Hit & Run

Scott Walker Ready to Start a War on 'Day One' of His Presidency; Jeb Bush the Voice of 'Maturity'

The race to the militant right on Iran

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Gage Skidmore

The Iran nuclear deal is not finding a lot of support on the Republican side. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), one of more than a dozen Republican presidential candidates, had previously been cautiously supportive of negotiations between Iran, the U.S., and five other countries over Iran's nuclear energy program, but like other Republicans he condemned the deal as not going far enough. Unfortunately, the debate on the Republican side isn't over how a better deal might look or even over whether to support it, but over how quickly a Republican would tear it up if they were president. Briefly about interventionism vs. non-intervention, the Republican foreign policy debate seems to have devolved into a race to take the most militant position.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another Republican presidential candidate, thought he had a winner in that race when in his campaign announcement he promised he'd "terminate" the Iran deal on day one of his presidency—January 20, 2017, a year and a half from now—no matter what America's European allies who signed on to the deal to thought about it. That rhetoric drew a response urging caution and "maturity" from Jeb Bush, brother of George W. Bush, a president critics often accused of believing the same thing Thursday he did on Tuesday no matter what happened on Wednesday. The younger Bush explained why Walker's bluster was wrong and dangerous.

Via The Weekly Standard:

A voter asked Bush to explain the differences between the Obama administration's handling of Iran and his own, had he been president. Bush gave an exhaustive and highly critical assessment of Obama's failings and offered, at the end, a promise of sorts. "One thing that I won't do is just say, as a candidate, 'I'm going to tear up the agreement on the first day.' That's great, that sounds great but maybe you ought to check in with your allies first, maybe you ought to appoint a secretary of state, maybe secretary of defense, you might want to have your team in place, before you take an act like that." 

…At a press availability after the town hall, a reporter asked Bush why he would not "say what some of your competitors have, that you're going to get rid of the agreement." Bush responded: "Of course not. Because on 12:01 on January, whatever it is, 19th, I will not probably have a confirmed secretary of state, unlikely, won't have a national security team in place. I would not have consulted with our allies. I would not have had the intelligence briefings to make decisions. If you're running for president, you know, I think it's important to be mature and thoughtful about this."

Jeb Bush is right. While Congress can still vote against the deal, as I've written here before, the deal is a multilateral one, not just one between the U.S. and Iran. One of the few lessons the Obama administration learned from George W. Bush's presidency is that going alone doesn't work. Sometimes that lesson's been applied wrongly—as when the U.S. jumped in to join a European intervention into Libya's civil war, one that helped turn the former dictatorship into a bastion for Al-Qaeda and ISIS. But sometimes it's applied correctly, as it was in negotiations with Iran. Disengaging the U.S. from the issue of Iran's nuclear energy program and its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would have been the best option, but negotiating those commitments with Iran and several other world powers is far preferable to negotiating it one-on-one or dropping bombs.

Given an opportunity to respond to Bush, Walker doubled down, saying he was ready to be president and start a war on day one if he had to. Via The Weekly Standard again:

"He may have his opinion. I believe that a president shouldn't wait to act until they put a cabinet together or an extended period of time," Walker said. "I believe they should be prepared to act on the very first day they take office. It's very possible—God forbid, but it's very possible – that the next president could be called to take aggressive actions, including military action, on the first day in office. And I don't want a president who is not prepared to act on day one. So, as far as me, as far as my position, I'm going to be prepared to be president on day one." 

That statement doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that Walker is prepared to be president on day one, rather it suggests he's prepared to prove he's prepared to be president on day one, which may actually prove he's not. For what it's worth, Jeb Bush followed up his comments by insisting he didn't support the deal and urged Congress to reject it.