This is more or less Herman Cain’s moment as a populist favorite among the Republican presidential hopefuls. His charm lies in his straight talking style and common sense business experience. But since he is running for the post of commander-in-chief at a time when the United States is involved in two shooting wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), a NATO intervention in Libya and the ongoing war against international Islamist terrorism, his ignorance about foreign policy isn’t merely embarrassing, it’s pathetic.
You may recall that at the South Carolina GOP presidential debate he said he had no idea what to do about Afghanistan but would consult with experts about it. Later he said he would come up with a plan sometime between his election in November 2012 and his inauguration the following January. Then he was asked about the Palestinian right of return by Chris Wallace on Fox News and had no idea what he was talking about. He later said that he was reading a book about Israel but wouldn’t say what book it was. This week he said he would go to Israel to join a Glenn Beck rally.
Last night, as The Hill notes, Cain went on the Bill O’Reilly show to further showcase the fact that he knows about as much about the dangers facing the world abroad as many of us do about the intricacies of managing a fast food franchise. O’Reilly asked him what he would do to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and all he could say in reply was that he would work for energy independence for the United States. That’s a good cause but as O’Reilly tried to put out to Cain, it wouldn’t do anything about the terrible danger to the West that Iranian nukes pose.
Cain may be a good man and he may even be on the right side on these issues, as his instinct to support Israel seems to show. But the point about Cain and foreign policy is not just that he’s not very knowledgeable about such things. It’s that he is so self-confident about his abilities that it seemingly hasn’t occurred to him that this ignorance is a liability.
Despite his momentary upswing, Herman Cain isn’t going to win the Republican presidential nomination or be elected president. So perhaps it doesn’t matter what he doesn’t know. But one of the purposes of a presidential campaign is to force candidates to discuss the issues and to debate their ideas about them. Though for understandable reasons we are currently obsessed about economics in this country, ensuring national security remains the president’s first and most important duty. It does neither the Republican Party nor the country any good to have a person who is treated, whether rightly or wrongly, as a major presidential contender to be wandering around the country spouting nonsense about foreign policy.