It can be argued that domestic affairs are a president’s top priority, but the Constitution expressly puts the chief executive in charge of setting and conducting foreign affairs. It is therefore essential to know if the candidate who wants to be president has a reasonable knowledge of events around the world.
On Tuesday evening I watched an edition of Fox News Bret Beir’s Special Report where Herman Cain was “center chair” as the usual members of the panel got a chance to quiz him and, after he attempted to dispose of the charges of sexual harassment unleashed against him, syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer asked a question that dealt with foreign policy.
What would Cain do if Iran was going to unleash an attack on the U.S.? Cain gave a rambling, unspecific answer except to say he’d order an Aegis destroyer into the Persian Gulf to let Iran know he was serious, mentioning something about the use by Iran of missiles. It was distressingly clear that Cain had no more idea what he would do than he had regarding other potential foreign policy questions.
Foreign affairs are Herman Cain’s Achilles’ heel and it has not gone unnoticed by the political press and others. In the October 17 Washington Post, Chris Cillizza took note of Cain’s appearance on “Meet the Press” where he was asked “whether Iran’s involvement in an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. amounted to an act of war.”
Cain replied, “After I looked at all of the information provided by the intelligence community, the military, than I could make that decision.” That is what is known as a lawyerly response. “If, if it’s an act of war, and the evidence suggests that, than I am going to consult with my advisors and say, ‘What are our options”’”
If Barack Obama’s extremely muted response is any indication, there aren’t that many overt options, though one might hope that there are a host of covert ones in the works.
During a PBS interview with Judy Woodruff, Cain was asked about China as a potential military threat to the U.S. At one point Cain said, “They’ve indicated that they’re trying they’re trying to develop nuclear capability…” China conducted its first text of a nuclear device on October 16, 1964. It is estimated to have some 400 nuclear weapons. They are not “developing” a nuclear threat. They are a nuclear threat in the same way as other nations with nuclear weapons. This is why Iran is hell-bent on acquiring its own nuclear weapons.
A man no one could accuse of being anything but conservative, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, had Cain on his program and, in a segment with Dennis Miller, the show’s comic relief, O’Reilly said, “Look, I like Herman Cain. I like his spirit. I think he presents himself very well. But when he came on The Factor a few weeks ago, he had no clue about foreign affairs.”
Cain lacks a good poker face. When asked questions for which he is unprepared, his eyes begin to blink like a deranged traffic light. He responds with some programmed answer that is often unrelated to the question. He is the proverbial deer in the headlights.
During a recent speech to a Republican audience, he said that so far as he’s concerned, America is Israel’s ally and vice versa. That got the predictable applause. Cain visited Israel in August on a fact-finding tour. He met with a deputy prime minister and the Mayor of Jerusalem.
However, when he was interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, he was asked about the Palestinian demand of “right of return”, a major divide between Israelis and Palestinians, and Cain had no idea what it was. “That’s something that should be negotiated,” said Cain, grasping for an answer that sounded sensible, but the issue is not negotiable so far as the Israelis are concerned and with good reason. Someone even casually aware of the issues affecting Israel would know that.
Stephen Yates, president of the DC Advisory and former national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, might not be expected to criticize a GOP candidate, but when asked he said of Cain, “These are the kind of questions a leading candidate cannot simply pass to advisors. To date, Cain has not projected command of these presidential imperatives.”
A pizza company executive or one leading a restaurant trade association probably doesn’t need to know much about foreign affairs, but a candidate for President of the United States needs to know more than some hasty daily briefings by his campaign staffers.
Cain dismissed the fact he had no idea where Uzbekistan is or its strategic importance to U.S. foreign affairs. “When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, you know, I don’t know. Do you know?” Even Obama knows that a stable relationship with Uzbekistan is regarded as of vital importance to the war in Afghanistan for its airport and as a transit corridor to reduce dependence on Pakistan.
Cain thinks foreign affairs questions are “gotcha” questions, but they may well be the most critical questions a potential president has to understand and answer. It is testimony to the difficulty of these issues that Barack Obama has essentially carried out most of the policies put in place by George W. Bush when it comes to foreign affairs.
Right now Herman Cain is the candidate-de-jour in the polls, but so was Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry when he got into the race. I like the fact that Cain is a bona fide conservative. I don’t like the obvious fact that he couldn’t find Uzbekistan on the map and probably doesn’t know much else about the world.
On that count alone, I would not vote for him. Republicans have to get over their current love affair with Herman Cain and select a candidate more qualified to lead the nation.
The Moral Liberal Featured Writer, Alan Caruba, writes a daily post at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com. An author, business and science writer, he is the founder of The National Anxiety Center.
Copyright 2011 © Alan Caruba