Shadow Government

Ryan pick reminds us: 'Our fiscal policy is on a collision course with our foreign policy'

The dominant story line of the Ryan pick is probably the correct one: This focuses the national election on the Big Issue of the parties' differing philosophies on how to fix America's troubled economy. I have been struck by the zeal with which both sides have embraced the Ryan pick, each believing that it presents a golden opportunity to present the contrast between the two parties. Each team fervently believes the contrast favors their side, since each team fervently believes the American public will embrace their view, if only the view is presented clearly enough.

But does the Ryan pick have any implications for foreign policy, the bailiwick of Shadow Government? To answer that, I reviewed the most consequential Ryan speech on foreign policy, an address to the Hamilton Society (full disclosure: I am the faculty advisor to Duke's chapter of the Hamilton Society and enthusiastically support its mission to provide informed debate on foreign-policy issues to college campuses).

The speech is well-worth listening to. Early on, Ryan offers a pithy summation that "our fiscal policy is on a collision course with our foreign policy." He fully embraces the Republican critique that the crash is avoidable -- that, because our political leaders keep kicking the fiscal can down the road, "we are choosing decline." Such decline is not inevitable, nor is it desirable.

The Obama campaign is going to great lengths to paint Ryan's political views as extreme. When it comes to foreign policy, I don't think they will be able to do that. The worldview Ryan presents in the speech may bother some FP colleagues, but it is not an extreme or radical worldview. Or, to put the matter more sharply: It is definitely not an un-American view. Indeed, it is squarely within the bipartisan mainstream of American foreign-policy practitioners.

It is a worldview that recognizes the benefits -- to the United States and to the world -- that has come from American global leadership.

It is a worldview that tempers American exceptionalism with a recognition of the universalism of American ideals -- that is, Ryan recognizes that America is expected to bear burdens that other states do not, and also recognizes that the American idea has an appeal that other national founding ideas do not.

With a little digging, one could find echoing quotes from almost every president since Lincoln.

It is not triumphalistic; Ryan acknowledges limits to American power (as every president has done). It recognizes the need for prudence: In a brief section on Saudi Arabia, Ryan carefully navigates the tricky shoals of how to work with a longtime partner that does not share our values.

Perhaps its greatest appeal is the way he twins pessimism and optimism. Ryan paints a very pessimistic (albeit realistic) picture of the trajectory the country is on. And Ryan paints a very optimistic (and hopefully realistic) picture of the trajectory the country could be on, if we got our fiscal house in order.

It is this optimism that may provide the greatest appeal, and the most important philosophical contribution. My friend and former colleague Ryan Streeter is one of the most articulate thinkers on the ingredients of upward mobility and improving opportunity for lower- and working-class Americans, and he has long identified Paul Ryan as the political leader who most embodies the aspirational nature of American society. Streeter quotes Paul Ryan in a recent interview laying out this vision -- including a robust social safety net that serves more as a spring upward rather than a dependency trap:

We want an upward mobility society. We don't want a safety net that turns into a hammock that lulls people into dependency in this country. We want people to get up on their feet and grab that higher rung of the economic ladder. We believe in upward mobility. We don't believe in class division. We believe in growth and prosperity, helping people when they are down on their luck get back on their feet, and pro-growth economic policies that put America in the lead, that make us competitive, that stop tearing people down in this zero-sum thinking.

That last sentence contains the most consequential implication of Romney's selection of Ryan for American foreign policy. The possibilities of upward mobility, innovation, and entrepreneurship are also the attributes that have long distinguished America's global competitiveness and leadership. Romney and Ryan both realize that the single most important quotient of American power is the prosperity and moral purpose of the American economy, to generate prosperity and to inspire those across the globe who aspire to better lives for themselves.

Of course, in a short (20 minute) speech, Ryan cannot and does not answer all questions. He will get those questions in the coming weeks. If his Hamilton speech is any guide, his answers will likely resonate well with American voters.

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Shadow Government

Confront, conceal, concede, and be contrite

A friend with a better memory than mine had an interesting reaction to my post about Secretary Clinton's opposition to an artificial timeline to end the Afghan surge. He said it reminded him of an earlier episode in 2007 involving timelines, the Iraq surge, and then-Senator Clinton.

Back then, Congressional Democrats were vigorously opposed to the Iraq surge, and were mounting a coordinated effort designed to block it, thwart it, or at the very least bring it to an early end. Politico called it a "slow bleed" strategy, because it involved trying to hobble the surge with all sorts of restrictions that might have a superficial appeal but that had knowable secondary effects that would undermine the surge.

One of those restrictions was getting the Bush administration to announce a timeline for ending the surge, which Congress could then use as a device to lock in an Iraqi withdrawal. The Bush administration did not want to establish such a public timeline in 2007, while the surge was still unfolding, and instead promised to unwind the surge at a pace based on conditions on the ground.

This promise was not good enough for Congressional Democrats, and one of them, Senator Hillary Clinton sent a letter to the Department of Defense demanding that it release internal analyses and plans that considered various alternative timelines. Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman wrote back:

"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia... Such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks."

 

Senator Clinton angrily claimed that this response was "impugning the patriotism of any of us who raise serious questions" about the way the administration was running the Iraq war. Clinton's letter was remarkably ad hominem in its attacks on Edelman, alleging he had his "priorities backward" and calling his claim that withdrawal talk would embolden the enemy "outrageous and dangerous."

In the light of this 2007 episode, now-Secretary Clinton's views on the Afghan surge timeline are all the more remarkable and newsworthy. Here, according to David Sanger, are her views today:

"Clinton thought [the deadline to start pulling the surge troops back out] was a mistake and still does; an internal deadline would have been fine, she believed, but a public one simply telegraphed to the Taliban and the Pakistanis when the United States would be leaving. The Taliban read the newspapers too, she pointed out.

In the end her concern -- also voiced by Gates -- seems prescient. The effort to explore the possibility of 'reconciliation' talks with the Taliban sputtered along in low gear for years. It is impossible to know for certain how the pullout plan affected the Taliban's calculations, but interviews with Taliban taken prisoner by NATO suggested that the insurgents knew time was on their side, and they were simply waiting for the Americans to begin a significant withdrawal.

In other words, according to Sanger, Secretary Clinton opposed announcing the Afghan surge withdrawal timeline for the very same reasons that she denounced as "outrageous and dangerous" earlier as a Senator.

Secretary Clinton has been a comparative bright spot in the Obama administration, and so I bring up past performance with some reluctance lest it impugn future success. Comparing these two surge timeline debates probably says more about the quality of politics five years ago than it does about the quality of her contribution to Obama policymaking today.

And I cannot disprove the hypothesis that Clinton's simply views evolved in the interval. Perhaps she sincerely believed in the wisdom of public timelines in 2007 and changed her mind in ensuing years; perhaps she sincerely believed that raising concerns about those timelines was tantamount to questioning one's patriotism in 2007 and has a different view today. (I reject absolutely the notion that in raising doubts about the Afghan surge timeline she was seeking to impugn the patriotism of those in the Obama administration, most notably the president himself, who wanted it.)

Yet I think it is more likely that Senator Clinton was pursuing a partisan agenda in 2007, whereas Secretary Clinton today is motivated more by weightier concerns about the overall success of the Afghan mission.

If so, then wouldn't it be laudable if Secretary Clinton offered an apology to Edelman?

Even if no such gracious gesture is forthcoming, Republicans can benefit if they take to heart the central lesson of this little morality tale: positions that look appealing when one is sitting on the political opposition benches can look appalling when one is sitting in the Oval Office.

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