Paul Ryan (R-WI), the champion of necessary but unpopular fiscal reform, spoke this month about America’s exceptional political ideas and how they should be reflected in our foreign policy. In so doing he rejected isolationism and reinforced the Founders’ commitment to making America an indispensable nation for the cause of freedom, by maintaining American independence abroad.
“America is an idea,” he said. “And it was the first nation founded as such. The idea is rather simple. Our rights come to us from God and nature. They occur naturally, before government.” For Ryan, this understanding has necessary implications for U.S. foreign policy, but must be guided by prudence:
Now, if you believe these rights are universal human rights, then that clearly forms the basis of your views on foreign policy. 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.
This raises an important question: What do we do when our principles are in conflict with our interests? How do we resolve the tension between morality and reality?
According to some, we will never be able to resolve this tension, and we must occasionally suspend our principles in pursuit of our interests. I don’t see it that way. We have to be consistent and clear in the promotion of our principles, while recognizing that different situations will require different tools for achieving that end.”
He went on to reject the notion of isolationism:
Today, some in this country relish the idea of America’s retreat from our role in the world. They say that it’s about time for other nations to take over; that we should turn inward; that we should reduce ourselves to membership on a long list of mediocre has-beens.
This view applies moral relativism on a global scale. Western civilization and its founding moral principles might be good for the West, but who are we to suggest that other systems are any worse? – or so the thinking goes.
Instead of heeding these calls to surrender, we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen; a country whose devotion to free enterprise has lifted more people out of poverty than any economic system ever designed; and a nation whose best days still lie ahead of us, if we make the necessary choices today.”
Congressman Ryan’s remarks reveal statesmanship and principled leadership, which are sorely lacking in today’s foreign policy debates. The full text of the speech is available here.