If scaring us silly were a religion, Dick Cheney would be its high priest. The most powerful vice president in U.S. history is still waging a campaign, even after a heart transplant in March, to convince us that the dark side of terrorists and rogue states is out there and must be defended against at all costs. An unrelenting critic of Barack Obama's foreign policy, Cheney has called the president's efforts to portray himself as strong on national defense "hogwash." In the wake of the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in September, Cheney framed the administration's confused response to the attack as symptomatic of a larger failure of leadership. "They refuse to recognize the situation we are in, and that's the first step towards ultimate failure and ultimately the future terrorist attacks," he said on the Sean Hannity Show.
But it may be daughter Liz, a former official in George W. Bush's administration who founded the advocacy group Keep America Safe in 2009 and co-wrote her father's bestselling 2011 memoir, who has emerged as the most influential and outspoken member of the Cheney family, arguing for a more imposing U.S. presence abroad. "In too many parts of the world, America is no longer viewed as a reliable ally or an enemy to be feared," she recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal. The younger Cheney, a Fox News political analyst, raised funds for Mitt Romney's campaign in her home state of Wyoming, and there's speculation she may be planning her own run for office.
Following the Bush administration's foreign-policy controversies, many believed the Republican Party would move away from its more pugnacious recent past. Some, like Condoleezza Rice (No. 39), maintain a sunnier optimism about American power. But given the hawkish rhetoric and hard-line advisors of Romney's campaign, it seems that Cheneyism is alive and well in today's Republican Party.
Condi Rice has long dismissed the terms "idealist" and "realist" as meaningless academic distinctions. An expert on the Soviet Union whose worldview shifted dramatically with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the woman who became George W. Bush's national security advisor and secretary of state is at once both and neither. More than anything (and very much unlike her dark-side-minded rival, No. 38 Dick Cheney), Rice is an optimist whose faith in historical progress -- and America's role at its forefront -- has been likened to "theology."
This unwavering belief in American indispensability guided her principled critique of Barack Obama's administration this year, when she re-emerged into the Republican spotlight with a starring role at the Republican National Convention. "Where does America stand?" Rice asked emphatically in a speech that drew praise from both sides of the aisle and stirred rumblings of "Condi 2016." Without robust American leadership, she warned, chaos will ensue -- "or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values." And Rice, rarely a partisan warrior, made a pointed jab at Obama, saying, "We cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind."
Unlike much of candidate Mitt Romney's foreign-policy team, however, Rice would have America lead the world in a decidedly moderate direction. There is considerable continuity between the foreign policy of Bush's second term -- when Rice was secretary of state -- and that of the Obama administration. But Rice, though she has largely escaped public blame for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is no dove -- "Peace really does come through strength," she reminded the audience in Tampa. Still, rebuilding America's alliances, so that friends and partners know the United States is "reliable and consistent and determined," and expanding free trade top Rice's priority list, as do "sensitively" developing America's oil and natural gas reserves and coming up with new immigration laws that "show that we are a compassionate nation of immigrants." In a party increasingly dominated by its spoon-banging right wing, Rice has emerged as an important voice in favor of tough, but smart, foreign policy.