Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is sounding Romneyesque in his foreign policy views. In a Post interview he says: “I spend a lot of time thinking about foreign policy and reading about it. My thinking has evolved, and going through the vice presidential experience gave me a deeper appreciation for these issues. I fear that we’re losing our place in the world and it’s to the world’s detriment. I think the president’s weak foreign policy, from his vacillating positions to his defense cuts, are causing us to lose our standing and it’s created a vacuum for those who don’t share our values.” And in a separate interview he says:
When it comes to foreign policy, my biggest criticism of this administration is that it doesn’t have one. What we need is a comprehensive strategy to deal with this threat. That means support for moderate Muslims in the region and cooperation with moderate Muslim countries.
I believe we could’ve done more to get a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq as the military recommended. The president insisted we could never achieve an agreement without a vote in the Iraqi legislature, and yet now we have one, even though we didn’t have a vote. We also could’ve helped the Free Syrian Army at a much earlier stage in this crisis when it was so much easier to separate the good guys from the bad guys, and the president chose not to do that.
Unlike the president and some right-wing lawmakers, Ryan does not want to preclude military options. (“The intelligence community has been warning about ISIS for quite some time, so this isn’t a new problem. The administration helped create the vacuum in Syria and in Iraq, which gave them the ability to take over whole pieces of these two countries. . . . I just think we need to learn from the mistakes that have been made in the past, and not second-guess and micromanage our military. Let’s give them the mission—to defeat ISIS—and then give them the flexibility to complete the mission.”)
That puts him in tune with mainstream GOP thinking in an era when hawkishness is the predominant sentiment on the right. Without sounding bellicose, he has placed himself, if you will, to the hawkish right of freshmen Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.). And rather than talk in sound bites on a few major issues, he evidences interest in and familiarity with a range of issues, including trade. (“The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would reassure our friends in Eastern Europe. And the Trans-Pacific Partnership would reassure our friends in Asia. And as we draw our friends closer in a time of danger, we’d put our rivals on notice: There are costs to confrontation and benefits to collaboration. And I think both trade agreements would help our economy. They would help create jobs by giving our exporters access to new markets. So I think it’s vital we develop these partnerships.”)
What comes across in both interviews is a more confident and assertive Ryan. Rather than simply being a House member, he now can cite his experience in confronting the president on budget issues, his support for increased defense spending, and his preparation and campaign for the vice presidency. He is more experienced on foreign policy and has been speaking about these issues more than any of the lawmakers widely discussed as presidential candidates, and most of the rest of the potential field. That is not a small matter when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams. And while he ran for VP — not president — in 2012, he (along with a couple governors) would have the invaluable learning experience of having run for national office.
To the extent there is some Romney nostalgia (with understanding of his limitations as a candidate), Ryan could well fill a void for donors, mainstream Republicans and foreign policy hawks. A fresher, middle-class version of Romney with a more common touch and better media skills has a certain amount of sell.
Shouldn’t a relatively young man with more experience than flashier pols, an impeccable ethical record, a solid reputation with both the grassroots and the “establishment,” and a host of innovative ideas on upward mobility and combating poverty be a top tier contender for the presidential nomination? If he decides he wants it badly enough and is willing to take on some ideological allies (or if they drop out), he will be a formidable candidate. And if not, he is a one-man policy shop for a reform-minded campaign — and eventually an administration based on conservative reform and good governance. The GOP could do a lot worse.