At an event earlier this month to formally launch his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cited a man in the crowd named Kevin Hermening as a formative influence on his foreign policy thinking. Hermening, a former U.S. Marine who was held hostage during the 1979 Iranian revolution, is a longtime friend of Walker, and has been described in press reports as “the face of Walker’s foreign policy.” The governor has repeatedly cited Hermening as a major influence on his worldview, including his opposition to the Obama administration’s recent nuclear deal with Iran.
But Walker’s choice of Hermening as a foreign policy counselor raises serious questions about Walker’s understanding of the issues. Hermening has publicly advocated conducting nuclear strikes against the capital cities of Muslim-majority countries, as well as the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, particularly those of “Middle Eastern descent” from the United States.
In 2001, Hermening wrote an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel calling for a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that would include “the destruction of the capitals of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen,” unless the governments of those countries unequivocally agreed to help kill Osama bin Laden. “Every military response must be considered, including the use of nuclear weapons,” he wrote. In his commentary Hermening also called upon the United States to erect security fences “along the entire perimeter of the United States,” as well as deport “every illegal alien and immigrant, with a focus on removing those of Middle Eastern descent.”
In an interview earlier this week with Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice, Hermening said that destroying the seven capitals would have been an appropriate response. “Hillary Clinton agreed. Hillary Clinton maybe wasn’t as expansive as I was because I included more countries. … But on Afghanistan and Iraq, the president of the United States and the majority of the U.S. Senate and Congress also agree.”
Reached by The Intercept, Hermening said that he is not a formal policy adviser to Walker. Asked about the views he expressed in the op-ed, Hermening said that the United States needed to send a “strong message” after the 9/11 attacks. But he said the use of nuclear weapons would not have been his “first resort.”
Walker responded to Bice’s column on Monday. “I’ll speak for myself,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “My policy is very clear, and it’s not aligned with what he said in that particular column.” Walker told the newspaper that he does not consider Hermening an adviser, even though his campaign has featured him prominently. Walker’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from The Intercept.
In an interview with The Intercept, Robert McCaw, a government affairs adviser with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called for the Walker campaign to distance itself from Hermening. “This is a possible Walker campaign adviser advocating for nuclear genocide across all of the Middle East, something that the campaign is apparently willing to defend. Gov. Walker should be distancing himself from Hermening, not embracing such extreme ideas.”
Walker has come under fire on several occasions for his apparent ineptitude on foreign policy issues, and since declaring his candidacy for president has made a number of unrealistically hawkish statements about his future foreign policy intentions. He has suggested that he would terminate the Iranian nuclear deal and potentially even commence military operations against Iran on the day of his inauguration. He has also cited his success at crushing labor unions in his home state of Wisconsin as a precedent for his future approach to combatting the militant group Islamic State.
In one instance, Walker described Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire 11,000 striking air traffic controllers as “the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime.”
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