Ryan on foreign policy: America ‘must lead’

While House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who was tapped Saturday by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to be his running mate, is most widely known for his stands on economic issues, he has also staked out a foreign policy vision during his congressional career, one centered around the importance of American engagement in the world.

“Ryan has gotten briefed on and thought about foreign policy for years,” Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser for President George W. Bush, told The Daily Caller.

“The briefings I have done, about the Middle East, found him knowledgeable and of course very smart — and a Republican. His criticisms of Obama foreign policy are very much in the Republican mainstream, as are his foreign policy instincts. He believes in America and America’s role in the world. His specialty may be the economy but I think voters will quickly find out that he brings the same attention and thoughtfulness to foreign affairs.”

Ryan most prominently laid out his foreign policy vision in a June 2011 speech to the Alexander Hamilton Society in Washington. In the speech, Ryan tied the need to fix America’s long-term budgetary woes to its ability to lead the world internationally.

“If there’s one thing I could say with complete confidence about American foreign policy, it is this: Our fiscal policy and our foreign policy are on a collision course,” he said. “And if we fail to put our budget on a sustainable path, then we are choosing decline as a world power.”

While some deficit hawks seek to take an ax to the defense budget, Ryan suggested in the speech that defense cuts were far from the primary cause of America’s budgetary problems.

“Defense spending has shrunk as a share of the federal budget from about 39 percent to just under 16 percent — even as we conduct an ambitious global war on terrorism,” he said. “The fact is, defense consumes a smaller share of the national economy today than it did throughout the Cold War.” (RELATED: Media Matters super PAC releases opposition research report on Paul Ryan)

The speech’s fundamental theme was that American decline — domestic and international — is not preordained.

“Look — our fiscal problems are real, and the need to address them is urgent,” he declared. “But I’m here to tell you that decline is not a certainty for America. Rather, as Charles Krauthammer put it, ‘decline is a choice.'”

In the speech, Ryan recognized that American engagement in the world as crucial because a “world without U.S. leadership will be a more chaotic place, a place where we have less influence, and a place where our citizens face more dangers and fewer opportunities.”

America, he said, “must lead.”

“And a central element of maintaining American leadership,” he added, “is the promotion of our moral principles — consistently and energetically — without being unrealistic about what is possible for us to achieve.”

Ryan was comfortable suggesting that American conceptions of human rights and freedom were “universal.” Such a worldview, he said, “leads you to reject moral relativism” and “causes you to recoil at the idea of persistent moral indifference toward any nation that stifles and denies liberty, no matter how friendly and accommodating its rulers are to American interests.”

But, according to Ryan, circumstances should help shape American action and help American leaders resolve problems “when our principles are in conflict with our interests.”

“We have to be consistent and clear in the promotion of our principles, while recognizing that different situations will require different tools for achieving that end,” he said.

He added: “[I]n promoting our principles, American policy should be tempered by a healthy humility about the extent of our power to control events in other regions.”

Ryan said this should lead American leaders to, for instance, treat an ally like Saudi Arabia differently than adversaries like Iran and Syria in terms of pushing a liberalizing agenda.