The Cable

2016 Hopeful Paul Ryan Carefully Wades into Foreign Policy Arena

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tread a middle line in laying out his foreign policy vision Wednesday morning – signaling his seriousness about a presidential bid and his unwillingness to side with either wing of a Republican Party that is more divided than ever when it comes to America’s future role in the world. Speaking at ...

Win McNamee // Getty Images News
Win McNamee // Getty Images News

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tread a middle line in laying out his foreign policy vision Wednesday morning – signaling his seriousness about a presidential bid and his unwillingness to side with either wing of a Republican Party that is more divided than ever when it comes to America’s future role in the world.

Speaking at the Center for a New American Security’s annual conference, according to Ryan’s prepared remarks, he blasted President Obama on everything from Afghanistan to Russia to China but provided few specifics about what exactly he would do differently if he was commander-in-chief. The speech seemed to instead be a way for Ryan, best known nationally for his role as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in the 2012 elections, to signal that he is more than just a budget wonk with deep expertise in domestic issues rather than foreign policy ones.

Ryan’s attempt to walk a narrow path between the Republican Party’s interventionist and isolationist wings during his CNAS speech is a smart political play during a topsy-turvy election season that has highlighted the deep fissures within the party. Last month, the establishment wing of the party toppled a series of Tea Party-backed candidates, seeming to signal its return to preeminence. On Tuesday night, by contrast, the Tea Party won one of the biggest triumphs in its history when one of its candidates toppled House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Ryan, a skilled politician, is clearly trying to maintain his standing with both sides of the party. In the CNAS speech, he described himself as a "heavily-armed dove" — a name that both interventionists and isolationists could theoretically adopt.

In his "strategy for renewal" address, Ryan immediately sought to bolster his national security credentials by saying that his policy interests span far beyond what, as House Budget Committee chairman, he has been known for.

"You might think that working on the budget would narrow your perspective … But that hasn’t been my experience," Ryan said. "Wrestling with the tough decisions, seeing the hard choices, running on a national ticket and contemplating all that comes with it-it’s made me all too aware of what it takes to keep us safe and how our current policies are falling short."

The closest he came to aligning with either wing of his party was when he said that human rights should factor into foreign policy and quoted his mentor and one-time boss, Jack Kemp, a former congressman and a Housing and Urban Development secretary under President George H.W. Bush who was the more moderate half of the 1996 presidential ticket when he ran with then-Sen. Bob Dole.

"You know, Jack Kemp used to say he wasn’t a hawk-he was a heavily armed dove. That’s what I’d like to think I am-and what we all are.

"American leadership doesn’t demand a more militarized foreign policy, but a more creative one."

Ryan faulted Obama for his handling of a range of foreign policy issues, but in fairly vague terms. As for the path forward, Ryan said the U.S. must strengthen its alliances, military, and economy. Below are his comments on the key national security and foreign policy issues facing the United States.

On the war on terror: "We should be ready to use every weapon in our arsenal to root them out: drone strikes, direct strikes, economic sanctions."

On Afghanistan: "The president has said he will pull every single one of our troops out by 2016-end of story. In other words, we’ve told our enemies: ‘Wait us out’ … We should bring our troops home as soon as possible-but not before we finish the job."

On Russia: "We need to make clear that the NATO pledge to common defense isn’t some paper promise. It’s an iron-clad commitment … we also need to start talks with our allies, so we can strengthen NATO’s permanent military presence on its eastern frontier."

On Asian security: "If we refuel the U.S.S. George Washington, we can keep eleven aircraft carriers in the fleet. And that way, we will have about three carriers-including the carrier stationed near Japan-forward-deployed at all times."

On China: With "its new power, China isn’t trying to bend the rules-it’s trying to rewrite them altogether. It’s stealing our intellectual property. It’s attacking our companies. It’s promoting crony capitalism … China isn’t trying to uphold market principles but to upend them … it doesn’t pay to break the rules. Many of China’s neighbors, like Vietnam and Malaysia, can’t stand up to China on their own. But if we pull them together, we can hold China accountable. And the hope, ultimately, is to pull China in too."

On defense spending: "The times call for a new set of capabilities-like directed-energy weapons and advanced missile defense. These tools will help us maintain the qualitative advantage that has set us apart … we also will have to spend more on defense. But if we just borrow more or raise taxes, we will strengthen one asset by damaging another" the economy.

On the debt: "To us, the debt is a liability. To our rivals, it’s leverage … It’s hard to trust a country that’s maxed out its credit cards and taken out a third mortgage … The greatest threat to American leadership is our national debt."

On energy production: "If we took full advantage of our shale energy, we’d not only boost our economy-we’d help protect our allies from energy blackmail. We know what to do: Step up our natural-gas exports. Increase production on federal lands. And resist the temptation to overregulate."

On 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."

 Twitter: @duranni1

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