Paul Ryan’s Foreign Policy: Spinning Straw into Gold

Republican vice presidential designate Paul Ryan is in Las Vegas today to meet with casino magnate and would-be political kingmaker Sheldon Adelson. He will also hold a public rally and private fundraising event at the Adelson-owned Venetian. Laura Myers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted, “The Sands Corp. chief is a generous GOP donor who already has contributed $10 million to a political action committee, Restore Our Future, supporting Romney’s campaign.” The advocacy group, ProgressNow Nevada, has announced it will be holding a counter-rally.

In making his obeisance to the moneyman upon whom Mitt Romney is staking his political fortune (Romney’s paltry net worth of $250 million is only a tad over 1% of Adelson’s nearly $24.5 billion), Ryan will no doubt try to assure Adelson that they are on the same page about Israel, or rather, Adelson’s own view of what is good for Israel.

Ryan’s congressional website outlines his position on Israel under the header of National Security:

America has no better friend in the Middle East than the nation of Israel. Not only is Israel the region’s only fully functioning democracy, with a government based on popular consent and the rule of law, but it is also a valuable ally against Islamic extremism and terrorism. Our shared democratic values and national interests are supported by maintaining a close friendship with Israel. Americans also have a strong interest in Israel achieving a lasting peace with its neighbors – including the Palestinians.

Reasonable people – including those who live in the Middle East – differ about how the conflict between Israel and Palestine can be resolved. However, I believe at least one thing is clear: we cannot advocate for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that jeopardizes Israel’s safety or legitimizes terrorism. Hamas, which is one of the two major Palestinian political factions, is an Islamist terrorist group whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, refuses to recognize Israel’s existence, and calls Osama Bin Laden a “martyr.”

While I do not have a role in the diplomatic discussions over the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, America should not pressure Israel to agree to a peace deal that is unlikely to result in peace and security. Real peace will require Palestinians to recognize that Israel has a right to exist, even as it will require two states for the two peoples. Introduced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on May 13, 2011, H. Res. 268 reaffirms the United States’ commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct negotiations. I co-sponsored this legislation, and it passed the House on July 7, 2011 by a vote of 407-13.  I was also a cosponsor of H.R. 4133, the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, also introduced by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, which passed the House on May 9, 2012 by a vote of 411-2.  H.R. 4133 states that it is United States policy to reaffirm the commitment to Israel’s security as a state, provide Israel with the military capabilities to defend itself, expand military and civilian cooperation, assist in a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and encourage Israel’s neighbors to recognize its right to exist.

It should be noted that H.R. 268 had 356 co-sponsors and H.R. 4133 had 304. Legislation deemed to be “pro-Israel” (for better or for worse) almost invariably attracts bipartisan sponsorship and support, and passes the House by an overwhelming majority. As Haviv Rettig Gur writes in the Times of Israel:

…Ryan, like Romney himself, has little experience or visible record in dealing with foreign policy issues. He is a signatory to letters and bills presented by fellow members of Congress, especially from the Republican side of the aisle, which deal with Afghanistan, Pakistan, the UN, Israel, and other issues, but none of these was initiated by Ryan.

So, there is nothing particularly remarkable about Ryan’s voting record on foreign policy issues. Touting his record as one of a pro-Israel advocate, Ryan is grasping at straw, hoping to spin it into gold. It is noteworthy, however, that Ryan doesn’t go out of his way to draw pubic attention to the numerous House appropriations bills he’s voted in favor of that have included generous aid for Israel.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren recently met with Ryan and praised him for being “very supportive” of Israel. The Republican Jewish Coalition gleefully seized upon Oren’s approval of Ryan, depicting it as an enthusiastic endorsement:

…we are pleased that by picking Paul Ryan, Gov. Romney has opted for a running  mate who has a record Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, has already praised as ‘very supportive’ of the Jewish state.  Paul Ryan has earned appreciation from pro-Israel voters by rejecting the Obama administration’s tactic of pressuring Israel to make concessions its leaders believe will undermine its security – and he rightly insists that a rejection of violence and incitement on the Palestinian side is an essential precondition for a meaningful peace agreement.”

Right-wing Jewish news sites and blogs are cherry-picking and parsing Ryan’s pro-Israel platitudes and voting record. Ryan’s mention on his website of “reasonable people” differing about how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being ignored, as is Ryan’s reference to “two states for the two peoples.” Nevertheless, a criticism of Romney’s pro-Israel position published back in June, in the very conservative and orthodox-oriented Jewish Press, is equally applicable to Ryan’s position:

The Romney campaign literature states that “with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mitt’s policy will differ sharply from President Obama’s,” but continues to state that “as president, Mitt will reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He will make clear to the Palestinians that the unilateral attempt to decide issues that are designated for final negotiations by the Oslo Accords is unacceptable.”

Essentially, it means that Romney endorses Oslo, but with a better behaved Palestinian partner. And although his campaign threatens that “the United States will reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a unity government that includes Hamas,” it still envisions a reality in which a more compliant Palestinian Authority will be rewarded with a state.

In other words, any “two-state solution” is unacceptable to right wing Jews. This includes Adelson, who told Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt that “the two-state solution is a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people” and that he sees no distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Also being politely overlooked is Ryan’s silence and evident lack of enthusiasm about Israel or the U.S. attacking Iran. Ryan has, like the overwhelming majority of members of Congress, consistently voted in favor of increasingly stringent Iran sanctions. Nonetheless, Matt Yglesias of The American Prospect points out that in a foreign policy speech to the Alexander Hamilton Society on June 2, while Ryan “called for America to ‘speak boldly for those whose voices are denied by the jackbooted thugs of the tired tyrants of Syria and Iran,’ he did so without embracing neoconservative demands for military action.” In the same speech, Ryan mentioned Israel only once: “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.”

In a joint interview on CBS’s Sixty Minutes this past Sunday, the subject of Israel never came up while Iran came up once in passing. Romney described Ryan to Bob Schieffer — who had been gently blowing puffball questions at the political newlyweds — as a “…policy guy. People know him as a policy guy. That’s one of the reasons he has such respect on both sides of the aisle.” Romney also tried to attach the “policy guy” description to himself: “…believe it or not. I love policy. I love solving tough problems. And we face real challenges around the world, places like Syria, Egypt, Iran.”

Neither Romney nor Ryan offered any clue as to how either of these two policy guys would deal with the “challenges” Romney alluded to during the interview. In response, Schieffer quickly returned the feel-good interview to chatter about Ryan’s role in the upcoming campaign.

Haviv Rettig Gur offers what is probably the most clear-eyed assessment about the real impact of Middle East foreign policy questions on the 2012 presidential election:

While Israel’s media is currently in the grip of a government leak-fueled obsession with the question of whether Israel is about to strike Iran — and whether the US can be relied upon to thwart an Iranian bomb if Israel holds its fire — even this issue, with its potential to prompt radical regional drama, isn’t figuring in the presidential campaign.

Barring significant developments, such as an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, it is likely that Israel, or any foreign policy agenda, is now tabled for the duration of the campaign. The American people are simply not listening. The Romney campaign now views foreign policy differences as a distraction from the business of hammering the president on the economy, and the Obama campaign can’t afford to get distracted from the battle to control the narrative on the country’s economic and fiscal woes.

Except when it means spinning straw into gold.

Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.



  1. your math in second paragraph is way off. I believe Romney’s $250 mm is about 1% of Adelson’s $24.5 billion, not 10% as you state. They are both big numbers, but in different leagues, and with different capacity for media spends, etc. .

  2. I don’t know many Palestinian supporters who believe in a two state solution. Rather, it’s a drive for human, civil and land rights; a fight against Apartheid. Arabs and Palestinians aren’t fighting over mere nomenclature, they’re fighting for their rights, as people.

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