Former vice president Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz have seen quite enough of the Obama administration’s foreign policy debacles. Rather than simply take to the airwaves, they have decided to do something about it and about the political environment concerning national security.
The Cheneys’ press release announces: “the formation and launch of The Alliance for a Strong America, a 501(c)4 grassroots organization that will advocate for a restoration of American strength and power. The group will be led by former Vice President Cheney, who will serve as Chairman and Liz Cheney, who will be the group’s President. The committee is supported by citizens who are dedicated to the hard but necessary task of preserving freedom and restoring American strength and power in the wake of the Obama administration’s national security failures.” In a video they describe the challenge:
Their effort comes at a critical time. As the former VP says, “Our enemies no longer fear us. Our allies no longer trust us. Empty threats, meaningless redlines, leading from behind, and “engagement” with rogue regimes, have put America on a path of decline. Threats to America’s security are on the rise. Iran is marching towards a nuclear weapon. Al Qaeda is resurgent, establishing new safe havens across the Middle East, including in Iraq where President Obama withdrew all American forces with no stay behind agreement. He has announced he intends to [do] the same in Afghanistan. Syria has become the most dangerous training ground for Islamic terrorists since the attacks of 9/11. ”
But the effort, wisely I think, is not limited to simply criticizing the president. There is some (perhaps not enough) of that already. The public education aspect — and education of lawmakers and candidates — that the Cheneys also intend to undertake is just as important. (In the video, Liz Cheney says: “We will provide information to citizens about national security and defense policy, and ensure that these issues are a critical part of America’s national debate and discussion over the next two years and beyond.”)
One of the many tragedies of the Obama administration is that the president does not engage the public, explain the dangers we face and create support for our actions. Therefore, it falls to others — conservatives — to explain the nature of the threat and the means we require to keep the United States and our allies secure. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the Cheneys hit the nail on the head with this description of the world’s reaction to current U.S. “policy”:
On a trip to the Middle East this spring, we heard a constant refrain in capitals from the Persian Gulf to Israel, “Can you please explain what your president is doing?” “Why is he walking away?” “Why is he so blithely sacrificing the hard fought gains you secured in Iraq?” “Why is he abandoning your friends?” “Why is he doing deals with your enemies?”
In one Arab capital, a senior official pulled out a map of Syria and Iraq. Drawing an arc with his finger from Raqqa province in northern Syria to Anbar province in western Iraq, he said, “They will control this territory. Al Qaeda is building safe havens and training camps here. Don’t the Americans care?”
Foreign policy experts, former officials and military personnel who travel invariably have precisely the same reaction. “Where is America?” is the refrain they hear.
But the problem is not simply the Obama administration, nor the Democratic Party as a whole. On the GOP side, the public debate has become unserious, slogan-oriented and fixated with small and large scandals at the expense of other topics. When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tells conservatives that the National Security Agency is “listening” to their calls, or right-wing media outlets inveigh against military action in Syria to enforce a red line, or candidates with zero experience in foreign policy run for office, the GOP has a problem.
Ronald Reagan ran for office and then instituted an about-face on foreign policy after talking, writing and debating foreign policy for decades and making his campaign, in large part, about U.S. national security. It would be helpful to have some experienced voices both to promote the debate and to shift the priorities of both parties. It’s time to stop slashing defense to pay for runaway spending. It’s time to have a realistic discussion about what foreign aid does and why and when we use it as a tool of statecraft. And it is equally important to make clear that the alternative to Obama is not, as critics say, “continuous war.” Perhaps the left and right have forgotten, but until Obama, presidents of both parties were committed to keeping Europe whole and free, and did so without wars. (They also did so over the objections of left-wing nuclear freeze types like Obama and now Vice President Joe Biden.) And since the president will not, it is up to conservatives to make the case for intelligence collection and for keeping the option to interrogate and detain enemy combatants.
It is also critical to explain how foreign policy challenges are related. You want to check Iranian power? You’d better enforce that red line in Syria. You want to prevent another jihadist attack? You better collect the “dots” by data mining and be able to interrogate those terrorists we do capture.
The Cheneys are not alone in their effort. John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations, is pursuing a pro-defense agenda and actually endorsing candidates. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has been speaking out and introducing legislation to push back against the administration’s retrenchment. (He recently argued, “Under no circumstances should we be partnering with Iran” in Iraq.) In this case, the more the better. The traditional, pro-defense wing of the GOP needs to reassert itself and carry the debate, and the more voices — especially experienced and high-profile ones — the better.
It is critical to make certain that the next generation of leaders understands the need to project U.S. values a lot better than does Obama. But that is certainly a low bar to hop over. The GOP and the country will need to do far more than that to repair the damage Obama will leave behind.