Passport

Memo to Cain campaign: The names aren’t the point

My colleague Josh Rogin profiles Herman Cain’s emerging foreign-policy brain-trust and discusses how Team Cain is regrouping in the wake of the Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan incident:  And after Cain famously announced this month he did not know the name of the president of "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," the campaign made up a list of over 20 foreign leaders for Cain ...

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

My colleague Josh Rogin profiles Herman Cain's emerging foreign-policy brain-trust and discusses how Team Cain is regrouping in the wake of the Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan incident: 

And after Cain famously announced this month he did not know the name of the president of "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," the campaign made up a list of over 20 foreign leaders for Cain to commit to memory.

"He was just trying to make a joke out of the fact that he doesn't know the name of the every world leader right now," Gordon said. "He was trying to disarm that before it was inflated into an issue."

My colleague Josh Rogin profiles Herman Cain’s emerging foreign-policy brain-trust and discusses how Team Cain is regrouping in the wake of the Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan incident: 

And after Cain famously announced this month he did not know the name of the president of "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," the campaign made up a list of over 20 foreign leaders for Cain to commit to memory.

"He was just trying to make a joke out of the fact that he doesn’t know the name of the every world leader right now," Gordon said. "He was trying to disarm that before it was inflated into an issue."

This strikes me as missing the point completely. The problem with Cain’s answer wasn’t that he didn’t know who the president of Uzbekistan was, it’s that he expressed contempt for the idea that he would ever have to concern himself with such a place. Knowing the names and personal quirks of lots of heads of state is a great party trick — FP editors are really fun at parties! — but it’s a lot more important for an aspiring president to have a sense of the political state-of-play in a country and what it means for U.S. diplomatic, security, or economic interests. 

If a candidate can’t name, say, Nguyen Tan Dung without a Google search, I don’t see that as a huge problem. But he or she should certainly have some thoughts about U.S. priorities in Southeast Asia. That’s not really something you can bone up on with flashcards. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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