June 4, 2011

I Like Paul Ryan, But... vol. 1

Hatched by Dafydd

In company with Beldar, I am a big fan of the Roadmap for America's Future, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI, 96%), Chairman of the House Budget Committee; I believe it to be the best and most feasible plan for true economic recovery in the United States... in fact, the only feasible plan; and at that only feasible in the 113th (next) Congress. But unlike Beldar, I am still rather skeptical of electing (or for heaven's sake, "drafting") Ryan to become President of the United States. I just don't know enough about the man, the Commander, or the leader.

I am a bit shaken, for example, by this speech of Ryan's, delivered last Thursday to the Alexander Hamilton Society, outlining his views (Ryan's, not Hamilton's) on foreign and military policy. In particular, I am troubled by the lack of specificity, of any real plan to defeat the axis of radical Islamism, of any real understanding of what such a long war entails, and especially by the "on the one hand, on the other hand" dithering that reminds me rather disturbingly of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA, 85%).

Heck, Ryan doesn't even seem to have much of an opinion on non-economic domestic policy either, at least as far as one can tell from his official website. His interests seem somewhat limited, although if he runs, I'm sure he'll flesh them out some; his only committee assignments are the Budget, Ways and Means, and the Ways and Means subcommittee on Health -- which I presume primarily deals with health care from an economic perspective. Ryan is a green-eyeshade accountant, good on economic issues; but the presidency encompasses so much more than that!

He gives us no discussion of strategy in the long war, neither grand nor regional strategy. His only reference to our greatest cultural and wartime enemy, Iran, and its national (Syria) and extra-national extensions (Hezbollah), is almost farcical in its perfunctoriness:

In Syria and Iran, we are witnessing regimes that have chosen the opposite path. Instead of accommodating the desires of their peoples for liberty and justice, these regimes have engaged in brutal crackdowns, imprisoning opposition leaders, and killing their own citizens to quell dissent....

We have a responsibility to speak boldly for those whose voices are denied by the jackbooted thugs of the tired tyrants of Syria and Iran. [Emphasis added.]

This is straight out of Lewis Carroll:

Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.

Our Iran strategy is to verbally chastise them? And what else? What are we going to do to counter Iran's determined war against us, against our allies in the Middle East and Europe, and its existential threat to Israel?

Anent Israel, he has little of substance to say:

What we can do is affirm our commitment to democracy in the region by standing in solidarity with our longstanding allies in Israel and our new partners in Iraq.

Meaning what? Does he support or oppose a Palestinian state? With what boundaries? Contiguous, even if that means Israel must be cut in half? I wish he would just spill the beans about what he really would do, were he living in la Casa Blanca.

How about the other prong of the axis: the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and other extra-national threats to the United States and the West? He never really addresses this scourge squarely; in fact, he only mentions al-Qaeda once:

Our ability to affect events is strongest in Iraq and Afghanistan, where for the last decade we have been fighting the scourge of global terrorism. In these countries, we can and we must remain committed to the promotion of stable governments that respect the rights of their citizens and deny terrorists access to their territory.

Although the war has been long and the human costs high, failure would be a blow to American prestige and would reinvigorate al Qaeda, which is reeling from the death of its leader. Now is the time to lock in the success that is within reach.

Would anything here sound strange or bizarre coming from George W. Bush -- or Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ, 73%), John Kerry, or even Barack H. Obama? This is simply hand-waving: He recognizes that since we have troops in those two countries, we have more of a say there; that we like stable governments that respect rights; and that it would be bad if we screwed up now. It tells us exactly nothing about Ryan's strategy for the Middle East and Central Asia.

What's his plan for eliminating, or at least crippling, the wave of violent, anti-American, anti-Jew, anti-democratic, thoroughly radicalized Islamism? Has he one? Has he even thought about it?

Ryan does recognize that there's a series of revolutions going on in Arabia (or perhaps one many-headed, revolutionary hydra). Here is his prescription, such as it is:

In the Arab Spring we are seeing long-repressed populations give voice to the fundamental desire for liberty [on the one hand...]. But we are also seeing the risks that emerge when the advancement of freedom is stunted for want of the right institutions [on the other hand]. In such societies, the most organized factions often lack tolerance and reject pluralism. Decades without a free press have led many to treat conspiracy theories as fact.

It is too soon to tell whether these revolutions will result in governments that respect the rights of their citizens [on the one hand...], or if one form of autocracy will be supplanted by another [on the other hand]. While we work to assure the former [on the one hand...], American policy should be realistic about our ability to avert the latter [on the other hand].

I hate that formulation, which Kerry made famous in 2004; I suppose it's intended to sound above the fray, taking the long view, seeing all sides. But what the heck does it mean as a practical matter?

  • What criteria should we employ to separate new "governments that respect the rights of their citizens" from those where "one form of autocracy will be supplanted by another?"
  • Should we help the revolutionaries that appear to fall in the first category?
  • If so, how? With American forces, with arms, with "advisors," with humanitarian aid, or just with brave words of exhortation?
  • Should we interfere with revolutions that appear more like the latter category, say those that appear headed towards creating a sharia state ruled by Hamas or the Ikwan, the Muslim Brotherhood?
  • If so, how? Merely with strong words of denunciation, with monetary aid to the existing government, with intelligence sharing and advice, or with actual U.S. troops helping put down the latest incarnation of the Moro Rebellion?

It's nice that he hopes the rebellions are led by democratic republican nation-builders; but as the saying goes, hope is not a strategy. What actual policies would Ryan push?

Ryan tells us he opposes promiscuous budget-cutting in the Department of Defense (though I'm sure we already knew that):

A more prosperous economy enables us to afford a modernized military that is properly sized for the breadth of the challenges we face. Such a military must also be an efficient and responsible steward of taxpayer dollars in order to maintain the confidence of the American people. The House-passed budget recognizes this, which is why it includes the $78 billion in defense efficiency savings identified by Secretary Gates.

By contrast, President Obama has announced $400 billion in new defense cuts, saying in effect he’ll figure out what those cuts mean for America’s security later. Indiscriminate cuts that are budget-driven and not strategy-driven are dangerous to America and America’s interests in the world. Secretary Gates put it well: “that’s math, not strategy.”

But what is Ryan's vision of the ideal military for the United States in 2013 and beyond?

  • What mix of traditional combat units and units organized more for counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare does he forsee?
  • What mix of expensive high-tech and cheaper low-tech?
  • How much should we rely on air power versus boots in the mud?
  • How much should we invest in battlefield intelligence -- including exotic (and expensive!) new intel platforms?
  • What is his position on gays being allowed to serve openly in the military and women being allowed to serve in overt combat roles?

On virtually every issue other than the budget and intimately related programs, Paul Ryan's policies seem vague, if not MIA, a fluffy cloud of good wishes and skyhooks. I'm not saying he doesn't have specific visions or ideas about them, nor even that they would be antithetical to my own positions; I simply can't say, because he won't enunciate his non-economic positions with clarity and precision.

In fact, if you read the entire speech, he appears observe everything on America's plate through the crystal goblet of economic policy. For example, he is scornful of President B.O.'s proposal to cut $400 billion from the Pentagon budget (over some number of years), yet proud of his own proposal to cut $78 billion -- solely (it seems to me) because Ryan's plan, unlike the president's, is that of "an efficient and responsible steward of taxpayer dollars in order to maintain the confidence of the American people."

Well that's fine. It's nice to be fine. Who could be opposed to efficiency and responsibility anent taxpayer dollars? But given the military's function, there are other overriding concerns.

Ryan mentions grand strategy as an afterthought, never making any attempt to define it or flesh it out. He is either unaware of (or uninterested in) designing a force structure based upon the missions we expect them to undertake; he focuses instead like a laser pointer on how much we can afford to pay.

And what about non-economic, non-budgetary, domestic policies? Where does Ryan stand on vital issues such as:

  • The right to self defense (on his website, he sees gun rights only in terms of "Sportsman's Issues")
  • Defending DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act
  • Card check (I presume he's agin' it, but has he ever said so in a policy speech?)
  • The misuse of the Endangered Species Act to shut down farms, recreational facilities, factories, power plants, and suchlike
  • A federal law requiring picture ID for federal elections and allowing states to implement the same requirement for state and local elections

Hard to say where he stands, as not a single one of these issues is so much as mentioned on his website.

He does discuss immigration policy; his position is quotidian within the Republican Party, falling somewhere between Hugh Hewitt and John McCain -- e.g., he supports 700 miles of actual fencing plus a "virtual fence," but he opposes an immediate "path to citizenship" for existing illegal immigrants. Nothing here but standard positions that could be enunciated by 90% of the Republican congressional conference.

His energy policies seem adequate, though I'm not a fan of his insistance upon "alternative energy" and "conservation" (the latter means continuing to increase the CAFE (combined average fuel economy) standards by government fiat, rather than allowing the market itself to take care of the problem. Again, there's nothing original or particularly interesting here: He wants to streamline regulation of gasoline refining and nuclear power plants. I can't tell if he supports ethanol subsidies.

None of this gives me confidence that Ryan would be a leader on any issue other than the economy. None of this encourages me to call for him to be drafted into the presidential snoozeapalooza.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 4, 2011, at the time of 3:26 PM


The following hissed in response by: MikeR

Dafydd, I think a lot of this hangs on whether one thinks that the Long War against Islamic Terrorism is still a critical job of the president. At some point during the Iraq War, I guess we parted ways on that. I really don't care any more who wins in Afghanistan, though I certainly see that it would matter to the people there, and I wish them well. The same in Iraq, the same in Libya, etc. I no longer see radical Islam as being an existential issue for the United States. And so, I would rather a president who stays away from involvement in these things as much as possible. It's fine if we blow up a few terrorists every so often from orbit, and we should send all the kids in these places free laptops and blue jeans.

Iran getting the nuclear bomb is an issue that I still see as extremely important - but not one where I expect any possible president to do anything anyhow, unfortunately. All political capital for that was poured into the sands of Iraq.

So I understand what you're saying. But I think that most Americans are probably closer to my point of view.

The above hissed in response by: MikeR [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 5, 2011 9:55 AM

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