Former Vice President Dick Cheney went to Capitol Hill to talk foreign policy with House Republicans on Wednesday. The Hill reports:

President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.<br />(Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press) President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
(Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)

The former vice president focused on foreign policy, touting the importance of U.S. leadership in the world while criticizing proposed cuts to the Pentagon budget. He received multiple ovations during a private discussion that lasted more than 90 minutes in the Capitol basement. “The Obama administration is taking a lot of steps to diminish our influence and ability to affect the course of affairs,” Cheney said in a brief interview with The Hill after the meeting. “The cuts to the defense budget are outrageous. The treatment of our friends in the Middle East have convinced a lot of them we are no longer trustworthy as an ally. It’s a bad situation.”

Put differently, the administration unilaterally disarms (and allows the Russians’ cheating on nuclear weapons commitments to persist), proves to be unreliable to allies, does not define or stick to goals and ignores human rights. The effect, if not the intention, is to make the U.S. less effective in the world and to give a green light to adversaries like Russia, Syria, Iran and China. But, some Republicans will say: The public doesn’t want to hear all that. They want less not more. They are tired of national security debates.  Well, that is what they say generically in many polls. But they also say we should use force if need be to eliminate the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. They express dismay about the president’s handling of foreign policy. They see we are less respected  around the planet. As on entitlement programs, pols either play to the crowd for fear of rattling preconceived judgments or they engage in a rational discussion with the American people. In the last five years we’ve had an uncertain trumpet; we instead need a leader adept at explaining why U.S. leadership matters and why engagement on a constant basis actually diminishes the chance for war. The U.S. is like the queen in a chess match; putting her on the sidelines fundamentally disables her side — and no combination of other forces can make up for the loss. Republicans, as on domestic policy, need to lay out an alternative to Obama’s approach of drift and retrenchment.

It is not enough to say “Hillary lied on Benghazi” or “no boots on the ground” or “Obama was hostile to Egypt,” whatever the accuracy of those statements. To begin with, we should have a foreign policy. It is not self-evident that we have one now since the main characteristics of Obama’s approach (cut defense, end military engagement, avoid military action, refrain from challenging repressive regimes to respect human rights) amount to a preference for evading conflict, not a recipe for what we affirmatively want to achieve. A reasonable foreign policy would recognize that the U.S. must exercise global leadership in concert with our allies to protect our interests and sustain our values. That means developing specific policies to eradicate the threat of jihadist terror, rebuff autocratic states from threatening neighbors and combat rogue terror groups that derive support from states like Iran.

In order to do all this we need at minimum four things.

First, a robust military capability is essential both to threaten — and if need be — use hard power and as a signal of commitment to friends. Allies and foes alike measure if we are willing to sacrifice for national security. During President Bill Clinton’s tenure, we used surgical air power to bring an end to genocide and ensure Europe would remain whole and free. Thanks to his predecessors he had air power to accomplish these aims. Obama former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is once again warning not to hack away at the Pentagon budget. (“While the temporary two-year budget deal in Congress provided some short-term stability, it failed to repair the extensive damage to readiness. There is simply no slack left in the system if the U.S. must respond to another crisis abroad. In a troubled world, both our friends and our enemies will take note if we reduce our military readiness. No one questions the capability of our troops, our weaponry or our technology. What they do question is whether our democracy can function effectively to ensure our strength.”)

Second, we will need to strengthen alliances and build up partnerships with democracies like Japan, India and South Korea. In Europe NATO must be strengthened and enhanced. As former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton wrote, it’s the only game in town.

Third, it is essential to use economic tools (trade, investment, aid) to further our interests. We can, for example, strengthen allies’ security forces that are on the front lines in combating common enemies; encourage market economic development and improve civil institutions in weak states (like Libya); and push wavering allies in the direction of expanding freedom. Like all applications of U.S. power our economic tools should be applied purposefully to further our goals.

Fourth, we must bolster free people and deliver candid criticism of repressive regimes. Both are essential both in living up to our own ideals and in helping to secure allies. At  a Wall Street Journal discussion Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) explained this well:

Mr. Cruz called on the White House to be “an outspoken voice for freedom” even though he said “no reasonable person wants to see direct military conflict with Russia.” “There’s a big difference between that and believing that America should not be an outspoken voice for freedom for example I think we should be far more outspoken supporting what is going on in Venezuela,” Mr. Cruz said. “I think there is a voice for freedom that the American people understand and respect the power of the United States’ leadership in the world.”

In the Cold War we deployed Radio Free Europe, economic support for Asian, South and Central American and European countries threatened by Communism,  military assistance for freedom fighters and continually spoke out on behalf of dissidents. None of that led to war with the Soviet Union; it did enhance America’s image, save a number of countries from going into the Soviet orbit, and help freedom seeking people fight for themselves. As we begin to think about how to reconstruct a viable foreign policy after Obama, we should be buoyed by the presence of Republicans and Democrats capable of formulating a foreign policy worthy of the world’s only superpower. The question is whether they have the will and courage to do so.