Nobody’s gonna make Herman Cain talk about foreign policy if he doesn’t want to
Given the lobster-tank logic of presidential primaries, pizza tycoon Herman Cain’s recent unexpected rise in the polls means his fellow candidates are likely to try to tear him down in the coming days, starting at tonight’s debate. But it may be harder than one might think to catch Cain in any flubs resulting from his ...
Given the lobster-tank logic of presidential primaries, pizza tycoon Herman Cain's recent unexpected rise in the polls means his fellow candidates are likely to try to tear him down in the coming days, starting at tonight's debate. But it may be harder than one might think to catch Cain in any flubs resulting from his lack of foreign-policy background. Cain's strategy so far seems based on the reasonable premise that foreign policy is not a major factor in this election, so he just hits his talking points and then blows off more complicated questions. Take this recent example:
Given the lobster-tank logic of presidential primaries, pizza tycoon Herman Cain’s recent unexpected rise in the polls means his fellow candidates are likely to try to tear him down in the coming days, starting at tonight’s debate. But it may be harder than one might think to catch Cain in any flubs resulting from his lack of foreign-policy background. Cain’s strategy so far seems based on the reasonable premise that foreign policy is not a major factor in this election, so he just hits his talking points and then blows off more complicated questions. Take this recent example:
“When they ask me who’s the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m gonna say, ‘You know, I don’t know, do you know?’ And then I’m gonna say, ‘How’s that gonna create more jobs?’ I wanna focus on the top priorities of this country. That’s what leaders do.”
This fits in well with his rhetoric on immigration:
CAIN: I just got back from China. Ever heard of the Great Wall of China? It looks pretty sturdy. And that sucker is real high. I think we can build one if we want to! We have put a man on the moon, we can build a fence! Now, my fence might be part Great Wall and part electrical technology…It will be a twenty foot wall, barbed wire, electrified on the top, and on this side of the fence, I’ll have that moat that President Obama talked about. And I would put those alligators in that moat!
Not surprisingly, Cain takes an absolutist view on Israel:
Cain was asked what he’d give the Palestinian’s in a peace deal. He replied, “Nothing. Because I’m not convinced that the Palestinians are really interested in peace… if we look at history, it has been clear that the Palestinians have always wanted to push Israelis and push Israel for more and more and more.”
Then of course there are his well-documented fears of sharia infiltration:
In an interview aired Sunday on ABC’s "This Week," Cain said that "some people would infuse Sharia law in our court system if we allow it."
The issue, which makes many some Republicans cringe, has resurfaced because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is mulling a presidential bid. Earlier this year, Christie said he’s sick of people talking about Islamic law taking over the American justice system.
"I honestly believe that. So even if he calls me crazy, I am going to make sure that they don’t infuse it little by little by little," Cain said. "It’s not going to be some grand scheme, little by little. So I don’t mind if he calls me crazy."
Cain’s rhetoric on China is also pretty blustery:
It would be naïve to think that China would not be tempted to flex its worldly might if it were bigger than us economically and militarily. And it would be equally naïve to think we could influence their actions on currency or anything else with diplomacy or two verses of Kumbaya.
Appeasement is not a strategy. As Ronald Reagan proved, strength is the strategy. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have shown that appeasement just buys the Chinese more time to talk until they can equal us in size and might.
Our China strategy should be two simple words: Outgrow them![…]
We can outgrow China because the USA is not a loser nation. We just need a winner in the White House. It can happen in 2012.
The strategy for this growth, naturally, consists of slashing corporate and capital gains taxes.
On Afghanistan, Cain essentially refuses to elaborate on his position. His explanation for this is a bit more nuanced:
When asked about what I would do about our involvement in the war in Afghanistan during the debate, I answered by asking the questions that should have been asked before we got involved many years ago. What is our mission? How does it serve our interest? Is there a path to victory? If not, then what is our exit strategy?
I ask these questions instead of “shooting from the lip” because there is obviously a lot of classified information to which I do not have access. There are dozens of experts and military leaders I would need advice from before I could make an informed decision about a real, clear plan for the USA’s involvement in Afghanistan. Similarly, a real, clear strategy for every country with which we have relationships would be developed, regardless of whether or not we are involved in a military conflict.
To be clear, I want to be out of Afghanistan and all war-torn countries as much as the next person. But I am not going to propose a half-baked plan based on half the information I would need to make the right decision, just to pretend I know everything.
I have some sympathy for this argument. The best foreign-policy presidents haven’t necessarily been those with the most experience going in, and their positions are usually defined by their responses to crises anyway. However, it’s a little odd when you consider the fact that his main criticism of Barack Obama’s foreign policy is that the president takes too long to make decisions, that he dithered on the Arab Spring, that he "sat on the [Afghanistan] surge decision for months," even that he "jeopardized this latest mission to get bin Laden because he waited 16 hours to make the decision."
What Cain is essentially saying is that he’s putting off decisions on vitally important topics about which he knows very little but that he’ll make them really fast.
The only countries in the world that Cain seems to take any interest in are Israel and Chile, whose retirement system he has repeatedly praised. But I do still think it’s unlikely that Cain will be caught in any Palin-esque moments where he appears out of his depth. Rather than fake knowledge about the world, he by and large simply expresses contempt for it. Sadly, this strategy seems to have been effective so far.
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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