Vice presidents famously have little formal authority and few responsibilities. Despite these constitutional provisions, the position has grown in stature over the last twenty years, and several who have held the position have been active in the foreign policy arena. Former Vice President Dick Cheney largely established the neo-conservative infrastructure of the early Bush administration, appointing foreign policy allies across government and within the White House. And Vice President Biden, former Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has used his foreign policy background to be a vocal White House advocate on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
For this reason, Governor Romney's last minute considerations of whom will join his ticket against the Obama/Biden team should be weighed in terms of foreign policy credentials and views. Assuming foreign policy aficionados do not get their dream choice of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, here are the last three names in the race:
Former Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty would likely bring the most activist mindset to foreign policy decisions. Last summer, Pawlenty was linked to Republican stalwarts in the Senate who have favored military intervention in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere, though the then-candidate implored the media "to describe this wing of the party, other than McCain and Lindsay Graham." Pawlenty ran his campaign to the hard right, accusing the president of appeasement in regard to his diplomacy with Iran and North Korea. During the primaries, he was critical of his Republican opponents, including Governor Romney, of their more isolationist views on foreign policy. While serving as governor Pawlenty made no foreign policy decisions and cast no votes, but his beliefs are now clear.
In contrast, Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Congressman, has fewer clear views on foreign policy, since it is his budget expertise that has garnered him a national reputation. Recently, he drew attention when he accused military leaders of being misleading when they testified in support of the president's budget proposal that included cuts in the Defense budget. He later recanted these claims. Ryan's budget plan, "The Path to Prosperity ," contains some clues to his foreign policy views. His proposal includes major cuts in international affairs budgets focused on the State Department and USAID. While defense spending goes up by several billion in his proposal, it would take a decade for spending on other international and diplomatic activities to return to current levels.
Portman, the former director of the Bush White House Office of Management of Budget, was elected to the Senate in 2010 and currently sits on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Portman also brings to the ticket a unique understanding of globalization and trade, having also served briefly as the U.S. Trade Representative for President Bush, where he called for cuts in agriculture and export subsidies. Interestingly, Portman's policy credentials have been so strong that he served as a stand-in for Joe Lieberman in the practice vice presidential debates for Dick Cheney in 2000. This is important because in the 2008 vice presidential debate, moderator Gwen Ifill asked Sarah Palin and Joe Biden numerous foreign policy questions on their views regarding troop withdrawal from Iraq, nuclear programs in Iraq and Pakistan, U.S. policy toward Israel and Afghanistan, and developments in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Foreign policy may not determine who wins the election but it will likely animate the upcoming debates, and who Governor Romney chooses will quickly be confronted with articulating to the nation their views on many of the key foreign policy issues. If elected, this person may then join an array of other advisers in the White House and at the Departments of State and Defense in shaping a Romney Doctrine.