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August 21, 2012

Paul Ryan Tries To Clear a Few Things Up
Posted by James Lamond

Ryan-thumbs-up-smallSince Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as running mate, many commentators have pointed out that the GOP ticket has no experience on foreign policy or national security. Michael has a very good take in his FP column. While this is, quite obviously, an election based on the economy, the foreign policy and national security portfolio easily takes up half of the president’s time. It is also the area where the president has the most freedom to operate, independently of Congress. Needless to say, it is important.

Paul Ryan recently sought to address these concerns about a deficit in experience. However, on the issues discussed, there is even less clarity on his views: 

Syria

 When asked what’s wrong with the President’s policy on Syria, Ryan responded back, “I think he was late to it… late to speak forcefully and pronounce our values… late to helping the opposition do what they need to do to get this dictator out of there.” There are a number of interesting components of this statement. First, the U.S. policy is much more than “pronouncing our values.” As I outlined in a recent post, there are a number of active policies approaches across issue silos including security, humanitarian, and political interests. Second, it would be fair to imply from these remarks, that Ryan thinks the current policy is correct, Preisdent Obama was simply "late" to the decision. This differs from Mitt Romney’s position on Syria, which while avoiding specifics, has been quite critical of President Obama’s policy.

Iraq

Theportion of these remarks that has received the most amount of attention have been those on Iraq. Ryan points to his voting record in Congress to explain his foreign policy experience, specifically refering to the 2002 vote for the Iraq War. He stated, “I’ve been in Congress for a number of years. That’s more experience than President Obama had when he came into office. Now, I’ve voted to send people to war.”

Fair enough, as a member of the House of Representatives he was involved in the Iraq War debate and voted for the war. However, support for a war that is widely considered to have been a  blunder, does not automatically qualify you as a foreign policy expert.  Even former Bush administration officials have spoken on how the Iraq expereince should inform thinking on national security. Bob Gates famously told West Point cadets, “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” Voting for a war is clearly a serious important duty for a Member of Congress. However, if Rep. Ryan is using this decision as his primary qualification to be ready to be Commander in Chief, it is worth questioning him further on his decision and how that fits into his views on how and when to use force.

Russia and the Reset

My personal favorite is on the Russia reset.  In line with general conservative criticism over the “reset,” Ryan declared the approach a failure. However, he states, “The Russia reset was a failure… our relationship with Russia is weaker not stronger.”  This statement needs to be dissected in two ways. First, the facts: He states that our relationship with Russia is weaker, not stronger. This is simply wrong. The reset came following the post-Cold War nadir of U.S.-Russia relations in 2008. The United States and Russia were barely on speaking terms following the Russia-Georgia War. While the relationship is hardly warm and fuzzy, the U.S. has received a number deliverables important to U.S. national interests. This includes,  the agreement on the Northern Distribution Network to transport troops and materiel across Russia to Afghanistan; securing cooperation on Iran, including the most comprehensive sanctions to date and confirming that  Russia would not deliver S-300 missiles to Iran; and signing and ratifying the New START treaty. These are only a few of the concrete deliverables.

But more surprisingly, this statement actually accepts the premise of and reasoning behind the reset. Many conservatives have labeled the reset as “appeasement,” arguing that Russia is an adversary and America needs to be “tougher” in its approach. However, the idea behind the reset was to prevent disagreements  from getting in the way of the U.S. and Russia working together toward shared interests. This would require a “strong” relationship, rather than a "weak" one – just as Ryan says we need and was the entire purpose behind the reset. While Mitt Romney thinks about the U.S.-Russian relationship as one of “geopolitical foes,” Ryan thinks about it - or at least talks about it – as one where we need to work together and develop a pragmatic relationship.

 

Perhaps it is unfair to read too much into this single interview. These were remarks given in an interview on Fox News. They were not part of a major foreign speech or position paper. However, with such speeches and papers few and far between – and frankly full of platitudes and criticisms without alternatives - this is all there is to work off of. 

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