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Paul Ryan Proposes a Return to George W. Bush's Foreign Policy | The Nation

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Ben Adler

Ben Adler

 The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.

Paul Ryan Proposes a Return to George W. Bush's Foreign Policy

On Wednesday I wrote about how Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), does not adhere to his supposed limited government principles when it comes to civil liberties and social issues. But there is another major policy area in which Ryan is a doctrinaire Republican rather than a libertarian: foreign policy and national security. Ryan is a full supporter of interventionist, imperialist foreign policies and the national security state’s encroachments on individual liberty.

Ryan subscribes to extreme, cruel-hearted economic theories, but he is no Ron Paul Republican. Neoconservatives are rejoicing over his selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Neocon weathervane William Kristol of The Weekly Standard wrote that Ryan’s selection reminded him of John F. Kennedy’s famous inspirational inaugural address. His colleagues at The Weekly Standard have lavished slobbering coverage on Ryan, calling him “the ideal running mate,” and fawning over his “electric campaign appearences [sic].” They’ve even praised his ability to catch a baseball and earnestly reported that the current president of his former college fraternity says they are “good guys, fun guys.”

Ryan is a hawk’s hawk. As Eli Lake reports on The Daily Beast, “The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s choice for vice president tilts the ticket closer to the neoconservatives on key questions about America’s role in the world and the size of the military. In recent months, Ryan has been receiving briefings from Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush’s former Middle East director at the National Security Council, and Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

It should come as no surprise that Ryan would turn to the war-mongers behind Bush’s foreign policy. As Daniel Larison demonstrates in The Week, Ryan’s views are basically identical to Bush’s: he supported the Iraq War and every extension of the occupation and he expresses no misgivings about its failures, or the thousands of lives lost due to lies about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

Even Ryan’s supposed great passion, reducing the size of government, takes a back seat to enlarging the military industrial complex. Like most of his co-partisans in Congress, Ryan has duplicitously and hypocritically decided that the very same defense cuts he agreed to as part of a deal to reduce the deficit while raising the debt ceiling are now unacceptable. And Ryan’s 2011 budget actually proposed to increase defense spending. Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, summarized Ryan’s more-guns-no-butter priorities in an interview with Lake: “Unlike a lot of fiscal conservatives, one of the great things about Paul Ryan is he is not omni-directionally a budget cutter,” said Pletka. “He understands the primary role of the federal government is the national defense and not the handing out of food stamps.” Pletka articulates exactly the myopia of Ryan’s ideology: that feeding hungry children is completely unrelated to, even at odds with, national defense. Apparently they’ve never bothered to ask whether the nation might need well-nourished teenagers when it goes to war.

Nor does Ryan care to promote US foreign policy objectives through investments that can complement, or obviate the need for, military intervention. While Bush coupled his military adventurism with more cost-effective forms of international engagement, such as foreign aid, Ryan does not. His budget would cut funding for foreign aid and the State Department by one-fifth over four years. As Larrison writes, “Ryan gives every indication that he favors exporting our political principles abroad and using strongly moralizing rhetoric to berate other governments that reject them. Yet Ryan seems remarkably uninterested in funding diplomacy and development aid, and seems to conceive of US power abroad mostly in terms of military strength.”

Ryan even comes up with a way of perversely squaring his military profligacy with his penny-pinching, making the case that defense may one day suffer if budget deficits are not reined in. “Our fiscal policy and our foreign policy are on a collision course,” said Ryan at the opening of a foreign policy address in 2011 at the Alexander Hamilton Society, “and if we fail to put our budget on a sustainable path, then we are choosing decline as a world power.” Ryan gets the causality backwards, since our deficits are largely the result of our enormous military spending.

Since that speech is one of the few clues to Ryan’s foreign policy worldview, reporters are poring over it. The results are not encouraging, even just in terms of assessing Ryan’s basic familiarity with facts. For example, Ryan complained that defense spending makes up a much smaller portion of the budget than it did when he was born in 1970. But as Slate’s John Dickerson points out, that was at the height of the cold war. The United States had 400,000 troops fighting in Vietnam and a massive military infrastructure in Europe to defend against Soviet invasion. The portion of the budget devoted to defense should be much smaller now. And in actual dollar terms, it has not shrunk nearly as much from the cold war era as one might hope.

Domestically, Ryan supports unlimited expansion of the national security state. As Glenn Greenwald notes in Salon, “Ryan has continuously voted in favor of measures to expand all sorts of intrusive federal power, including making the PATRIOT Act permanent, enacting the Military Commissions Act to provide indefinite detention with no habeas corpus rights, implementing the Protect America Act to massively expand the U.S. Government’s power to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.”

In his foreign policy address, Ryan talked up the virtues of promoting freedom abroad, but offered no actual plans to do so. And when it comes to freedom at home, Ryan’s rhetoric is worse than merely empty, it’s hypocritical.

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