Special Report

Herman Cain’s Foreign Policy

Herman Cain’s Foreign Policy

Foreign-policy credentials: Cain has no past experience in foreign policy. Trained as a mathematician, he began his career as a civilian ballistics analyst for the U.S. Navy.  

Overview: Foreign policy has been seen as Cain’s Achilles’ heel as the former businessman and motivational speaker has emerged as a front-runner in the race. Cain has struggled with gaffes — expressing indifference to insignificant countries such as "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan" and seeming unaware that China already possesses nuclear weapons — and he has struggled to articulate a coherent policy on Afghanistan, the war on terror, or Libya.

Cain has brushed aside concerns about his lack of foreign-policy knowledge by pointing out that when he took over the Godfather’s Pizza chain, "I had never made a pizza, but I learned."

Advisors: Cain’s senior foreign-policy advisor is J.D. Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesman and Navy commander. Mark Pfeifle, a former deputy assistant for strategic communications in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, and Roger Pardo-Maurer, a former deputy assistant defense secretary for the Western Hemisphere, are also advising the campaign.

On the issues:

Afghanistan/Pakistan: Cain has essentially refused to state a position on Afghanistan. In an early debate, he raised conservative eyebrows by saying, "It’s not clear what the mission is." He later clarified that "there are dozens of experts and military leaders I would need advice from before I could make an informed decision."

In the Nov. 12 South Carolina debate, he again said he would not make a decision about strategy in Afghanistan without "consulting with the commanders on the ground, our intelligence sources, after having discussions with Pakistan."

Although Cain has promised to starkly define America’s friends and enemies in his foreign policy, he says, "It is unclear where we stand with Pakistan."

Military spending: Cain has suggested that defense cuts may be "on the table" in his administration, but that he would have to "take a look at all of the different programs, evaluate those programs along with the military experts" before coming to a decision about specific cuts.

Immigration/borders: Hispanic politicians criticized Cain for lack of sensitivity for suggesting a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border made of "barbed wire — electrified — with a sign on the other side that says it can kill you" as a solution to the country’s illegal-immigration problem. (He later claimed the remark was a joke.) Cain has also said, "We don’t need a new path to citizenship. Use the one that we already have." He believes that the recent immigration-reform proposals pushed by Democrats could be a gateway to amnesty.  

Israel/Palestine: Cain says his "top foreign-policy priority would be to stand united with Israel" and that the Obama administration’s "lack of clarity towards Israel … demonstrates weakness and only invites attack." He has also stated his willingness to attack Iran in order to protect Israel. As for the "so-called Palestinian people," as Cain has described them, Cain has been dismissive about the idea of statehood and in one interview seemed unaware of the idea of the Palestinian "right of return."

China: "My China strategy is quite simply outgrow China," Cain has said, suggesting that repairing the U.S. economy is the best way to counter competition from the rising Asian power. Cain has claimed that China has "indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability," even though the country has had nuclear weapons since 1964.

Foreign aid: Similar to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Cain says the United States must "clarify who our friends are, clarify who our enemies are; and I happen to believe we must stop giving money to our enemies."

Iran/nukes: Cain says his first action on Iran would be to "assist the opposition movement in Iran that’s trying to overthrow the regime." He would also attempt to put pressure on Iran via global oil markets by achieving U.S. energy independence.

Trade: Cain’s trade policies are somewhat vague. He has said in the past that "Uncle Sam has got to stop being Uncle Sucker" in trade deals that benefit other countries at U.S. expense. He says supports "free trade agreements that are done correctly," including "parts of" NAFTA and CAFTA.

War on terror/detainees: During an October CNN interview, Cain suggested he would theoretically consider negotiating the release of prisoners in Guantánamo in exchange for U.S. prisoners held by al Qaeda, though he later clumsily disavowed the statement. Cain says he would defer to the "judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture," but he does not believe that waterboarding fits the definition.

Environment: Cain has described the notion that human activity causes climate change as "poppycock." He has protested against cap-and-trade schemes and promised to "scrap the EPA and start over."

Russia/reset: No stated position.

Arab Spring: Cain has criticized Barack Obama for being on the "wrong side" of the Arab Spring and said that the "majority" of the Egyptian opposition comes from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. He has described both former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as friends of the United States.

Other issues: Cain has repeatedly expressed his admiration for the "Chilean model" of entitlement reform, referring to a Pinochet-era scheme that redirected workers’ pensions into private funds.