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Ryan Rejects ‘Neocon’ Label, But Keeps Hardline Foreign Policy

John Hudson reports [1] on Paul Ryan’s recent foreign policy remarks:

When asked to elaborate on his own foreign policy doctrine, Ryan pointed to a speech he gave to the Alexander Hamilton Society in 2011 warning about the dangers of a “world without U.S. leadership.” The address was originally plucked from obscurity when the Wall Street Journal’s hawkish columnist Bret Stephens heralded it as a masterful “neocon manifesto.” But on Thursday, Ryan made clear the neoconservative banner is not something he’d like to fly behind.

“Now neocon is singularly seen as AEI or whatever,” he said, referring to the American Enterprise Institute. “We have to be realistic about how far those values can be pushed and asserted on a case by case basis and we have to be realistic about our expectations of the promotion of those values.”

It’s interesting that Ryan doesn’t want to be considered a neoconservative, but considering how awful [2] his foreign policy [3] views [4] have been [5] in the past [6] I’m not sure how much it matters. Ryan is still preoccupied with the importance of U.S. “leadership” in the world, he echoes [7] hawkish boilerplate lamenting that Obama has “chosen” American decline, and he has predictably denounced diplomatic engagement as “appeasement.” Ryan may not be a neoconservative, but he’s still a reliable hard-liner on most foreign policy issues.

I wrote a column [7] on Ryan’s foreign policy views when he was named to the Republican ticket four years ago, and I think the conclusion still holds up:

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 U.S. power abroad mostly in terms of military strength. On foreign policy, Paul Ryan truly is a product of the era of George W. Bush.

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12 Comments To "Ryan Rejects ‘Neocon’ Label, But Keeps Hardline Foreign Policy"

#1 Comment By JM On April 14, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

This is something I’ve seen from a lot of people in the GOP over the last six years. They are interventionists but they don’t want to be directly associated with Cheneyism and will occasionally give some softer foreign policy nuggets. Like for example they say ISIS needs to be destroyed and Assad needs to go but waffle on committing ground troops.

I think it’s mostly a PR thing. They are essentially like neoliberal interventionists like Dan Drezner, Anne Applebomb and that ilk: they are nearly identical to the neocons when it comes to policy, but the neocons are gauche and make them look bad.

#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On April 14, 2016 @ 8:06 pm

Ryan is another “chairborne” Ranger. A man who never wore the uniform, yet is so anxious to send our troops in harms way. The GOP is filled with chickenhawks. God save us from such people.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 14, 2016 @ 8:37 pm

My problem with the Speaker-gov Romney ticket then was that they could or would shift their views on foreign policy interventions that were unnecessary and wholly unhelpful to the US.

I do get the neoconservative agenda. But as I have whined repeatedly, the US has neither the moral authority, the will not the resources to meet the demand.

It doesn’t matter whether one contends it as some moral crusade or one of pragmatism —

the evidence is clear – it has not been successful for a myriad of reasons.

#4 Comment By Without The Fez On On April 14, 2016 @ 9:45 pm

The neocon brand may have been lustrous many moons ago, but given its now indelible association with the disastrous interventions, the equally disastrous bailouts, and the devastation of the middle class, it’s getting harder to find anyone who’ll own to it.

Aside from the tediously ramifying consequences of its errors and botches, neoconservatism is over. What remains are the former neoconservatives themselves, now, like Ryan, as deeply burrowed into our Establishment as ever were the Cambridge spies in Britain, and of course the open palms of GOP congressmen, ever hopeful that fanatic zeal for Israel, immigration and free trade will earn them approving notice and big handouts from AIPAC or Wall Street. Those who still have ambition and mileage left in them, like Ryan, have belatedly registered the fact that what started in the 2010 midterms was for real. It’s a different ballgame now. And “neocon” gets you benched.

#5 Comment By Patrick On April 14, 2016 @ 11:08 pm

“We have to be realistic about how far those values can be pushed and asserted on a case by case basis and we have to be realistic about our expectations of the promotion of those values.”

It sounds like Paul Ryan is more of an opportunist than a neocon. Which isn’t very principled – a “case by case basis” is literally lacking in any principle – but at least that makes him wrong most of the time instead of all of the time. So there’s that.

#6 Comment By fast_Jimmy On April 15, 2016 @ 12:16 am

A ‘case by case’ basis for determining action is exactly what we need in our foreign policy.

– What are our goals in a given case?

– Can we effectively accomplish our goals given the risks involved?

– What will be the consequences of backing or participating in the military actions of another state?

– Are we obliged by treaty or commitment to act in a certain manner?

These simple questions would save us a lot of trouble. Our penchant for distortion, threat inflation, lack of accountability and hypocrisy tempt us to engage in some truly idiotic behavior but much of it could be blunted by examining conditions and carefully crafting an appropriate response.

#7 Comment By AZ Joe On April 15, 2016 @ 6:16 am

If non-intervention and defensive war are the guiding principles we avoid the situational ethics of “case by case” evaluations. In 2002 our foreign policy and defense experts did just such an evaluation with respect to Iraq and came up with “cake-walk.”

#8 Comment By Dread On April 15, 2016 @ 11:49 am

It’s all about branding. Neocon has a negative brand, so we go with American Exceptionalism or Humanitarian Interventionist which make people think of patriotism and standing up to bullies.

Same thing, but it’s easier to sell to the masses who are skeptical about war and wondering why if we have no money to do anything useful in America, we always seem to have money to bombing the hell out of foreign people.

#9 Comment By CaseyL On April 15, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

You get out of the system what you put into the system. GIGO is a fact of life.

If your ideology holds that there is no such thing as “public interest” or “public good,” that tax is theft and public works are boondoggles, then the only reason to get into politics is to steer those boondoggles to your patrons.

If your ideology holds that there is no such thing as “public interest” or “public good,” then what you put into the system is a stream of unimaginative ideologues who care only that their own personal gravy train keeps running – who keep their comfortable government jobs by dancing to the needs of the interests who paid their way into office. And, surprise! – you’re not going to get public servants who serve the public interest,

What you will get are the “pro-war” hacks, not because they believe in an American Empire on a philosophical basis, but because military spending is where the money is. It dovetails nicely with the GOP attitude that military spending is sacrosanct, never to be cut and never to be considered part of the debt or deficit.

#10 Comment By a rose by any other name On April 15, 2016 @ 12:32 pm

– Talks “reform conservatism” – check
– Hangs / logrolls with William Safire – check ( [8])
– Talks the Israel talk – check
– Screw a balanced budget (once in power) – check
– Voted for bailouts (all of them) – check
– Voted for Iraq War with all the trimmings – check
– “Immigration reform” supporter – check
– Supports mass surveillance of Americans – chec

That’s about as pure Establishment neocon as one can hope to find in elected office … Ryan is running away from the label for the obvious reason that American voters don’t like “neocons”.

#11 Comment By American Beauty On April 15, 2016 @ 2:19 pm

@rose by etc “Hangs / logrolls with William Safire “

“Kristol”, not “Safire” – that’s the author of the linked piece at any rate

#12 Comment By fast_Jimmy On April 16, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

AZ Joe says:
April 15, 2016 at 6:16 am
If non-intervention and defensive war are the guiding principles we avoid the situational ethics of “case by case” evaluations. In 2002 our foreign policy and defense experts did just such an evaluation with respect to Iraq and came up with “cake-walk.”

Regardless of the principles involved, every foreign policy situation will have to be evaluated. Even though democracy promotion, preventative war and falling dominoes of liberation and enlightenment were the guiding principles of the Iraq war, a competent analysis by rational, accountable leaders should have produced the clearly superior plan:

Do not invade and overthrow!

In this regard, I find Ryan’s ‘case by case’ basis to be at least a nod to rationality. He could just as easily have uttered messianic nonsense in the style of Rubio.