- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

One of the digs at Ronald Reagan before he was president was that he lacked a keen grasp of foreign policy. The former actor and California governor had never had to grapple with those questions firsthand. Surely, critics argued, he couldn’t match the abilities of people with real-world experience like George H.W. Bush or John Connally. Once in office, Reagan demonstrated that principle and vision could more than make up for inexperience. He had a good plan and stuck to it; the rest was just a matter of details.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is taking a page from the Reagan playbook. Like the Gipper, he believes in a policy of “peace through strength,” but he has added “clarity” to the familiar slogan, something that’s been in short supply lately. Lack of clarity has been a major weakness of the Obama administration’s approach to international relations. Too often, the United States has appeared dithering, or its stances have been ambiguous. This communicates weakness and presents opportunities for adversaries to shape events. The Obama administration “has created too much uncertainty with respect to our strength,” Mr. Cain told The Washington Times, “which simply encourages misbehavior.” He points out that the corollary to the slogan is also true: Without strength, there can be no peace.

The three pillars of Mr. Cain’s foreign-policy vision are defense, the economy and energy. He thinks the automatic defense budget cuts triggered by the failure of the congressional deficit supercommittee to come up with meaningful deficit-reduction measures are outrageous. “You don’t lead with a formula,” he said. Forcing massive budget cuts on a department that is already stripped down is “absolutely insane.”

The economy is the center of gravity of American global power. It’s the source of U.S. influence and the means of supporting our military might. Economic hard times brought sagging U.S. global influence, so the solution today is returning to pro-growth policies in the same way tax reform spurred the Reagan economic boom and the accompanying restoration of American power in the world.

Regarding Iran, Mr. Cain would make explicit that the United States supports the opposition movements with a view toward regime change, a message that’s been muddled in the Obama administration. He also offers clarity to the special U.S.-Israeli relationship, saying the United States would stand with the Jewish state if it were attacked because “they are our friends.”

Mr. Cain doesn’t believe it’s the mission of the United States to “play nicey-nice.” The world is a much tougher place than that and needs a more serious approach. He noted that one of the contenders at the Nov. 22 Republican debate said America should be friends with Pakistan. “I reject that,” Mr. Cain made clear. “We must not make them our friend. We must make them respect us.” No matter who wins the presidency next year, we need a commander in chief who would rather command respect than submit an apology.