WASHINGTON – Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan delivered his most stern rebuke yet of President Obama's foreign policy Friday morning, telling an annual conference of social conservatives that the Obama administration gave mixed signals in response to this week's attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya and that the president has alienated America from its allies in the Middle East.
"Look across that region today and what do we see?" Ryan asked at the Family Research Council's annual Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Northwest Washington. "The slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran, four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration."
He told the crowd that "amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership."
In addition to sharpening his criticism of Obama on foreign policy, Ryan also took aim at the administration for the contraception mandate under the national health-care law, making note of his own Catholic faith and echoing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in framing the mandate as an attack on religious liberty.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you would be hard pressed to find another group in America that does more to serve the health of women and their babies than the Catholic Church and Catholic charities," Ryan said. "And now, suddenly, we have Obamacare bureaucrats presuming to dictate how they will do it. As governor Romney has said, this mandate is not a threat and insult to one religious group – it is a threat and insult to every religious group."
Ryan also introduced a new line of attack against Obama, telling the crowd that "the only kind of debate he can win" is "against straw-man arguments."
"No politician is more skilled at striking heroic poses against imaginary adversaries," Ryan said. "Nobody is better at rebuking nonexistent opinions. Barack Obama does this all the time, and in this campaign we are calling him on it."
The conference is considered a campaign-trail must for GOP presidential and vice presidential candidates as well as prominent conservatives. Among those speaking ahead of Ryan on Friday were tea party favorites, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who also spoke prior to Ryan, blamed the Obama administration for this week's attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions.
"What we're watching develop before our eyes today are the direct consequences of this administration's policy of apology and appeasement across the globe and the supposed success of the president's foreign policy genius," Bachmann said.
Ryan's speech on Friday was not his first visit to the summit, but it comes as the Wisconsin Republican has taken a more prominent role on the national stage as GOP vice presidential nominee. That higher profile was apparent Friday as protesters interrupted Ryan two separate times during his remarks, chanting, "Corporations are not people!"
Ryan responded to the first interruption by quipping, "I appreciate your kind hospitality."
While foreign policy this week has taken a front-and-center role in the election, Ryan on Friday also had harsh criticism of Obama on the issue that has dominated the broader campaign – the economy.
He told the crowd that Obama did not make any mention in his convention speech of the words "stimulus," "recovery" or "record." (Obama did in his speech offer a lengthy defense of his policies during his three and a half years as president.)
"If we renew the contract (with Obama), we will get the same deal – with only one difference," Ryan said. "In a second term, he will never answer to you again."
And Ryan again cast Obama as a leader who believes in an ever-expanding role for the federal government, telling the crowd that "under the current president, we are at risk of becoming a poor country, because he looks to government as the great benefactor in every life."
Romney has spoken at previous Values Voter Summits but is not expected to speak at this week's conference. Perhaps with that fact in mind, Ryan devoted the final minutes of his speech to vouching for Romney before the social conservative crowd, telling stories of instances such as the time Romney "turned (his) entire company into a search-and-rescue operation the moment he heard that a colleague's young daughter was missing."
"I'm not the only one who has told Mitt that maybe he needs to talk more about himself and his life," Ryan said. "It wouldn't hurt if voters knew more of those little things that reveal a man's heart and his character."
Ryan departed the venue minutes after he finished speaking, heading back on the campaign trail for events in Virginia and Florida this weekend.
Democrats responded to Ryan's speech by charging him with making "a series of over-the-top, dishonest attacks against the president that once again reminded voters that he's just not ready for prime time."
"Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate because he's the intellectual leader of the Republican Party," Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. "That leadership included a budget that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said failed a 'basic moral test.' ... In the not-too-distant past, Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan said they wanted a serious debate on substantive issues. We're still waiting."