House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) spelled out his national security and foreign policy views on Thursday in a thinly-veiled campaign document aimed at defining the GOP’s sharp differences with the Obama Administration.
The 23-page document is the second in a series of policy analyses Ryan intends to roll out between now and the GOP national convention in July in hopes of influencing the platform and focusing the general election campaign debate.
He blames President Obama for “eight years of broken promises, concessions, and retreat” on issues ranging from the Iran nuclear agreement and the Syrian civil war to frosty relations with Israel, Russia and China.
And he calls for modifying or even overturning some of Obama’s signature foreign policy victories, including the nuclear deal with Iran, a major step towards normalizing relations with Cuba and a speeding up of efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center for enemy combatants.
Ryan intends to craft a far-ranging policy agenda -- from defense and the economy to combatting poverty -- that will serve as an intellectual “rudder” for the GOP presidential and congressional candidates.
But the new “Better Way” report on national security matters also further highlights significant differences between Ryan and Donald Trump, who has been roiling the political waters with his often inflammatory statements.
Ryan was late in endorsing Trump, which he did just last week. He has repeatedly taken exception to Trump’s declarations, including his call for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, his plan to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, and the most recent flap over Trump’s claim that a federal judge with Mexican heritage couldn’t objectively preside over a civil suit brought against the now defunct Trump University
While there is some overlap between Ryan’s new campaign treatise on foreign policy and defense and those of Trump’s “America First” pronouncements, there is plenty that separates the two.
“No two people agree on everything,” Ryan told Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC on Thursday. “And you will see with our very comprehensive national security strategy that we are rolling out here today that we do have some differences of opinion.”
“That’s fine,” he added. “That’s the way it works between Congress and the President. We are a separate but equal branch of government. We have our own opinions on these matters. And by the way, we launched this agenda back in January when we had 17 people running for president. So this isn’t in response to any one candidacy.”
Here are seven areas where Ryan and Trump clearly don’t see eye to eye:
1. Border security and immigration. Ryan and many other Republicans think Trump’s idea of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegals – and getting the Mexican government to pay for it – is both impractical and undesirable.
Instead, the report calls for a “multi-layered approach” involving more Border Patrol agents, aerial surveillance and radar protection to prevent people and weapons entering the U.S. illegally. Instead of a wall, Ryan favors the strategic placement of “high fencing.”
The report is mute on one of Trump’s most controversial and far-fetched immigration initiative – the rounding up and deportation of more than 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country today.
2. The Iran nuclear deal. Ryan and Trump are both highly critical of the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration postponing Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon for at least a decade, but they sharply part company about what to do.
The billionaire businessman has called the deal “disastrous” and signaled it would be one of the first agreements he would renegotiate. Ryan’s proposal stops well short of advocating for the next president to blow up the Iran deal, as many in his party say they favor.
3. Coping with Russian aggression. Here the ideas about how best to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in southern Ukraine and Crimea and intervention in Syria and the Middle East differ sharply. Trump has said repeatedly that he admires Putin and believes the two men could work well together. “I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia – from a position of strength – is possible,” he says.
The Ryan report, by contrast, echoes the GOP’s position on the need to counter conventional threats from a resurgent Russia, and says the U.S. should stand up to Russian aggression while bolstering the Ukraine government. “Putin’s burgeoning militarism – from his illegal seizure of Ukrainian territory to his support for the murderous Assad regime – poses a threat to the United States and our allies.”
4. NATO and other U.S. alliances. Trump espouses a policy of putting “America First” above all other international considerations, and asserts that the NATO alliance in Western Europe has grown “obsolete” and that member nations must begin spending more of their own funds on defense or suffer the consequences of a sharp reduction in U.S. assistance.
Ryan’s report urges “modernizing and solidifying” the post-World War II military alliance, while at the same time encouraging allies to spend more of their own resources on defense to prevent the alliance from falling into “disrepair, or worse, irrelevance.”
5. Nuclear proliferation. Trump has shocked allies and U.S. defense community alike with his suggestion that the best way to counter the nuclear threat from North Korea is to arm countries including Japan and South Korea with nuclear weapons of their own. Ryan, in contrast, favors efforts to “shore up our defense arrangements” in order to bring together Japan, South Korea and other Asian allies, but he makes no mention of arming them with nuclear weapons.
6. Battling terrorists overseas. Ryan and the House Republicans take a hard line on battling ISIS and other militants abroad, declaring that the U.S. must consider all options and “eliminate terrorist sanctuaries.” Ryan also favors a further buildup of military forces to project more military might overseas and maintain a credible threat against terrorists.
Trump has taken an even tougher line, vowing to “knock the hell” out of ISIS forces and their oil fields in Syria and Iraq in short order, and to reverse Obama administration cutbacks in spending and military manpower.
7. Trade policy. Ryan and Trump couldn’t be further apart on U.S. trade policy. The billionaire businessman who made his reputation as a deal maker has written off many of the major trade agreements, from NAFTA to the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, as disasters for the U.S. economy and for millions of Americans who have lost their jobs through globalization. “NAFTA … has emptied our states of our manufacturing and our jobs,” Trump has said. “Never again. Only the reverse will happen. We will keep our jobs and bring in new ones.”
Ryan is far more of an internationalist and is a leading proponent of international trade agreements. He strongly backs TPP despite widespread opposition among his Republican colleagues. His blueprint calls for more trade agreements and says foreign aid programs should make recipient countries self-sufficient.
“The United States must promote open markets and expand free trade,” the report says. “Not only does trade grow the American economy, but it spreads global freedom, thereby making the world safer for America.