The Walker National Security Doctrine: If It Bleeds, It Leads

Believe it or not, there was something in that Hugh Hewitt interview with Scott Walker that’s more disturbing than his claim that service as a county executive is a better qualification for leadership on international affairs than knowledge of and experience in foreign policy or national security. Check out this answer to Hewitt’s question about why Walker prefers to call national security threats “safety issues.”

SW: I think it’s come to the forefront not so much because “national security,” that, to me, as I said [at lunch], is on page 6A of the newspaper where only a handful of us read into that. But when people see the videos, when they see the Jordanian burned alive in a cage, when they see the Egyptian Christians who were beheaded, when they see some of these other folks from around the world, including James Foley, who went to Marquette University where my son’s a junior, and suddenly, that becomes very real to everyday Americans.

HH: One of the beheaded Islamic State videos.

SW: Absolutely, whose parents are actually from New Hampshire, not far from where I was at a weekend ago, and you just realize, you can see it on your phone, you can see it on your iPad. You don’t need the filter of the network news or the daily newspaper to tell you how bad this is. It suddenly becomes an issue of safety, because that’s not something, national security, foreign policy is something over there. Safety is something you feel inside your chest, you feel in your heart. And I think increasingly, Americans feel a sense of concern that particularly if they have family members or loved ones that ever want to travel again, they see France, they see Canada, they see other places around the world, not just the Middle East, and it’s a safety issue.

Now unless this whole thing’s just a word salad, Walker seems to be saying that as president he would focus not on objective threats to our national security as he and his people discern them, but on fears subjectively identified by the American people. I’ve been saying for a while we should be concerned that the shock value of those IS beheading videos, and their massive dissemination, is making Americans overestimate the actual threat posed by IS, and is actually giving these terrorists leverage over us they do not deserve. Now you can legitimately disagree with me about the extent to which IS is an actual as opposed to a perceived threat, but Walker appears to be saying that perceptions of “safety” are all that really matters.

That actually scares me as much as IS beheadings. Shouldn’t our leaders be a bit calmer than we are, based on knowing more than we do, and having a better sense of the vast array of interests our powerful country must consider in any circumstance? I mean, we all are familiar with gutless politicians who all but come out and say: I’ll have the courage of your convictions. But Walker seems to be saying: I’ll launch missiles at your nightmares.

In any event, this man who wants to be president is openly telling us his national security–er, “safety”–priorities are going to be poll-tested and strictly subject to viral events on social media, the more shocking the better. So if there’s an emerging Walker National Security Doctrine, it might be the old motto of local news producers who are justifying a steady and distorted diet of violent crime and fatal traffic accident “stories:” If it bleeds, it leads. You think the deliberate fanning of fears for political purposes is bad? It is, but making Fear Itself your measurement of national security is worse.

We’ve been given fair warning.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.