By Jamie Crawford
As the chief architect of the Republican budget plan, presidential nominee Mitt Romney's choice for vice president, Paul Ryan, is well-known in budget policy circles around Washington, but his 14 years on Capitol Hill have left a much smaller paper trail when it comes to foreign policy statements and achievements.
That said, Ryan's focus during his seven terms in Congress on balancing the federal budget and extolling the virtues of fiscal restraint seems to have also formed the center of his thinking on foreign policy issues, which seems to hue to the classic Republican view of the world.
"If there's one thing I could say with complete confidence about American foreign policy, it is this: Our fiscal policy and our foreign policy are on a collision course; and if we fail to put our budget on a sustainable path, then we are choosing decline as a world power," he said last year when he gave a speech on American foreign policy at the Alexander Hamilton Society in Washington.
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"A world without U.S. leadership will be a more chaotic place, a place where we have less influence, and a place where our citizens face more dangers and fewer opportunities," he said in extolling the virtues of American exceptionalism. "Take a moment and imagine a world led by China or by Russia."
During the primary season, it was Romney who repeatedly vowed to designate China as a currency manipulator on his first day on office - something the Obama administration, and administrations before, have not done out of concern for the impact on global markets.
Despite his own stated concerns about Chinese monetary policy, Ryan has taken a more nuanced approach than the former Massachusetts governor when it comes to dealing with the world's second-largest economy. Of China, Ryan has said the United States stands "to benefit from a world in which China and other rising powers are integrated into the global order with increased incentives to further liberalize their political and economic institutions."
During his time in Congress, the Middle East has been an area of interest for Ryan. He formed the Middle East Caucus in the early 2000s, and from his position on the Ways and Means Committee, he took the lead on pushing free trade agreements with Middle Eastern and Gulf countries that called for countries to enshrine the rule of law and women's rights in their governments.
Ryan told the Washington Examiner in May that he is an avid reader and "fan" of Bernard Lewis, one of the leading scholars of the Middle East popular in conservative circles. The Middle East and Afghanistan have been the focus of many of Ryan's travels in his congressional capacity.
"I spent a lot of my time over my career traveling to the Middle East. That's probably where most of my travels have gone," he said in the Examiner interview. "I was in Afghanistan last December; I've been there a few times. I spent a lot of time reading about the military, reading up on foreign policy."
All told, Ryan has taken part in seven overseas trips as a member of a congressional delegation, and visited 18 different countries. In addition to Afghanistan and Iraq, Ryan has visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Jordan, Vietnam, India, Nigeria, Tunisia, South Africa and Greece, among other countries.
Like Romney, Ryan has criticized the Obama administration's planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, especially the reduction of the surge of forces that is on track to be completed by the end of September.
"The withdrawal has the potential to pose security threats to soldiers continuing shorthanded counter-insurgency operations, as well as to compromise the larger mission in Afghanistan," according to information posted on Ryan's congressional website. "Further, the Afghan citizens currently working with our troops to quell violence may view the withdrawal as a signal that our forces are no longer committed to the mission, which will serve to debilitate the long-term diplomatic, development and reconstruction efforts in the area."
Ryan has said the current policy runs the risk of compromising long-term U.S. interests there.
During the administration of former President George W. Bush, Ryan was a reliable supporter of the administration's foreign policy priorities, having voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein.
He also supported the 2007 surge of U.S. troops to Iraq. And as Foreign Policy magazine pointed out in an analysis of Ryan's foreign policy record this year, congressional Democrats and the Obama administration adopted Ryan's estimation that the U.S. could save roughly $1 trillion over the next decade by winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
When it comes to defense spending, Ryan's record seems to be more lenient, compared with his tough stance on reforming spending on social programs. It's that record that could win him praise at the Pentagon, where spending is on a downward trajectory.
But Ryan found himself at loggerheads with military brass after he questioned whether the Pentagon's top uniformed leaders truly believed it when they said they supported the Pentagon budget, which includes significant cuts to some programs.
"We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don't think the generals believe that their budget is really the right budget," he said.
"I think there is a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon budget which is not really a true, honest and accurate budget," he said. "When you confront military experts - retired or active - they concede these things to us."
Ryan was forced to backtrack and apologize after the top uniformed general, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded to Ryan's remarks in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, saying "there's a difference between having someone say they don't believe what you said versus ... calling us, collectively, liars."
Another troublesome position for Ryan could be his backing of sequestration, the across-the-board trillion-dollar cuts to federal agencies, half of which are aimed at the Pentagon. Those cuts come as part of the 2011 budget agreement, which still has to be passed. The cuts could take effect on January 2 if there is no budget deal in Congress.
The cuts could also include the Overseas Contingency Operations, which is the Pentagon's war budget. It controls what is spent on military combat operations, including those in Afghanistan, which are due to conclude at the end of 2014.
But since voting for the sequestration, Ryan has been hawkish on what effects it could have on the Pentagon though a series of hearings with defense advocates who pushed the message of how disastrous the cuts would be to the Pentagon. Ryan also led House legislation that would have taken out the defense cuts and replaced them with deeper cuts in social programs.
The measure passed the Republican-led house in May, but it ultimately died in the Democratic-held Senate.
As defense budgets rise under Ryan's proposals, the budget accounts that cover the State Department and USAID would be reduced from $47.8 billion in the 2012 fiscal year to $38.1 billion in 2016, and not returning to current levels until 2022.
With the situation in Syria deteriorating by the day, and an international standoff with Iran over its disputed nuclear program showing no sign of any progress in recent days, questions on Ryan's take on these issues are sure to emerge, along with his capability to assume the duties of commander in chief if needed.
It took mere minutes after the highly scripted and choreographed rollout of the ticket in front of the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday for supporters of President Obama to highlight Ryan's limited resume on foreign and defense policy issues.
"Mitt Romney had the chance to show the American people he took national security seriously with his choice of Vice President," David Solimini of the Truman National Security Project, a Democratic-leaning think tank, said in a statement. "From his disastrous foreign trip, where he insulted America's greatest ally, to his recklessness on Iran, and his failure to articulate a national security strategy, people have a right to be worried about a Romney Presidency. So far, he has failed the Commander-in-Chief test. Today's announcement cements that failure."
While the discussion on the weekend political talk shows was mainly focused on Ryan's suitability on domestic issues, the Romney campaign was quick to certify its belief in Ryan's capabilities.
"I think Paul Ryan has the same amount of foreign policy experience that Barack Obama had when he was sworn in as president," Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser for the Romney campaign, said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "He's got oversight responsibilities for the budget, including the defense budget. He has leaders, governors, generals, members of the military brass calling him for advice and support for their programs. Of course he's prepared."
The campaign trotted out statements from well-known members of the foreign policy establishment. Ryan "will help to restore America at home so that we can lead again because he understands that America is an exceptional and indispensable nation on the world stage," former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, once thought to be on Romney's shortlist, said in a written statement.
CNN Senior National Security Producer Mike Mount contributed to this report.