Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) is best known as the House GOP’s go-to guy on fiscal policy. In recent months, the 39-year-old budget hawk has been a leading voice in the debates over Obamacare and unemployment, which has led to an increased national profile via op-eds, cable-show appearances (he’s seemingly ubiquitous on CNBC), and speeches at tea-party rallies.
On Thursday, Ryan took a break from tangling with Democrats over domestic issues to outline his thoughts on U.S. foreign policy in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. It was Ryan’s first-ever appearance at the CFR, an influential think tank that publishes the bimonthly journal Foreign Affairs. “The speech enabled me to come out a bit from my cocoon of AEI, Heritage, and the CATO Institute,” laughs Ryan.
Ryan tells NRO that the speech shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since he has always been interested in foreign policy, both personally and professionally. “I’m not just a one-man band on economics,” he says. “Foreign policy is not my typical bailiwick, but I’ve been focusing on the Middle East trade portfolio on the House Ways and Means Committee for many years.”
His foreign-policy concerns are numerous. “The president is separating the interests of our country from human rights,” says Ryan. “He believes in diplomacy at all costs, and his decisions have smacked of moral relativism. In contrast, I believe that our country’s strategy should be grounded in what I call ‘first principles’ — the core natural rights and classical principles that have guided out country for centuries. These principles need to be reapplied.”
Ryan adds that Obama is “Nixonian” in the way he looks at the world: tossing concerns about human rights aside in order to take a supposedly cooler look at America’s strategic interests. “From not challenging China on human rights to refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama, Obama has disappointed in this respect,” says Ryan. “He follows Nixon’s mantra: Don’t let human rights get in the way of diplomacy.”
“President Obama’s foreign policy has been a direct repudiation of our first principles,” says Ryan. “When he deals with countries like Iran, it seems that diplomacy is the end and not the means. The movement against the regime there is seen by Obama as nothing more than a group of meddling protestors who are getting in the way of cutting a deal with the mullahs. The brave Iranians who are fighting for freedom and democracy have just been disregarded by this administration.”
On missile defense, Obama “pulled the rug up from under our allies in Eastern Europe,” says Ryan. “We abandoned our friends in the Czech Republic and Poland in favor of an appeasement policy with Russia. Now we’re left with a missile-defense policy that is more expensive and less effective.”
Obama doesn’t think America is an exceptional nation, says Ryan. “It’s a shame that he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism,” he says. Echoing a famous quote from Pres. George H.W. Bush, Ryan says Obama sees America as “just another country on the U.N. roll call somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe.”
So, with clear economic bona fides, and new interests in foreign policy, is Ryan preparing to be a dark-horse candidate for president in 2012? “I’ve got little kids, so there’s no chance,” says Ryan. “That’s a Sherman-esque statement.”
Still, Ryan says that he wants to “help frame the debate” in both 2010 and 2012. The latter, he predicts, is going to be a “realignment election,” and “he wants to do his part in helping to roll back the Obama agenda.”
You can listen to Ryan’s CFR speech here.