I won’t dissect Bret Stephens’s column in the Wall Street Journal, analyzing Paul Ryan’s foreign policy speech given before the Alexander Hamilton Society a year ago. There is so much of it that I find wrong, objectionable, or irritating I hardly know where to start. I’ll just mention this tiny snippet:
So what follows? “If you believe these rights are universal human rights . . . it leads you to reject moral relativism. It causes you to recoil at the idea of persistent moral indifference toward any nation that stifles and denies liberty, no matter how friendly and accommodating its rulers are to American interests.”
Note the consistency of the logic. Note the quality of the language. Note, finally, Mr. Ryan’s understanding that America’s real interests are derived from our deepest values. For most other countries, it’s just the opposite: The interests come first, and “values” are a synonym for justifications.
None of this means that Mr. Ryan is a foreign-policy crusader. He talks of a “healthy humility” about the degree to which the U.S. can “control events in other regions.”
If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us; if we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we’ve got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.
How has that worked out? We are in our eleventh year in a war in Afghanistan which accomplished as much as it was likely to accomplish roughly ten years ago. Our military budget is twice in real terms what Ike’s was at the height of the Cold War when he warned us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Gov. Romney has proposed increasing military spending. Do you see how I might be wary of talk of humility in our foreign policy?
I completely believe in American exceptionalism but I believe in both aspects of it. Not only is the United States different from other countries and that difference is good for us and good for the world. That;s just the one aspect. Here’s the other: the things that make us different can’t be transplanted and certainly can’t be imposed by force.
I think that we should be well-wishers to the freedom and independence of all but the champion and vindicator only of our own.