Paul Ryan’s foreign policy views and “American Exceptionalism”

Official portrait of Congressman .

Official portrait of Congressman . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of you who think Paul Ryan is a one issue candidate, this foreign policy speech he gave in June of last year should put that to rest. Reading the whole speech will give you a sense of his world view and possible approach to the world’s problems. 

Excerpt: Our fiscal crisis is above all a spending crisis that is being driven by the growth of our major entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In 1970, these programs consumed about 20 percent of the budget. Today that number has grown to over 40 percent.

Over the same period, 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. The fact is, defense consumes a smaller share of the national economy today than it did throughout the Cold War.

If we continue on our current path, the rapid rise of health care costs will crowd out all areas of the budget, including defense. 

This course is simply unsustainable. If we continue down our current path, then a debt-fueled economic crisis is not a probability. It is a mathematical certainty.

Some hear these facts and conclude that the sun is setting on America… that our problems are bigger than we are… that our competitors will soon outrun us… and that the choice we face is over how, not whether, to manage our nation’s decline. 

It’s inevitable, they seem to say, so let’s just get on with it. I’m reminded of that Woody Allen line: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Look – our fiscal problems are real, and the need to address them is urgent. 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.”

It is hard to overstate the importance of this choice. In The Weary Titan, Aaron Friedberg − one of the founders of the Hamilton Society − has shown us what happened when Britain made the wrong choice at the turn of the 20th century.

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.

The stakes are even higher today. Unlike Britain, which handed leadership to a power that shared its fundamental values, today’s most dynamic and growing powers do not embrace the basic principles that should be at the core of the international system.

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. Take a moment and imagine a world led by China or by Russia. 

Choosing decline would have consequences that I doubt many Americans would be comfortable with.  

So we must lead. And a central element of maintaining American leadership is the promotion of our moral principles – consistently and energetically – without being unrealistic about what is possible for us to achieve.

 

Read full Paul Ryan speech here.

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