Home/Daniel Larison/Romney-Ryan and the “Reset”

Romney-Ryan and the “Reset”

Last week, James Poulos commented on the Republican ticket and foreign policy:

Whatever Romney’s inclinations may be — and here’s a hint — Ryan has delivered at least one set of remarks largely devoted to foreign policy. But despite its billing in The Wall Street Journal, it’s not a “neocon manifesto.” It’s subtler and more carefully considered than that [bold mine-DL].

That’s easy enough to say, but James doesn’t try to prove this. If Ryan’s Hamilton Society speech isn’t exactly a “neocon manifesto”*, it reads like a speech that was supposed to be received that way. It has all the tell-tale signs of shoddy neoconservative argument: there is the required citation from a neoconservative writer (in this case Krauthammer), the indispensable nation conceit, the baseless fear-mongering that relies on awful historical interpretations, the de rigueur nod to the importance of both Israel and “our new partners in Iraq,” the rejection of any military spending cuts, the ideological assertion that “America is an idea,” and the insistence that democracy promotion should remain a top priority of U.S. foreign policy. Somewhere in there the supposed subtlety of Ryan’s argument gets lost.

James makes some suggestions for how Romney-Ryan could “set down some big conceptual markers that make plain what kind of approach they’ll take to international relations.” The first of these is very sensible:

Actually, Russia Isn’t Our #1 Geopolitical Foe. This Romneyism is the first thing that has to go, and the only major reversal the ticket will have to make.

Romney and Ryan would be well-advised as a matter of policy to drop their Russophobia, which isn’t in the interests of the U.S. and frequently has no grounding in reality, but they didn’t start their Russia-bashing on a whim. Even if Romney’s foreign policy were nothing more substantial than rejecting whatever Obama supports, he could not credibly change his position on Russia at this point. He could stop talking about his Russia views, but no one would take seriously the idea that Romney has suddenly discovered the value of U.S.-Russian cooperation after spending years mocking the “reset” as appeasement. The about-face would be no easier for Ryan, who has also gone on the record to describe the “reset” as appeasement. Had Romney and his party not chosen to make Russia policy into a political football for the last three years, he might be able to do what James recommends, but they burned that bridge a long time ago.

* I suppose a proper manifesto would include a programmatic list of specific demands or specific goals to be achieved. Ryan’s speech doesn’t do that. It is very much a hawkish speech in defense of the status quo: no reduction in military spending, no change in America’s global role, and absolutely no adaptation to changing geopolitical realities. Most of it could have been delivered five or ten years ago without needing to make any changes.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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