By Bernie Becker - 08/12/12 07:12 PM EDT
Senior Republicans said Sunday they had no concerns about their new ticket’s foreign policy chops, amid claims that presumptive nominee Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have less experience in that area than any GOP standard bearers in decades.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prominent GOP hawk, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich both said that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had the same amount of experience in the foreign affairs sphere as another previous state executive: Ronald Reagan.
And the Republicans said they had no doubt that Romney and Ryan, a seven-term congressman who has concentrated on budget policy, could be an improvement over the Obama administration in dealing with hotspots like Israel and Syria.
“Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet empire decisively in eight years, Gingrich added. “So I would rather have Romney and Ryan rethinking everything than have the current team continue – look at the disaster in the Middle East, unrest in Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan.”
Republicans have also argued that President Obama, who was in the Senate for four years before taking over the Oval Office, didn’t have a wealth of foreign policy experience, either. Romney and GOP officials have also criticized the White House's handling of the Arab Spring last year.
But Obama has also gotten some high marks for his global policies, having overseen the killing of Osama bin Laden. Much to the chagrin of some on the left, he has also kept in place some key national security policies put in place by former President George W. Bush.
A New York Times/CBS News poll from July found voters basically split on the president’s handling of foreign policy.
But a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll from that same month said a majority of voters gave Obama high marks in that area – and voters thought the president would be a better commander-in-chief than Romney.
Romney also received some bad press during a recent overseas trip, for, among other things questioning, Britain’s preparations for the Olympics.
But on Sunday, Romney’s campaign team suggested they were not worried at all about how they match up on foreign policy. Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser, added on CBS’s “Face the Nation" that Ryan’s position as House Budget Committee chairman has given him intimate knowledge of defense spending and initiatives.
“Look, Paul Ryan's been in the Congress for 14 years, longer than Barack Obama when he decided to run for president,” Fehrnstrom said. “He has leaders, governors, generals, members of the military brass calling him for advice and support for their programs. Of course he's prepared.”
For his part, McCain continued his strident criticism of the administration’s handling of Syria, where thousands of people have died in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“Do you think Ronald Reagan would be sitting back saying nothing?” McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“Don't you think we should be helping these people where they are being massacred in an unfair fight, where the arms and the equipment and training is coming in from Russia and Iran and people are being butchered?”
The Obama administration has pushed for sanctions to force Assad from power, but has expressed concerns that arming Syrian rebels could broaden the conflict, given Damascus’s ties to Russia and Iran.
But McCain said the White House has not stepped up to the plate on the issue, and has also overseen a stark deterioration of America’s relationship with Israel.
The Arizona Republican also used one of his frequent sparring partners on global issues – Vice President Joe Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – to make the case that experience isn’t everything when it comes to world affairs.
“The vice-president of the United States has been wrong nine times out of 10 on every major foreign policy issue and challenges that we faced,” McCain said.