The VP Debate and Foreign Affairs

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. If you're looking for foreign policy insight tonight at the vice-presidential debate, you may be in the same place I am; scratching your head. We know current Vice President Joe Biden has a lot of foreign policy experience and Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, well we don't know much about his position, so how will the two men compare when they meet in Danville, Kentucky? Good question. How ready is either man to deal with the nation's foreign and defense policies and national security? James Traub is a fellow at the Center on International Cooperation and writes a weekly column for and Ted Bromund is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. What foreign policy experience does Paul Ryan have, James Traub, has he travelled much?

James Traub: It's a very good question, I don't know the answer. I can tell you that before it was clear who the Republican nominee was, I talked to a lot of Republicans who were foreign policy folks, who were hoping the nominee would be Ryan; not only because they liked his domestic policies. But, because he had spoken on defense issues and like Romney, he was in favor of increased defense spending and they thought of him as being a relatively sophisticated thinker on this stuff. Though, to my knowledge, he probably has very little direct experience of the world.

Werman: And Ted Bromund, I mean Jim Traub talked about defense spending. Paul Ryan has talked about defense spending, what about foreign policy?
Ted Bromund: I think it's important to bear in mind that most members of the House of Representatives have relatively little foreign policy experience. Traditionally, if you want to look for foreign policy experience, of course, you'd probably go to the US Senate. That said, I think that Representative Ryan is attractive to a lot of Republicans because he embeds his domestic policy vision in a larger idea of American exceptionalism, support for economic freedom, principles that translate fairly easily into foreign policy.

Werman: So, Jim Traub, where do you think we'll really see some distinct differences between Biden and Ryan tonight?

Traub: Well, I think you can tell from what Ted said, that there's a rhetorical difference and it's very easy to mistake a rhetorical difference for a substantive difference. But, because language does matter, I think we should say that. That is, Paul Ryan is gonna say, as Romney says, "I don't believe in apologizing for America. I believe that America is and is meant to be the preeminent nation in the world."  Biden, of course, won't say otherwise, he'll just say, "It's a complicated world and those wonderful words don't really take you very far." So, I imagine that Biden will be contrasting the difficult lessons of experience from these glorious rhetorical positions that Ryan takes.

Werman: Now, on Monday, Paul Ryan had this to say about foreign policy, let's hear this tape:

Paul Ryan: If you go home after this and turn on your TV; you will likely see the failures of the Obama foreign policy unfolding before our eyes. You see, if you look around the world, what we are witnessing is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy.

Werman: It does seem a little broad, but it does echo what Mitt Romney's been saying as well. Ted Bromund, what's your understanding of what the Republicans are saying?

Bromund: I think that Representative Ryan's condemnation of the Obama foreign policy and specifically, the reference to unraveling obviously refers directly to recent events in Libya and probably to a lesser extent to events in Syria. But, I think it reflects a broad-based republican and conservative belief that first, the president has not been particularly interested in foreign policy and to the extent that he has been interested in foreign policy, much of his foreign policy has now back-fired. The idea of a reset with Russia, with which Vice President Biden is closely identified, has produced few, if any, identifiable gains. The president's hesitant support for the overthrow of Egyptian President Mubarak appears to have gone very badly. The operation in Libya, which Vice President Biden did not initially support, has produced the murder of an ambassador. None of these things are liable; I think, to rebound to the success of the administration or to be very attractive positions to defend in a debate.

Werman: Jim Traub, do you agree with that and do you think Paul Ryan is going to dig into details?

Traub: No, I think one of the things that's going to be fascinating in the debate is that on all these Middle Eastern questions, on this whole issue that has to do with democracy and the kind of mess of democracy, Ryan and Romney are trying to come at it from two opposing sides simultaneously. That is, on the one side, you hear a lot of republicans saying Obama was too quick to abandon our allies like Mubarak and that our other allies, like the Saudis no longer trust us. Then, you hear on the other side, the idea that he's been too timid in supporting democracy, in Syria for example. Now, these are two different strains in the Republican Party, but they're not compatible with each other and I suspect one thing Biden will do is try to smoke out this contradiction.
Werman: Ted Bromund, Joe Biden is often touted as having greater foreign policy chops, some of the best on Capitol Hill. But, really, how much practical experience does he have?

Bromund: Well, he has a good deal of experience with being on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But, in terms of actual practical experience, his experience derives from the previous almost four years of being the Vice President. There are really, of course, two sides to having a good deal of experience or at least a good deal of experience with talking. The advantage is that it gives the vice president some actual experience and a lot of experience with expressing his views on the subject. The disadvantage is that he's been on the record for over 30 years advocating a huge number of things, sometimes in his characteristically forthright language; which are liable to come up in the debate and inevitably, he's been on the wrong, or at least, on the contentious side of a good many of issues over that course of time. So, the disadvantage for Representative Ryan, of course, is that he doesn't have that sort of long record. That's not necessarily a complete disadvantage in the context of the debate, however.

Werman: Do you think there will be any foreign policy or national security issues that Biden and Ryan will agree on?

Traub: That's a very interesting question. Of course, substantively, one finds the two sides aren't really in that much disagreement; they just try to accentuate it. Their views on Syria are very hard to distinguish. Even their views on Iran, allegedly so different, don't seem so different to me. Both will have it in their interests to say that is not the case. But, in fact there will be more agreement than meets the eye.

Werman: And Ted, do you agree with that assessment of the agreement?

Bromund: I think one area that you might see some agreement on; although I think in this case, the agreement would be exaggerated, is that you're liable to have the Vice President mention the free trade area agreement that the administration finally concluded with a number of countries, including South Korea and pointing to that as a continuation of the bipartisan American support for free trade post-World War II and you're liable, of course to see Representative Ryan taking a strong position on the importance of American leadership for economic freedom. So that might be an element of at least partial agreement.

Werman: Maybe agreement on the agreements. Ted Bromund is a senior research fellow at the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. James Traub is a fellow at the Center of International Cooperation. Thank you both very much.

Traub: All right, thank you.

Bromund: Thank you.