It’s not hard to derive an Imaginary Foreign Policy Paul Ryan. I suspect that David Brooks is already hard at work creating the Paul Ryan that He Wishes, rather than paying any attention to the Paul Ryan that Is, but it’s worthwhile to get ahead of the game and do some pre-bunking:
- The imaginary Paul Ryan rejects adventurism in places like Iraq, and is skeptical of intervention in Iran or Afghanistan, not so much because of concerns about imperialism but rather because such adventures are remarkably costly.
- The imaginary Paul Ryan appreciates that the Department of Defense and the military services are quintessential state bureaucracies, suffering from all of the perversities normally associated with bureaucratic bloat and unlimited money.
- The imaginary Paul Ryan thinks that military spending should involve some assessment of the relationship between means and ends.
- The imaginary Paul Ryan appreciates that military spending has an extremely limited stimulative effect, and moreover that military contracts are awarded under circumstances that do not approach “competitive” capitalism.
- The imaginary Paul Ryan has some faith in the transformative power of capitalism, and supports removing the embargo on Cuba.
The Imaginary Paul Ryan isn’t completely a figment; Ryan’s actual record on the final point was decent until a few years ago, and I suspect there seems to be evidence that Ryan is a touch more skeptical of the DoD and the defense-industrial complex than your typical Republican. This will likely provide sufficient grist for Brooks and his ilk to craft a Paul Ryan that seems to herald a return to the Republican foreign policy elite of James Baker’s day. But this is a ship that has sailed; Bill Kristol has claimed Ryan for his team, and Kristol holds all the best cards. Ryan has already abandoned whatever skepticism he maintained about the defense establishment (he appears to have evinced no skepticism whatsoever about the foreign adventurism bit), and it’s not difficult to understand why. It is impossible for a member of a modern GOP Presidential ticket to hold what amount to “realist” views on foreign policy. Indeed, it appears to be virtually impossible for members of the campaign team to hold such views. This is less because of the popularity of defense hawkery (even the GOP base is more skeptical of hawkishness than the tickets would reveal), but rather because neoconservatives have won what amounts to a virtual battle of annihilation at the elite level. The influence of the constellation of right wing think tanks over Republican foreign policy is especially pronounced with figures like Romney and Ryan, neither of whom have any foreign policy experience or appear to have thought very much about foreign affairs.
But on the same terms that someone can pretend that Paul Ryan favors deficit reduction, someone will undoubtedly imagine a defense skeptical Paul Ryan. It just ain’t there.