Paul Ryan's Exceptionalism

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JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 6, 2011

Paul Ryan's Exceptionalism

I thought the most obviously fraudulent part of Paul Ryan's foreign policy speech on Friday, was its attempt to sneakily invoke the myth that President Obama does not accept American exceptionalism (a myth based on truncating an Obama quote.) Daniel Drezner disagrees, pointing out this passage of Ryan's speech that I missed:

We cannot face these challenges alone. To the contrary, we need our allies and friends to increase their capacity and willingness to act in defense of our common interests.

The first step in that process is robust and frank engagement with our closest allies. We all share an interest in the maintenance of the international order with its liberal trading system, general tranquility, and abundant opportunity – and we should all share the burden of maintaining it.

The Obama administration has taken our allies for granted and accepted too willingly the decline of their capacity for international action. Our alliances were vital to our victory in the Cold War and they need to be revitalized to see us through the 21stcentury.

Note that in the boldest sentence, Ryan assails Obama both for being to hard on our allies and too soft on them. He takes their contributions for granted -- but he must demand they shoulder more of the military burden! As Drezner notes, the notion that Obama has "accepted too willingly" our allies refusal to shoulder military burdens obviously flies in the face of reality. (Hello -- Libya?)

Drezner amusingly imagines the Ryan Doctrine in action:

Basically, Ryan's definition of U.S. leadership amounts to "exerting pressure on our allies to take on greater defense expenditures."  OK, but how will this conversation take place?  Let's imagine this: 

PRESIDENT RYAN:  Hey, NATO allies -- to be robust and frank about it, you need to goose up your defense expenditures and assist us more vigorously.

NATO ALLIES:  What's that?  I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you over the protestors in the streets furious about the latest round of bailouts to Greece and Ireland, combined with the cuts in social services we need to make in a nod towards austerity.  Hey, you're a big fan of that policy, right?  What's that you want us to do again with our increasingly scarce capital in a politically hostile environment?

PRESIDENT RYAN:  Uh, never mind, let me try our Japanese allies.  Hey, Japan, we've been protecting you for decades, it's time to pony up and contribute your fair share.

JAPAN:  I'm sorry, what was that?  I couldn't hear you because we're selecting which old people will volunteer to help clean up the Fukushima reactor mess.  Gee, this is not going to be cheap, and our debt-to-GDP ratio is already at 200%.  You really harped on the debt problem during your campaign, so you know what we're talking about here.  Now, what did you want us to do with our dwindling and rapidly agining population again?

PRESIDENT RYAN:  Er... (to foreign policy advisors) are there any rich allies left? 

Ryan's "robust and frank engagement" is really just one step removed from Donald Trump's claims that the right negotiator could get Saudia Arabia to lower oil prices or China to revalue the yuan.  It's the foreign policy of Campaign Fantasyland.

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posted in: jonathan chait, hey, dan drezner, daniel drezner, paul ryan

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