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Paul Ryan’s Bad History and Worse Foreign Policy (III)

Bret Stephens declares Paul Ryan’s Hamilton Society speech to be “one of the most thoughtful speeches in years about America’s global role.” He makes a point of praising Ryan’s grasp of history:

Next there is history. Why can’t the U.S. simply cede the cumbersome role of world policeman to somebody else? Didn’t Britain do as much in the 1940s? It did. Yet, “unlike Britain, which handed leadership to a power that shared its fundamental values, today’s most dynamic and growing powers do not embrace basic principles that should be at the core of the international system.”

Stephens carefully avoids mentioning that the section of the speech just before this was filled with so much historical nonsense that it makes it almost impossible to take anything else Ryan says later on seriously. This was the section in which Ryan claimed that both world wars were the result of American inability to accept the “leadership of the Western world” from Britain in the early 20th century. Ryan said:

At that time, Britain’s governing class took the view that it would be better to cede leadership of the Western world to the United States. Unfortunately, the United States was not yet ready to assume the burden of leadership. The result was 40 years of Great Power rivalry and two World Wars.

There was no single leader of “the Western world” at that time, Britain wasn’t trying to cede its preeminence to the U.S. in the early 20th century, and the book Ryan cites in support of this mangling of history doesn’t back up his argument at all. He followed the above quote with this bit of alarmism: “The stakes are even higher today.” How could the stakes be “even higher” than both world wars? But pay no attention to any of that. Ryan’s speech was very thoughtful.

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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