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The Wrong Kind of Experience: Paul Ryan's Big Foreign Policy Credential

Joe Conason
Columnist
Joe Conason has written his popular political column for The New York Observer since 1992. He served as the Manhattan Weekly's executive editor from 1992 to 1997. Since 1998, he has also written a column that…
Joe Conason

Defending himself against the perception that he has no significant foreign policy experience, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has drawn fresh attention to one of the most controversial acts of the past decade: the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq before U.N. weapons inspections were completed. Ryan now points to his vote for war as a token of his readiness to serve in the White House, but he is on the wrong side of both history and public opinion.

The Wisconsin congressman may come to regret his flippant response to Carl Cameron last Saturday, when the Fox News reporter asked how he would respond to critics who question his weak national security resume.

“I’ve been in Congress for a number of years,” he said. “That’s more experience than Barack Obama had when he came into office.” Perhaps he should have stopped there, but instead blundered on, “I voted to send people to war.”

Does Ryan believe that voting for war constitutes foreign policy experience? If so, it is a kind of experience that reflects very poorly on him. Even he must realize that the underlying premise of the war, Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, quickly proved to be nothing more than a Bush administration hoax, along with the secondary claim that Saddam’s regime had some connection with the 9/11 attacks.

After casting his party-line vote for a ruinous war because he accepted a faked argument, Ryan never spoke up against its continuation. He ratified every troop escalation and every supplemental appropriation.

Unlike the American people, who turned decisively against the war years ago, and have condemned it by large majorities as a waste of blood and treasure, he apparently still believes it was a swell idea. Concerned as he supposedly is about excessive federal spending, Ryan believes that the Iraq misadventure was worth the $3 trillion it has cost so far (and presumably the lost and destroyed lives of Americans and Iraqis, all the dead, wounded, orphaned and traumatized, as well).

Except among the neoconservative advisers cocooned in the Romney campaign, such enthusiasm for the war is a very peculiar and distinctly minority perspective. Over the past few years, polls have shown between one-third and one-fifth of voters agreeing that the war was “worth the cost.” Roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of the electorate rejects that assessment and supports President Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. That lopsided margin is fair warning for any politician who stakes his reputation on the Iraq War.

What Ryan cites as his chief qualification to serve as commander in chief is a series of votes that represent the most fateful, expensive, inexcusable error in recent American history. For him to cite that vote to draw a contrast with President Obama, who got the Iraq issue right, is startling. It reveals something that Americans need to know before he gets any closer to executive power.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com.

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