Paul Ryan Foreign Policy is a Murky Mess

Amid the discussion about Paul Ryan’s foreign policy experience or lack thereof, very few people have discussed what Ryan’s foreign policy positions actually are. This is not surprising since the Wisconsin congressman rarely speaks about foreign policy, focusing instead on domestic issues. Information about his international policy stances has to be gleaned from a June 2011 speech, a few newspaper interviews, and the comments of the Romney team’s foreign policy advisers. Ryan emphasizes national security and the importance of international trade.

Experts who recently met with Ryan say that his view of U.S. foreign policy is “Reganesque”; he believes that the strong U.S. military is necessary to deter threats. While many conservatives criticized Ryan for voted for a bill cutting the Pentagon’s funding if the budget is not balanced, Ryan has emphasized that greater efficiency in other parts of the budget will allow the U.S. to support a large military. Ryan also rejects the idea of “American isolationism,” saying that "a world without U.S. leadership will be a more chaotic place." However, Ryan also noted the limits of American power.  Speaking about the relationship between U.S. and Saudi Arabia, he said: "American policy should be tempered by a healthy humility about the extent of our power to control events in other regions," adding that the U.S. should do what it could to help fulfill the “aspirations of the people,” even if it goes against U.S. interests.

Given his background, it’s not surprising that Ryan views foreign policy largely in terms of free trade. He takes a less aggressive stance toward China than many conservatives, believing that the global economy benefits from engagement with China, although he criticized both the country’s human rights violations and its monetary policies. He also believes the U.S. should engage with emerging economies such as India and Brazil. He also suggested that America should become or economically involved with its allies in the Middle East, and work toward that a rule of law and governance if to allow for better trade. On the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ryan said that the U.S. shouldn’t “cut and run” from the war on terror, and in 2007 he voted for the Iraq troop surge. However, he also pointed out that the government could save $1 trillion over the next 10 years by winding down these wars.

The American Prospect notes that Ryan’s foreign policy is closer to the” liberal internationalist vision” espoused by the Obama administration than the views of many other conservatives. On the other hand, a column for the Daily Beast contended that emphasis on a strong U.S. military puts him firmly in the hawkish camp. Perhaps Paul Ryan is Romney’s attempt to attract independents to his ticket through more interventionist foreign policy, while also appealing to fiscal conservatives.