they aren’t going to react well if the U.S. turns against the agreement. If a lack of allied trust is such a concern for Walker, it is remarkable that one of the first things he wants to do as president is to break U.S. commitments to some of our oldest allies on a major issue. If allies don’t trust us now, they certainly won’t after Walker reneges on our part in the nuclear deal.

One major problem with Walker’s position is that he has a fanciful view of how alliance management works. He talks about “working with” allies,” but the implication from his remarks is that he would act unilaterally and then try to drag the allies in tow by insisting that they follow our bad example. He isn’t going to spend much time consulting with them before he does this, and he is evidently unaware that they have no interest in helping him with the misguided attempt to renegotiate the deal. Indeed, he is expecting many of them to act against their own economic interests, and that applies to our allies in Asia as well as in Europe. At the very least, this would get his relationship with many of these governments off to a very bad start, and it would make it more difficult for him to win their support on any other policies that need their cooperation.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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