The top 10 foreign policy gaffes from the campaign trail
JUSTIN SULLIVAN/Getty Images News After eight years of a president who allegedly didn’t know that there’s more than one kind of Muslim or that there are no such nationalities as “Grecians” or “Irelanders,” Iowans who head to the caucuses tonight might be looking for a presidential candidate who won’t make the kind of dumb mistakes ...
JUSTIN SULLIVAN/Getty Images News
After eight years of a president who allegedly didn’t know that there’s more than one kind of Muslim or that there are no such nationalities as “Grecians” or “Irelanders,” Iowans who head to the caucuses tonight might be looking for a presidential candidate who won’t make the kind of dumb mistakes that embarrass the United States in front of the rest of the world. They’ve got a tough choice to make. Front-runners in both parties have racked up an impressive number of gaffes, screw-ups, and displays of general ignorance that ought to make foreign policy-minded voters very nervous. Here are ten of the worst:
1. Mike Huckabee: Never heard of the NIE.
On Dec. 4, Huckabee was asked by a reporter about the just released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program and admitted he was unaware that it existed. No biggie. It was only the lead story in every major newspaper that week.
2. Mitt Romney: “Hugo Chavez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase — Patria o muerte, venceremos. It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba.”
Not exactly. The sentence, which means “Fatherland or death, we will conquer” is one of Fidel Castro’s favorite catchphrases, something the mostly Cuban audience at the March 9, Miami speech where he made the blunder would be aware of. Quoting the movie “Scarface” wasn’t that smart either.
3. Hillary Clinton: “He [Pervez Musharraf] could be the only person on the ballot. I don’t think that’s a real election.”
Considering the shots Clinton has taken at the foreign-policy inexperience of her rivals, this is pretty bad. The postponed Pakistani elections that she’d referred to in an interview with George Stephanopoulos are parliamentary, so President Musharraf will certainly not be on the ballot.
4. Mike Huckabee: “In light of what happened in Pakistan yesterday, it’s interesting that there were more Pakistanis who illegally crossed the border than of any other nationality except for those immediately south of our border, 660 last year from Pakistan who came into our country illegally because we don’t have secure borders.”
Not to be outdone by his possible future opponent in Pakistan-related ignorance, Huckabee made this bone-headed attempt to relate the turmoil in Pakistan to paranoia about Mexican immigration. Unsurprisingly, Huckabee had trouble verifying this fact, because it’s completely wrong. (Huckabee should probably have his own list, frankly.)
5. Barack Obama: Caught reading during Petraeus testimony.
This isn’t a verbal gaffe but it’s still pretty dumb. During Gen. David Petraeus’ testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Illinois senator could be seen reading a memo from his campaign staff advising him to highlight his differences with Hillary Clinton. Not exactly a promising sign from the “candidate for change.”
6. Rudy Giuliani: “That’s an extraordinary statement — as someone who lived through the attack of September 11 — that we invited the attack, because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11.”
The 9/11 candidate took Ron Paul’s bait in a debate last May after the congressman suggested that U.S. aggression in the Middle East may have lead to the attacks. Whatever Giuliani’s views on the “blowback” meme, it’s a little hard to believe that he had never heard it before.
7. Fred Thompson: “You know, you look back over our history, and it doesn’t take you long to realize that our people have shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world.”
The history of the world, eh? Talk about an extraordinary statement! Are we counting ancient Greece here? Hasn’t Thompson seen 300? Not to mention the 8 million Soviets who died fighting the Nazis, 10 times the number of U.S. casualties from all of its wars combined.
8. John McCain: “General Petraeus goes out [of the Green Zone] almost every day in an unarmed humvee. I think you oughta catch up. You are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media.”
Actually, as CNN’s Michael Ware pointed out soon after McCain’s interview with Wolf Blitzer, Petraeus typically travels in a convoy of several heavily armed humvees. Violence may be down in Iraq, but not even Petraeus himself can match McCain for desperate optimism.
9. Mitt Romney: “We should withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council.”
Actually, the U.S. already boycotts that council, but one should never let the facts get in the way of some good U.N. bashing.
10. John Edwards: “This [U.S.-Peru trade] agreement does not meet my standard of putting American workers and communities first, ahead of the interests of the big multinational corporations, which for too long have rigged our trade policies for themselves.
This protectionist bluster will probably score Edwards some points in Iowa so I hesitate to even call it a gaffe, but as Blake has pointed out, the level of trade with Peru is fairly insignificant and most of it consists of exports from the United States.
So there you have it. Have fun Iowans!
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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