Herman Cain: Elect Me, Then I’ll Tell You What I Think About Foreign Policy

Call it a rookie mistake if you like, but Herman Cain’s response to questions about national security policy is, honestly, just bizarre:

GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain said Sunday he doesn’t have a plan for the war on terror and won’t share his thoughts with voters until he gets into the White House.

“The right approach is that the day I’m elected, I would start on that plan,” he told “Fox Sunday News.”

Mr. Cain, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, said he can’t make those decisions until he sees intelligence files that he is not privy to at this point.

This isn’t the first time Cain has pleaded ignorance on foreign policy. During the candidates debate in South Carolina earlier this month, he gave a largely incoherent response to a question about Afghanistan:

And, just today, he clearly flubbed an answer on the question of a Palestinian right of return:

WALLACE: Where do you stand on the right of return?

CAIN: The right of return? [pause] The right of return?

WALLACE: The Palestinian right of return.

CAIN: That’s something that should be negotiated. That’s something that should be negotiated.

This is a Presidential campaign, not amateur hour. Saying “I don’t know” or, worse, displaying complete ignorance on an issue that everyone has been talking about since the President’s Middle East speech on Thursday simply isn’t going to cut it.


FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Middle East, National Security, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Look, he built the 9th largest pizza chain in America. They should have asked him a question about cheese.

  2. anjin-san says:

    That damn gotcha media thinks they can ask a presidential candidate his views on foreign policy. Bastards. Oh, wait. he was on Fox…

    Saying “I don’t know” or, worse, displaying complete ignorance on an issue that everyone has been talking about since the President’s Middle East speech on Thursday simply isn’t going to cut it.

    It’s a strategy that got Palin some traction.

  3. Have a nice G.A. says:

    I don’t care, Cain is awesome!!!!!

  4. anjin,

    I am awaiting the Cain press release calling Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace a member of the “Lamestream Media”

  5. Have a nice G.A. says:

    “You mess with Israel, you mess with us” H.Cain. Sounds good to me.

  6. That is at simultaneous times a simplistic, idiotic, and dangerous policy position

  7. anjin-san says:

    “You mess with Israel, you mess with us” H.Cain.

    I’ll take that with garlic, olives and mushrooms.

    Sounds better…

  8. anjin-san says:

    That is at simultaneous times a simplistic, idiotic, and dangerous policy position

    In other words, it will probably fly on the right.

  9. Chad S says:

    This worked so well for Sharron Angle.

  10. Bleev K says:

    “You mess with Israel, you mess with us” H.Cain. Sounds good to me.

    Sorry, it’s foreign policy not elementary school policy.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    Stupid likes simple. Thus always.

  12. Have a nice G.A. says:

    hee hee…I am sure he will get some czars to handle it, whats the fuss.

  13. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Maybe he can get some advice form Biden when the time comes?

  14. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Maybe he can get schooled by Netanyahu when the time comes?

  15. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Maybe he will have the good fortune to find someone like Hillary Clinton to run his state department?

  16. Robert in SF says:

    Based solely on this post, and the quotes there in, I will say that I respect him for saying that he won’t take a position until he has all the data…I wish more persons that set policy would do that.

    I admire the forethought that he seems to have, admitting that because he doesn’t know what the President is privy too, a new President may have to “change their mind”, as it were, to make the right decision (when the data doesn’t support your predisposed views).

    Hopefully, that kind of integrity would keep the new President from having to kowtow to those knee jerk, extremist/one-issue voters and PACS…and stay on some ridiculous course because that was what he had to say to get elected, but the actual reality, now that he knows it all, makes the picture very different.

  17. michael reynolds says:


    I’m a high school drop-out who writes kid’s books. I know what the “right of return” means, and why it’s a loaded term.

    I would need someone to explain to me why I should take seriously a candidate who knows less about foreign policy than a kid book writer with a 10th grade education.

  18. Robert in SF says:


    I don’t mean to endorse the guy, or to wave my hands to keep from discussing his lack of preparation or ability to discuss the issues and the policy history….

    I was just bringing up a point about the first statement in this post. I think that that kind of “I’ll say more when I *know* more” is nice.

    I don’t like to even discuss Israel/Palestine politics, as I consider it such a sensitive issue…it’s like abortion….I might have an opinion, but I don’t want to get into it with others I don’t know well, cause I never know how passionate (or passionately judgmental) they are about it….

    We cool?

  19. James Joyner says:

    Maybe because I study foreign policy for a living, I think Cain’s answer is on the right track. There’s probably nobody running who really has the expertise to make sound foreign policy analyses at this stage in the campaign. That was true of Barack Obama well after this point in the previous cycle.

    But it’s a caveat, not a starting point. It’s well and good to say that your answers are based on open source knowledge and might change given classified briefings. But you can’t say you have no clue whatsoever.

  20. @James

    With better staff work, Cain might have said something like what you suggest in your second paragraph. And it would’ve sounded better. But to say you aren’t going to discuss Afghanistan at all until you’re elected is a little silly, and also something that the public won’t accept

  21. michael reynolds says:

    First he doesn’t know what the term means. For the average pizza executive? Fine. For a presidential candidate? Not fine.

    Why not say, “Look, the so-called right of return is an extraordinarily thorny issue and not something I’m going to address in a brief interview.” Then pivot to, “Of course as president I will work to support our allies and use the good offices of the United States to assist the peace process. But this isn’t the time or place for negotiating the details.”

    Not that hard.

  22. stonetools says:

    I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt JUST THIS ONCE on a an arcane feature of Middle East policy this early in the campaign. That’s it, though. Time to start studying.
    As to his statements that he won’t reveal his positions on terrorism policy till after he’s elected, WTF?
    Its like a job applicant saying that he won’t tell you whether he’s qualified for the job till AFTER he’s hired.

  23. @Michael

    A decent campaign manger would have had their candidate briefed before going on the air.

  24. jukeboxgrad says:

    an arcane feature of Middle East policy

    It’s not that arcane. If you google it, as a phrase, with quote marks, you get 1.2 million hits.

    The phrase also appears over 2,000 times at freerepublic. 84 times at foxnews.com. 158 times at redstate.com. I think these are all indications that it’s not really arcane.

    You can even find the phrase 6 times at rushlimbaugh.com. If Limbaugh has discussed this with his audience, I think that helps establish that it’s not arcane.

    This sort of reminds me of Palin not knowing what “blood libel” really means (either not knowing, or being deliberately insensitive and inflammatory). Comparing the Cain incident and Palin incident, I think Cain deserves some slack because he was spontaneously answering a question, whereas Palin was delivering a prepared statement.

    This also reminds me of Daniels saying he wasn’t ready to debate Obama on foreign policy. I respected the honesty of that statement.

  25. jukeboxgrad says:

    This Cain gaffe also reminds me of how Bush didn’t know that “there are two major sects in Islam” (link).

  26. Kylopod says:

    I think he has a secret plan to get us out of Afghanistan. Electing presidents with secret plans has served us well in the past.

  27. Gulliver says:

    Herman Cain: Elect Me, Then I’ll Tell You What I Think About Foreign Policy

    Should work out great – sounds just like Obama did, and we can all see how well that is working out…

  28. Kylopod says:

    >sounds just like Obama did

    A major factor in Obama’s defeat of Hillary was his early opposition to the Iraq War, and he never remained silent about foreign policy matters in general, nor did he ever suggest that he would only tell us what he thought after getting elected.

    It’s like you’ve got this Pavlovian instinct to sputter “But, but, but…. Obama!” anytime you hear a Republican criticized.