House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday introduced his national security blueprint — and it often reads like an attempt to soften the sharp edges of some of Donald Trump’s more controversial proposals.
Where Trump has proposed building a wall along the southern border and getting Mexico to pay for it, Ryan’s blueprint stresses that “we need more than just fencing” to keep undocumented immigrants and illegal weapons from crossing the border.
Where Trump has dismissed NATO as obsolete, Ryan urged “modernizing and solidifying NATO” – while at the same time encouraging NATO allies to spend more on defense so the alliance does not “fall into disrepair, or worse, irrelevance.”
And where Trump has suggested arming countries like Japan and South Korea with nuclear weapons might be a good way to counter North Korea, Ryan favors efforts to “shore up our defense arrangements” in order “to bring together” those countries – but steered clear of mentioning the bomb.
While the document does not reference the GOP’s presumptive nominee by name, it is the end product of the foreign policy agenda Ryan began crafting as part of his “Better Way” agenda project to give Republicans a proactive policy platform on which to run in November. Ryan predicted Trump would “help us make [the agenda] a reality” when he endorsed him last week.
Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the House committee chairmen who formed the House GOP’s national security task force formally presented the proposal at the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday as a needed pivot from President Obama’s policies.
“It’s not too much to say that our enemies no longer fear us and too many of our allies no longer trust us,” Ryan said. “I think this is a direct result of the president’s foreign policy.”
But the GOP congressional leaders also said they hoped Trump would read their recommendations and take them to heart — particularly in areas where they stand in contrast to his own controversial suggestions.
“This is a document that we hope the nominee will read and take attention to,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Thursday, responding to a question about Trump’s statements on banning Muslims. “There are ways to properly vet and protect threats from coming into the United States without just a swath of a ban against any race or religion coming into the United States.”
The 20-page national security proposal is the second installment of the agenda project, which House Republicans intend to roll out between now and the July 18 GOP convention.
The report suggests an expanding approach to national security priorities, ranging from immigration to public diplomacy and from trade to counter-terrorism, with relatively little time spent outlining the specific ways the GOP would like to beef up the military, a common theme of the party’s national security proposals.
On immigration, which the agenda project wasn’t explicitly expected to address, the report advocates a “multi-layered approach” involving Border Patrol agents, aerial surveillance and radar to protect against people and weapons entering the United States illegally — elements reminiscent of parts of the border enforcement strategy featured in a comprehensive immigration package the Senate passed in 2013. It also urges better visa security measures and screening of social media profiles to ensure that would-be terrorists do not enter the U.S. through legal channels.
Like Trump, the report is universally critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and comprehensive in terms of identifying problems that make the country vulnerable. But also like Trump, it is usually light on details on how Congress ought to tackle those issues with legislation.
Many of the themes are familiar. The authors advocate drawing clear distinctions between allies and enemies, and reinforcing those lines with economic sanctions, shows of military strength, and effective messaging — particularly when dealing with agents and sponsors of terrorism.
“We are at war with Islamist terrorists,” the report argues, concluding that thus “we must act like we are fighting a war.” But the war “will not be won with bullets and bombs alone,” the authors argue. “It will be won by the force of our ideas.”
To that end, House Republicans propose sweeping reform and investment in outreach efforts to counter local and online propaganda with an American message, enlisting the aid of the private sector and even former, reformed jihadists to get the message across.
The authors also stress that the United States must maintain the credible threat of military force in order “to prevent greater danger in the future” and the emergence of power vacuums that give rise to terrorism.
The United States should also provide assistance to groups like Kurds, Sunni tribes, and African forces fighting terror groups like the Islamic State on the ground, the paper states.
Such ideas have been examined frequently in the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees. But the report does not delve into the sums of money that would need to be spent, or the specific number of additional U.S. forces and materiel needed to achieve those goals.
The plan also revisits ideas to improve visa security and “overhaul our immigration system for national security reasons,” recalling proposals to stiffen application and screening procedures for visitors that were considered in the wake of terror attacks in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, Calif., but did not all become law.
Some proposals are relatively new, such as the plan’s emphasis on cybersecurity, trade and investment as critical elements of national security. The plan is somewhat more specific, however, in detailing an approach to trade and investment with new and existing partners, particularly developing nations, to spread “global freedom, thereby making the world safe for America.”
The House GOP plan promotes “accelerating economic growth through foreign aid” — but in a caveat reminiscent of Trump, also stresses that “there is no right to foreign aid,” and that it is best when countries help themselves.
The paper points to the Millenium Challenge Corporation created under former President George W. Bush as a model for foreign assistance moving forward.
Finally, the blueprint echoes the GOP’s position on conventional threats from a resurgent Russia and China, an Iran with nuclear aspiration and an untrustworthy Cuban government, stressing the need to “stand up” to aggressors and impose sanctions for malign activities, such as Iran’s ballistic missile tests and support for terrorism.
The plan also stresses the threat of military force must be on the table to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.
But notably, Ryan’s proposal stops short of advocating the next president undo the Iran deal, as many of the GOP’s White House hopefuls have promised if they won.
The plan has a similar checks on Cuba, stating the need to leverage “further accommodations” on “real concessions” from the government in Havana — but stops short of advocating a full about-face to reverse any of the liberalizing measures the Obama administration has already implemented.