Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss foreign-policy issues with Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Beforehand, I didn’t know him personally and so didn’t know what to expect. Well, here is what I found: Walker has the potential to be a great foreign-policy president. Here’s why.
The first thing I learned is that Scott Walker is eager to talk about foreign policy. He relishes discussing the ins and outs of an issue and shows a curiosity that frankly I wish many of our senators had. He engages precisely at the level a president should, asking tough questions about the strategic importance of an issue, and his keenest interest is in finding how to improve America’s position in the world. There isn’t an apologize-for-America bone in his body.
I also learned something about his overall attitude toward foreign policy: He understands that getting it right or wrong is the difference between peace and war. This personally was very reassuring to me. I want someone who is serious about foreign policy. I don’t want a president who treats it as an afterthought or a vehicle for burnishing a personal legacy. Nor do I want a president who is content to timidly manage what remains of our collapsing foreign policy. I want someone to rescue us from it. And I don’t want someone who merely gives soaring speeches. We’ve had plenty of that from President Obama, and look where we are.
He understands that getting it right or wrong is the difference between peace and war.
Instead, I want someone who has a proven record of getting things done, and of winning. In Wisconsin, Walker reduced unemployment from 8.1 percent to 4.6 percent, which is well below the national rate. The state’s rainy-day fund is 165 times bigger than when he took office. He turned around a $3.6 billion budget deficit on taking office and put money back in the hands of Wisconsin taxpayers through $2 billion in tax cuts.
But even more important to me than what he did was how he did it. He showed executive leadership and got things done. And when it came to one of his biggest fights in taking on the entrenched special interests, in the face of criticism and of his own supporters suggesting that he call it quits, he showed determined and steadfast leadership and won the fight. This is what we so desperately need in a commander-in-chief.
There is no single characteristic of a great foreign-policy leader, but surely one of the most important is to understand how to wield executive power. Governor Walker has this skill in abundance. Now in his second term as governor, he knows how to devise an agenda, assemble a first-rate team, and then execute a plan. A lot of candidates these days talk the big talk, but they don’t have a record of proven executive leadership in government. Unless we are content merely to shout at our TV screens, we should elect someone with a plan and a track record of success in government.
So what, then, about knowledge of foreign policy? Isn’t that important? Of course it is, but be mindful of two things. First, having knowledge is not the same thing as being a great leader. I daresay a college professor of international relations knows more about foreign policy than many current senators or governors, but that doesn’t make him or her presidential material. Second, beware the “lack of nuance” charge. It is more often than not the snob’s ruse for something else. President Carter tried it on Reagan, accusing him of “shooting from the hip” and having “simplistic answers.” But who do you think history will remember as the better president, Carter or Reagan? People said the same thing about Harry Truman when he became president, but it was the failed haberdasher without a college degree who ended up creating the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO and designing much of the post–World War II world order.
If it is purely a matter of job experience, I prefer a governor over a senator for president. It’s not merely because of our unfortunate recent history with a one-term senator, Barack Obama, who clearly lacked the executive and management skills necessary to be our commander-in-chief. It’s also because the 17 presidents (around 40 percent) who previously were governors include some of our best presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. This is no accident. As executives, they were prepared to step onto the highest executive office in the land.
#related#It comes down to this: The country desperately needs a leader who will turn the country around. We don’t a need president who will preside over our decline or act as if the presidency is some personal inheritance. Nor do we need someone who shouts the loudest or confuses bluster for leadership. Talk is cheap. Action is not.
A great foreign-policy president requires the right vision of America in the world, top-notch leadership skills, and a dogged determination to get the job done. Governor Scott Walker has these characteristics. That’s why I think he has the potential to be a great foreign-policy president.