China, perhaps the greatest long-term foreign policy challenge facing the United States, has largely been absent from the presidential campaigns to date. The Walker statement may change that. The country needs and deserves a real debate on the future of U.S.-China relations and on how best to deal with China going forward.
There should be a debate about U.S. China policy, and one would hope presidential candidates would have something useful to contribute to it, but useful is exactly what Walker’s statement wasn’t. Walker was trying to seize on yesterday’s market sell-off to engage in some predictable–and incoherent–posturing about the need to “get tough” with China, and the only practical recommendation he could make was that the U.S. should throw a fit to express its disapproval of past and current Chinese behavior. That doesn’t tell me that Walker has any ideas for how China policy might be improved, and it certainly doesn’t improve the quality of that debate. Instead, it tells us that Walker is desperate to be taken seriously on foreign policy and it reminds us why he shouldn’t be.
Mazza’s enthusiastic response to Walker’s bad idea helps explain why Republican candidates continue to flail so often on foreign policy. Any candidate might propose a dumb or unworkable idea, but in a competent and responsible party that candidate would be penalized for that. Instead of demanding better arguments and proposals from these candidates, the party’s hawkish think tanks typically reward and praise them for taking a witless-but-confrontational position. Calling on Obama to cancel the upcoming state visit is reflexive hawkishness at its silliest, but Walker can expect to be lauded by his party’s hawks for taking a “tough” stand. That ensures that the quality of our foreign policy debates will be much worse than it needs to be, and that in turn contributes to the poorer quality of our policies.