While Vice President Biden is benched (What use is he to President Obama in the Rust Belt if he’s now a punch line?), Paul Ryan is infusing the GOP ticket with energy and nuts-and-bolts policy. He has even begun to talk about national security.
On Friday he blasted the president for not acting to block the “devastating defense cuts” from the sequestration: “They call it sequester and all of that. Well, I tell you what. In the House, we already passed the bill to cut spending in other areas of government to make sure that these devastating cuts to defense never occur so we don’t put Virginians out of work and so we have a strong national defense. That’s extremely important.” Ryan, of course, voted for the original debt ceiling deal that created the sequestration, but as he pointed out, he’s done what he could to prevent the cuts the defense secretary has said would be “devastating” to national security. (Ryan can be accused of naivete in thinking that Democrats would act in good faith in the supercommittee to avoid sequestration.)
He also raised the Middle East: “In the past day, Iran’s president called our ally Israel, quote, a cancerous tumor that must be excised. Let me be really clear. Under President Romney, our adversaries will think twice about challenging America and our allies because we believe in peace through strength. There will be no daylight between America and our friends around the world. Strong national defense, peace through strength, strong relationship with our allies.” There isn’t a whole lot of detail there, but Romney’s foreign policy ideas have been amply sketched out in his white paper and a speech at the Citadel last fall and recently at the Veterans of Foreign Wars and on his overseas trip.
Ryan, well before he was on the Romney ticket, demonstrated he was in the mainstream of conservative thinking on foreign policy, that is, favoring a strong defense and appreciating the importance of America’s ability to project our strength and protect our values abroad. In June 2011 at the Alexander Hamilton Society he delivered a thoughtful speech. He’s certainly not a fan of “leading from behind”:
A world without U.S. leadership will be a more chaotic place, a place where we have less influence, and a place where our citizens face more dangers and fewer opportunities. Take a moment and imagine a world led by China or by Russia.
Choosing decline would have consequences that I doubt many Americans would be comfortable with.
So we must lead. And a central element of maintaining American leadership is the promotion of our moral principles — consistently and energetically — without being unrealistic about what is possible for us to achieve.
America is an idea. And it was the first nation founded as such. The idea is rather simple. Our rights come to us from God and nature. They occur naturally, before government. The Declaration of Independence says it best: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
There are very good people who are uncomfortable with the idea that America is an “exceptional” nation. But it happens that America was the first in the world to make the universal principle of human freedom into a “credo,” a commitment to all mankind, and it has been our honor to be freedom’s beacon for millions around the world.
Ryan, as author of the House GOP budget for two years, had a critical role in either steering the party toward the isolationism of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) or the Reaganesque foreign policy that has largely carried the day in the conservative movement. When I interviewed him in December 2010 he was already of the view that the Pentagon had to be reformed but that as the primary function of the federal government national security should not undergo drastic cuts. In his last budget document he amplified this argument:
The safety and security of the American people is the first responsibility of the federal government.
The U.S. military is threatened by an uncontrolled debt burden that weakens America — but defense spending is not the driver of that debt burden.
Despite this fact, the President’s budget refuses to address runaway entitlement spending, and instead imposes nearly $500 billion in defense cuts over the next decade.
This budget funds defense at levels that keep America safe by providing $554 billion for the next fiscal year — $6.2 trillion over the next decade — for national defense spending, an amount that is consistent with America’s military goals and strategies.
This budget replaces the indiscriminate reduction in defense spending scheduled to take place under the sequester with targeted reductions in non-defense mandatory spending. This protects defense from cuts that would jeopardizes critical missions and the well-being of soldiers and their families.
America’s troops and military families should not pay the price for Washington’s failure to take action.
Ryan is exceptionally well versed in defense budgeting issues and has consistently voiced pro-Israel views, encouraged vigilance in the war against jihadist terrorism and advocated free trade. Liberals will be disappointed that this ticket stands solidly internationalist, within the Reagan tradition in foreign policy.