WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday the whole world is watching American politics and that he can understand how Middle East allies would be rattled by Republican front-runner Donald Trump's provocative comments.
The Wisconsin Republican, who recently led a congressional delegation to the Middle East, dismissed the notion that a war-weary United States could retreat, as reflected by Trump's demand that allies pay more or else America will step back. Ryan, who has been compelled to tamp down speculation that he could be the GOP's eventual presidential nominee, said that approach is unrealistic.
"There is a commonality that this has been our problem too long, it shouldn't be our problem any more if we just pull out, we can fortress America and we will be better off. I don't buy that," Ryan told a group of reporters. "The reason I don't buy that is it is going to come to us. Who else is going to help lead the world ... to ultimately extinguish radical Islamic terrorism? And if we just pull back and think our oceans are going to save us, the evidence of the last couple of decades disproves that theory."
The congressional delegation traveled to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Germany. Back on American soil, Ryan faulted President Barack Obama's foreign policy on dealing with Iran and Syria, and said allies wanted to know if the United States is "still in the game."
He said allies were rattled a bit by administration policy. Asked if Trump's comments had rattled them as well, Ryan said, "Sure. I get that too. Everybody pays attention to our politics."
Ryan expounded on his tacit criticism of Trump, who has proposed a ban on Muslims coming to the United States. Earlier this year, Ryan rejected that idea. He said allies knew about it and thanked him for speaking out.
"When he proposed the Muslim immigration ban, that really got under my skin, so I spoke out very forcefully the day after," he said. "When you see our beliefs our values and conservative principles being disfigured, you have to speak out for it if you're a party leader."
Ryan also has assailed Trump on other occasions, but never by name. He complained about Trump's slow disavowal of white supremacist groups.
Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, hastily called a news conference this week to state that he would not accept his party's nomination and that the choice should emerge from among the candidates who have sought the party nod, including Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
But Republicans fear that a Trump nomination will alienate women, minorities and independent voters, costing them not only the White House but control of the Senate as well.
On foreign policy, Trump suggested in an interview with The New York Times that the United States boycott oil from Saudi Arabia unless the country provides ground troops in the fight against Islamic State militants. He also has suggested withdrawing U.S. forces from Japan and South Korea if the countries don't pay more to cover the cost of the American military presence.
In other interviews, Trump has said NATO is obsolete and questioned U.S. involvement after more than half a century of ensuring Europe's protection.
During his trip, Ryan said the Saudis "didn't say Donald Trump this and Donald Trump that. They just said, 'Where is America?'"
The speaker said he raised the issue of allegations of human rights abuses with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Secretary of State John Kerry and several Western European nations have rebuked Egypt amid reports of killings, torture and secret detentions.
"You make it more difficult for us to be supportive of you when you have so many human rights violations," Ryan said he told the Egyptian president.
Ryan, a foe of the international nuclear agreement with Iran, also expressed concern about business deals with Tehran and other outreach in the aftermath of the landmark pact that lifted years of economic sanctions in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
"I worry about that," Ryan said. "I worry that so much toothpaste is going to get out of the tube that we're not going to be able to put much back in. And I do believe that next year, with the new government, we need to put as much of this toothpaste back in the tube that we can."