By BILL BARROW
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is doubling down on his promises of pre-emptive strikes to prevent what he says are certain future attacks on American soil.
As he prepares for a likely 2016 presidential run, Walker told a multistate Republican gathering in Oklahoma on Thursday that he’s convinced “radical Islamic terrorists” are planning to attack the U.S.
Walker offered no evidence for his claims at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. He also didn’t say who most threatens the United States or what military actions he’d authorize in response.
As a governor, Walker has no access to intelligence briefings like those available to President Barack Obama and certain congressional leaders.
Still, Walker said, “It’s not if another attempt is made on American soil, it is when.” He said he’d “take the fight to them before they take the fight to us” and that struggle would be protracted.
The sentiments aren’t new for Walker but he is speaking in more hawkish terms after his recent visit to Israel, as he tries to stand out among several governors and former governors running for the Republican nomination without tangible foreign policy experience.
Walker said his private conversations with Israelis, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and military leaders to soldiers and civilians, revealed that all feel perpetually threatened. He avoided the news media in Israel.
“They feel every day like we felt after 9/11,” he said, “and they feel like they don’t have an ally in the United States, at least not in the president of the United States.”
Walker’s pre-emption talk comes as Republican candidates grapple with the question of whether President George W. Bush was right to invade Iraq in 2003, absent proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — a leading rationale for the war. Walker has not said explicitly that Bush was wrong, but he joined other White House hopefuls who said they would not have authorized the war knowing what is now known.
The Wisconsin governor is not alone among 2016 Republicans who talk tough on the Middle East but skip the details.
In a New Hampshire earlier this week, Jeb Bush criticized Obama’s troop withdrawals from Iraq, but said only that he’d defer to military commanders on whether to deploy more forces.
In Oklahoma on Thursday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a similar approach, saying Obama “lost the peace” but promising only generally that he’d project “strength and resolve” to recover it.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Sen. Rick Santorum are exceptions, both having said that 10,000 or more troops are probably needed in Iraq to help train security forces to serve as a functional army. The U.S. has roughly 4,200 trainers and advisers in Iraq.
Graham told CBS this week, “I’m afraid more American soldiers will die in Iraq and eventually in Syria to protect our homeland.”
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