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Walker and the GOP’s Foreign Policy Ignorance Problem

If a governor has given little thought to foreign policy, it is even more irresponsible for him to support aggressive action.

Conor Friedersdorf identifies one of the same problems with Walker’s weak answer regarding the war on ISIS that I found:

His answer is discrediting because it betrays how little thought he has given these questions.

That is true, but Walker’s answer is troubling for another reason. If a governor understandably knows little about foreign policy because it is not relevant to his current job, and if he has given little thought to the issues at hand, it is even more irresponsible for him to support aggressive action. Ignorance would be bad enough, but in Walker’s remarks we have the marriage of ignorance with the willingness to escalate a foreign war. Walker won’t rule anything out because he hasn’t thought through his position, but the default position for someone who has given so little thought to the matter should be one of much greater caution.

The difficulty is that the politician that doesn’t know much about the subject matter is also ignorant of the importance of caution and restraint in foreign policy, because he often chooses to treat these issues as occasions for posturing and demagoguery. Indeed, the ignorant politician relies on the latter to make up for the fact that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and so we hear him lecturing on the need for aggressive policies that he couldn’t coherently describe or defend when asked about them. These displays of ignorance don’t alarm his hawkish admirers, who see in the governor’s ignorance an opportunity to mold him to their liking, and they are laughed off by others on the grounds that governors never know anything about foreign policy. But if that is true, why should we ever want to gamble on making one of them president?

As I was pointing out last week, however, the problem is not limited to governors. We have such low expectations for what our politicians are supposed to know about foreign policy that serial blunderers are credited with “expertise” simply because they talk about these issues on a regular basis. When these blunderers set the standard for what counts as “expertise,” it is no wonder that governors can fake their way through this part of the debates. They may not know anything, but they can repeat the vapid slogans about “leadership” and American exceptionalism just as well as members of Congress can, and that is unfortunately what matters more.



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