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FOREIGN POLICY DOSSIER: Herman Cain FOREIGN POLICY DOSSIER: Herman Cain

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Election 2012 / CAMPAIGN 2012

FOREIGN POLICY DOSSIER: Herman Cain

photo of Sara Sorcher
November 12, 2011

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain insists he'll be able to get smart on foreign-policy issues the same way he learned about running a pizza franchise. "I had never made a pizza, but I learned," he told an audience at the National Press Club.

"I don't believe you need to have extensive foreign-policy experience if you know how to make sure you're working on the right problems, establishing the right priorities, surround yourself with the right people, which would allow you to put together the plans necessary to solve the problem," he said.

Criticizing Obama's "foggy foreign policy," Cain has described his own views as an extension of former President Reagan’s doctrine.  “Weakness invites attack. And right now this nation is viewed as weak because we have a president that’s viewed as weak because he believes that we can maintain our status in the world by singing 'Kumbaya,’ and 'Kumbaya’ is not a strategy,” Cain said to applause at a Tennessee rally.

 

Throughout the campaign, much more attention has been paid to Cain's foreign policy flubs, rather than his actual positions on issues.

DON’T MESS WITH ISRAEL. Cain’s one clear foreign-policy stance appears to be: “If you mess with Israel, you’re messing with the United States of America.”

NO AID TO ENEMIES. Cain said he would adjust how the U.S. provides foreign aid, but didn't get specific. “I happen to believe we must stop giving money to our enemies," he said to loud applause at the National Press Club. However, according to Foreign Policy's The Cable, the only country he identified as a “friend” was Israel, and he didn’t name any "enemies."

FLIP-FLOP ON NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS. After Israel made a deal with Hamas to swap 1,000 prisoners for one captured Israeli soldier, CNN asked Cain if he would consider a deal to release all prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for one American soldier if al-Qaida demanded it. “I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer,” Cain replied. Hours later, Cain recanted, saying he misspoke. “If I said that, I spoke in error. Maybe I didn’t understand the question… I believe in a philosophy: We cannot negotiate with terrorists.”

IRAN: GO AHEAD, MAKE MY DAY. Cain said the U.S. has “one of the greatest capabilities in the world” with its ballistic missile detection system, which the U.S. is spreading into Europe and the Middle East. If Iran wanted to attack “our friends,” Cain said, referring to Israel, “it would be like that old phrase Clint Eastwood used to use … 'Make my day.’ ”

Cain, on Fox News, said he doesn’t believe the U.S. can prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon without a preemptive strike. Still, he notes he would “have to talk to a lot of people before I would go so far as to say we should do a preemptive strike.”

MISSILE DEFENSE. Cain suggested missile defense could be used to stop Iranian agents allegedly plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador and bomb embassies in Washington. When asked what he would do in response to the alleged plot, Cain said on Fox News: "I would have done something earlier such that it probably would have encouraged them not to do something like this and that is one of the great capabilities we have is our ballistic missile defense systems that could be upgraded, and we could place these Aegis ballistic missile defense systems in international water in that part of the world."

PALESTINIAN RIGHT OF ... WHAT NOW? Cain famously flubbed a question on the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. Cain’s initial answer that this divisive issue is “something that should be negotiated” is actually consistent with long-standing American policy of encouraging direct negotiations. But he was clearly baffled by the question, and incorrectly said Israel doesn’t “have a big problem with people returning” the same week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was "not going to happen."

A day later, Cain told Fox News he “didn’t understand” the issue. “The thing that you’re gonna learn about Herman Cain, if he doesn’t know something, he’s not going to try and fake it, or give an answer that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” he said.

"NOTHING" FOR YOU, PALESTINIANS. Cain insists that Obama "threw Israel under the bus" when he called for the parameter of 1967 borders with mutually agreed-upon land swaps as the baseline for territorial negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. When asked on Fox News what President Cain would offer the Palestinians in a peace deal, he said: “Nothing."

"I'm not convinced that the Palestinians are really interested in peace," Cain said. "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. I don't agree with that. I respect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for taking a stand and saying they cannot give that up." He added: "Secondly, it's Israel's decision, not President Obama's decision to where the borderline will be."

LACK OF CLARITY ON AFGHANISTAN. On Oct. 29, Cain said in Montgomery, Ala., that the U.S. “never send men and women into harm’s way unless it is clear what mission and definition of victory is." Yet Cain, relatively mum on his positions on the wars, has offered little for his vision on the future of the war effort there. On NBC's Meet the Press, Cain punted the question to his advisers, saying, "In Afghanistan, victory is: Can we leave Afghanistan in a situation where they can defend themselves? I don't know if that's possible right now. Because here again, what do the commanders on the ground say, what does the intelligence community say?"

“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,” Cain said, according to CNN.

DISAGREE ON IRAQ WITHDRAWAL. While Cain said in a Meet the Press interview the war in Iraq was not a mistake because there were a "lot of other reasons" the U.S. needed to invade and "a lot of benefits to come out of Iraq," he doesn't agree with Obama's plan to withdraw all troops by the end of the year because it would "basically leave that country open to attacks by Iran." Cain said he would want to leave U.S. troops there past deadline if that's what commanders on the ground suggested. "And I believe that's what they are saying," he said.

At an Oct. 29 rally in Montgomery, Cain said he doesn't agree with Obama's withdrawal plan because "he told the enemy what he’s gonna do and when he’s gonna do it.” U.S. military commanders had recommended leaving 10,000 to 15,000 troops to train Iraqi forces, but combat operations in the country have already ended.

NOT A " 'MISS CONGENIALITY' CONTEST" WITH NORTH KOREA. Cain has bashed Obama’s strategy of trying to engage Pyongyang to pressure it to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. “Our current president seems to believe that compromising or ‘sitting down’ with the world’s most threatening dictators makes the U.S. sophisticated or progressive,” Cain told Race42012.com. “Moves like this exchange our security for vanity. President Reagan knew that national security wasn’t about America winning ‘Miss Congeniality’ contests. It’s about keeping our people safe … North Korea is a danger not only to its own people, but also to the U.S.”

HANDS OFF THE NUKES, CHINA. During an appearance on PBS News Hour, Cain was asked how he would react to China’s growing military influence. He replied that he was worried Beijing is “trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have." Fact: China tested its first nuclear weapon in 1964, and has been a nuclear power since then.

PRESIDENT CAIN WILL GET BACK TO YOU RE: TAIWAN. When asked by Think Progress whether Washington should shift its strategy and officially recognize the government of Taiwan, which it has not done since 1979, Cain incorrectly said "I think we already recognize their democratically-elected government." When asked if Obama should send an ambassador, Cain said he can't comment "because I don't know what's going on in his head, and I don't know all the information that he has." As for whether President Cain would send one, he said: "President Cain will get back to you."

UZBEKISTAN: "SMALL, INSIGNIFICANT" STATE. In an Oct. 10 interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, Cain was asked if he’s ready for the “gotcha” questions reporters ask him during his campaign. Cain famously replied he is, indeed, ready to reply he has no idea.  “When they ask me, ‘Who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan?’ I’m going to say you know, ‘I don’t know. Do you know?’... I want to focus on the top priorities of this country.... Knowing who is the head of some of these small, insignificant states around the world—I don’t think that is something that is critical to focusing on national security and getting this economy going.”

FLIPFLOP ON ANWAR AL-AWLAKI STRIKE. In early May, Cain said President Obama should not kill Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric identified as "chief of external operations" for al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, because he’s an American citizen and therefore should be “charged … arrested and brought to justice.” Oddly, weeks later, Cain said in an interview with The Atlantic he hadn't heard of al-Awlaki or the administration's hit list—but said he opposed the idea. However, after Awlaki was killed by a U.S. air strike in Yemen in October, Hot Air's Ed Morrissey reported that Cain said he “fully supported” Obama’s decision to take out Awlaki.

LIKE A TIGER IN THE TALL GRASS. After all the lambasting of his lack of knowledge on world affairs, Cain insists he is secretly brushing up on world affairs to prove to everyone he’s not as “foreign policy dumb as they think” when “the right time” comes.

During an appearance on Fox News, Cain said: “Have you ever heard the expression ‘the tiger in the tall grass’? … Do they think that for the last nine months I have not been studying the foreign policy challenges that they face? ... Do they think for a moment that I’m not a student of the position that I seek, and that I probably know more about foreign policy than they think?"

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