The three main speeches tonight by McCain, Rice, and Ryan addressed foreign policy issues to different degrees. The substance of their foreign policy remarks was about as bad as could be expected. Through their presence on the convention stage and their speeches, McCain and Rice linked Romney and Ryan to Bush-like policies.
McCain relied on grossly exaggerating contemporary threats:
We are now being tested by an array of threats that are more complex, more numerous, and just as deeply and deadly as I can recall in my lifetime.
This is some of the basest and most misleading fear-mongering imaginable. Security threats to the U.S. are fewer and less dangerous than they have been in more than half a century. We all know that McCain is a hawkish interventionist who has rarely ever seen a conflict he didn’t think the U.S. should enter in one way or another, and by raising him up as one of the main speakers on the night dedicated to national security the Romney campaign indicated that it generally approves of McCain’s militarism. That is what we should have expected all along from Romney, and perhaps now we can start to set aside the feigned confusion about what Romney’s foreign policy will look like.
Among other things, McCain was agitating for U.S. involvement in Syria, and Rice took a more indirect route to hint that she favored a generally more activist U.S. abroad. She asked, “Where does America stand?” and she made it clear that she wants much more activism. As she said, “We cannot be reluctant to lead – and one cannot lead from behind.” Here as elsewhere, “leading” is synonymous with entangling the U.S. in other nations’ affairs. After spending most of the convention avoiding much discussion of foreign policy, the Romney campaign opted to promote the two people most closely identified with everything that was wrong with Bush’s foreign policy.
Not surprisingly, the one with the least experience, Ryan, had the least to say, and he kept his remarks as vague and brief as possible. He nonetheless managed to make an extraordinary statement that he should be required to explain. Ryan said that Romney would be “on the side” of every people that rises up against its government. Ryan’s exact words were these:
Wherever men and women rise up for their own freedom, they will know that the American president is on their side.
It seems unlikely that Ryan really means this, because it would commit the U.S. to siding with popular uprisings all over the world. If Ryan is serious, this is not a workable or affordable policy. If being “on the side” of these uprisings just means that Romney will give them some rhetorical encouragement, we can dismiss this as bluster. Taken together with the remarks McCain and Rice delivered, I am not so sure that this is just an idle boast.