New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' conference in Washington DC, June 20, 2014.
Photo by Drew Angerer/EPA

Bluster is not the basis for a foreign policy

As governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie (R) doesn’t have much use for foreign policy. That’s not a criticism – governors occasionally make overseas trips to promote trade, and border governors sometimes talk with foreign counterparts, but as a rule, this just isn’t a responsibility for most state chief executives.
Christie, however, is nevertheless eager to demonstrate an interest, if not a competence, in international affairs. Michael Barbaro reported this week on the governor’s recent remarks to Republican activists at an event held a few days after Russian forces invaded Crimea.
It was not, according to several of those in attendance, a tough or unexpected inquiry. But Mr. Christie, usually known for his oratorical sure-footedness, offered a wobbly reply, displaying little grasp of the facts and claiming that if he were in charge, Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, would know better than to mess with him.
According to an audio recording of the event, he said Mr. Putin had taken the measure of Mr. Obama. “I don’t believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment,” Mr. Christie said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
One attendee described Mr. Christie’s answer as disturbingly heavy on swagger and light on substance. Another called it “uncomfortable to watch.”
In 2008, one of the more common complaints about then-candidate Barack Obama was the notion that Obama thought every problem could be solved with a great speech. There’s nothing to suggest the Democrat ever believed this, but the argument was intended to remind voters that the power of personality has its limits – effective leaders also need sound policies and judgment.
Ironically, Chris Christie, who still believes the myth about Obama, is inviting similar criticisms of himself now. As the New Jersey governor readies his national campaign, he genuinely seems to believe every problem can be solved with bravado and tough-guy posturing.
This Crimea example illustrates the problem nicely. Did Putin’s incursion have anything to do with the U.S. president? Of course not. But for Chris Christie, there’s a misplaced confidence predicated on ignorance – Russia won’t do anything provocative because Putin would be too intimidated by Christie’s persona.
Look out, Moscow. You’ve got bridges and Team Christie knows how to use them.
Brian Beutler added, “That’s actually the optimistic view. Because it’s equally possible Christie knows Putin wouldn’t be rattled by a humiliating, Jersey-style tongue-lash – and believes that only actual force, rather than just forceful words, would give Putin pause. Which brings us back to the merits, such as they are, of not doing ‘stupid s**t.’”
In Christie’s defense, he’s still preparing to launch a presidential campaign, so there’s still time for him to learn the basics. Sure, he seems to think of foreign policy now as some kind of junior-high-school game, but maybe the governor’s coaches can, in time, help him take a more sophisticated view of the global stage.
In other words, it’s early. Christie’s not ready for prime time, but that doesn’t mean he’ll never be ready.
That said, Barbaro’s report went on to note that Christie has been reading Ken Adelman, and consulting with Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger, among others.
How reassuring?