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Walker’s Reagan Nostalgia and Foreign Policy

Following up on his silly foreign policy remarks earlier this week, Scott Walker made another statement that was no better:

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 has said something like this before when he claimed that there were “documents” that proved that this had influenced the way that the Soviets viewed Reagan. That wasn’t true, but that didn’t discourage Walker from using this line again. It’s a ridiculous claim on its face, but a few things need to be said about it anyway.

Even if one grants that Reagan’s decision to fire the striking workers had some effect on the way he was perceived by other governments, it is just painfully ignorant to call a purely domestic decision the “most significant foreign policy decision” of the last five decades. There have to be numerous examples of far more significant policy decisions from Reagan’s presidency alone, to say nothing of the decisions made by other presidents during that time. Walker thinks he’s making a clever point about displaying “toughness,” but just keeps drawing attention to the fact that he has nothing substantive to say about foreign policy. He insists on using the crutch of Reagan nostalgia, but he can’t even cite examples from Reagan’s real foreign policy record to make his point.

If Walker believes what he’s saying, he is endorsing an absurdly extreme version of the “credibility” argument. He not only wants us to think that this display of “toughness” made other states take Reagan more “seriously,” but that a purely domestic decision had such far-reaching international consequences that it was the most significant foreign policy decision made in almost half a century. If this was supposed to allay concerns that Walker isn’t prepared to be president, it didn’t work. Indeed, it is becoming very difficult to take anything Walker says on foreign policy seriously.

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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