While the establishment media have focused their attention on Paul Ryan’s plan to curb federal spending and save Medicare and Social Security, we give Michael Barone -- principal author of The Almanac of American Politics and Senior Political Analyst for the conservative Washington Examiner -- a tip of the hat for pointing out another side of Paul Ryan: his thinking on foreign policy.
Unlike presumptive Republican presidential nominee Governor Mitt Romney, whose career has been in business and state government, Ryan, as a member of Congress, has cast many votes related to foreign policy and national defense. As Chairman and a long-time member of the House Budget Committee, Ryan has also participated in many hearings on national defense and foreign policy.
Many of these votes and hearings were about the policies of the George W. Bush administration and its strongly neo-con influenced foreign policy. Many of Ryan’s votes reflect the willingness of House Republicans to support Bush’s policies.
However, if one looks to Ryan’s comments during the Budget Committee hearings and to a significant speech he gave to the Alexander Hamilton Society, it reveals a much more subtle -- and conservative -- approach to foreign policy than Bush’s.
Ryan began his June 2, 2011 remarks to the Alexander Hamilton Society by observing that federal entitlement programs have become unsustainable “In 1970, these programs consumed about 20 percent of the budget. Today that number has grown to over 40 percent… Over the same period, defense spending has shrunk as a share of the federal budget from about 39 percent to just under 16 percent – even as we conduct an ambitious global war on terrorism.”
This, Ryan says, is unsustainable and the fact that it is unsustainable has led some to believe that the choice we face is over how, not whether, to manage our nation’s decline.
Ryan rejects that premise, saying decline is not a certainty for America: it is a choice.
Paul Ryan then developed the ideas, perhaps the most important in his remarks, that an economically strong America was essential to world peace and that we should reject the “realism” of Nixon and Kissinger. Instead, we should adhere to a Reagan-like foreign policy based on advancing the universal principle of human freedom that is our national credo.
Ryan’s essential point, which is not necessarily original to him, but has seldom been advanced with such force, is that, “An expanding community of nations that shares our economic values as well as our political values would ensure a more prosperous world … a world with more opportunity for mutually beneficial trade … and a world with fewer economic disruptions caused by violent conflict.”
In other words – democratic nations don’t typically pick fights with their customers and trading partners and they tend to stick together when outside forces, such as terrorists and rogue nations, disrupt the economic well being of their citizens.
Some conservatives may criticize Ryan’s remarks and record as evidence that he is too willing to go along with the Pentagon on spending, but that is far too simplistic. Ryan’s approach, we think, is the right one – but one too seldom made by other Republicans – and that is that the Pentagon’s budget should be strategy driven based on the threats we perceive, as opposed to the jobs program and gravy train for defense contractors it has become.
Paul Ryan’s foreign policy vision is much more subtle than the neo-con philosophy that informed the recent Bush administration and continues to exert a powerful influence in Republican circles on Capitol Hill. And Ryan’s closing is worth considering, particularly for the contrast that it offers with the incoherent “apologize, and then strategize” policy of Barack Obama.
“Instead of heeding these calls to surrender, we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen; a country whose devotion to free enterprise has lifted more people out of poverty than any economic system ever designed; and a nation whose best days still lie ahead of us, if we make the necessary choices today.”
To read or listen to Paul Ryan’s June 2, 2011 remarks to the Alexander Hamilton Society go to http://paulryan.house.gov/news/documentprint.aspx?documentid=244477 or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS0HMTbYvHQ&feature=youtu.be