Herman Cain Flunks The Commander In Chief Test

Last night, Herman Cain established that he simply isn't prepared to be Commander in Chief.

Byron York gives Herman Cain a failing grade for his performance at last night’s foreign policy debate:

At the very first Republican presidential debate, on May 6 in Greenville, South Carolina, a virtually unknown candidate named Herman Cain was asked what he would do in Afghanistan if he became president.  Cain famously said he didn’t know, because “it’s not clear what the mission is.”  Cain explained that he would form a policy as president only after consulting military commanders and experts.

Fast forward six months to Saturday night and another debate in South Carolina, this one at Wofford College in Spartanburg.  Cain, now the frontrunner, or at least co-frontrunner, for the Republican nomination, was again asked about Afghanistan — this time what he would do about attacks on U.S. forces coming from Pakistan. And again he didn’t know, repeating his plan to rely on military commanders and experts.

“That is a decision that I would make after consulting with the commanders on the ground, our intelligence sources, after having discussions with Pakistan, discussions with Afghanistan, and here’s why,” Cain said.  “It is unclear where we stand with Afghanistan…as president, I will make sure that the mission is clear and the definition of victory is clear.”

Earlier in the debate, Cain was asked a more general question about his oft-stated intention to listen to U.S. commanders on the ground.  Would those commanders always be right?  “How will you know when you should overrule your generals?” asked CBS moderator Scott Pelley.  Cain said he would hire good staff people to help him make decisions.  “The approach to making a critical decision, first make sure that you surround yourself with the right people,” he said.  “And I feel that I’ll be able to make that assessment when we put together the cabinet and all of the people from the military, et cetera.”

Finally, when asked about the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which critics called torture, Cain said that while he did not approve of torture, “I would trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture.”

So Herman Cain’s basic answer on foreign policy is that he doesn’t really know much himself, but that he’ll hire people who will tell him what to do. There is so much wrong with that statement that I don’t even know where to begin.

First of all, being Commander in Chief means that you’re the one who makes the decisions, not the advisers. As I noted when I wrote about this earlier this month, it’s inevitable and expected that a President will select advisers and experts to assist him, especially in an area as complicated as military and foreign policy. There’s nothing wrong with that and, in fact, one would hope that a President would select “the best and the brightest,” to borrow a phrase from David Halberstam, to work with him. In the end, however, it is the President him or herself who makes the decisions and it strikes me that a President whose answer to every question about the most important item in his portfolio is “I’ll talk to my advisers” isn’t what this country needs. It’s just as important that the President know when to disagree with the people advising him, or what questions to ask them. Cain’s response that he’d know when to question his generals by listening to other advisers is the most absurdly lazy kind of thinking I think I’ve ever encountered in a Presidential candidate. If all the Presidency was is input box for the opinions of experts, then we may as well just make a computer President and let the advisers program the computer, because that’s all that Herman Cain is saying he’d be doing.

The second problem with Cain’s answer is that, even if you accept his answer, it is manifestly evident that both his judgment and his ability to appoint advisers and managers cannot be trusted. One need look no further than the person of Mark Block, Cain’s “Chief of Staff” to see this. In addition to overseeing a wholly incompetent response to the sexual harassment charges leveled against Cain, Block has on two occasions falsely accused people of leaking information related to those charges. He is also at the center of what has the potential to be a very serious campaign finance/IRS violation during the early days of the Cain campaign, which isn’t surprising considering he was once suspending from doing political work in Wisconsin for, you guessed it, campaign finance violations. Despite all of this, the Cain campaign has said Block will not be fired. In addition to Block, there’s Communications Director J.D. Gordon who has been a complete disaster over the past two weeks. If this is an indication of the kind of advisers that Cain will hire were he to become President, then it’s fairly obvious that his judgment cannot be trusted.

If there were any justice in the world, Cain’s performance last night would send him toward the bottom of the polls where he belongs. As York notes at the end of his piece, though, that might not happen right away mostly because Cain’s support has mostly come from his stance on domestic issues and things like the 9-9-9 plan. Nonetheless, this was not a good debate for Herman Cain and, just eight days from now, there will be another debate in Washington, D.C. that will also solely focus on foreign policy. Once again, he’ll be pushed to the sidelines simply because he doesn’t know very much, and what he knows is so very, very, wrong.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, National Security, The Presidency, 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.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    If Lincoln had just listened to his military advisers we’d now be discussing the viability of the Confederate Dollar.

  2. mike says:

    he needs to stick to pizza, restaurants, and settling sexual harassment charges; things he is experienced at, things he is good at.

  3. By the way, it was this kind of vague responses to policy questions in the debates that sunk socialist candidate Segolene Royal in the 2007 French Presidential election(Royal said that she would provide debates with the society to come to a conclusion, but it has the same effect)..

  4. Jeremy says:

    I thought his entire campaign was a joke? C’mon, this guy is not going to make it all the way to the convention.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @André Kenji de Sousa:
    I still can’t believe she wasn’t elected purely on her hotness. The French have their priorities all wrong.

  6. ponce says:

    Once again, he’ll be pushed to the sidelines simply because he doesn’t know very much, and what he knows is so very, very, wrong.

    I think you are missing the point, Doiug.

    Cain’s apparent lack of knowledge is a feature, not a bug.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    I find it odd that a politics blog has spent 6 months worrying about what irrelevant Republicans believe about Afghanistan instead of concentrating on what the current administration’s policies and plans are about Afghanistan.

    If bloggers want Republicans to care about Afghanistan, then those same blogger need to pay attention to the current administrations policies in Afghanistan are. Since the Obama Adminstgration is much more important that what irrelevant Republicans are saying and since the chance of President Obama being reelected are almost certain, why not focus on the relevant players.

  8. Ozark Hillbilly says:

    @mike:

    he needs to stick to pizza, restaurants, and settling sexual harassment charges; things he is experienced at, things he is good at.

    Hmmmmm…. The pizza he sold doubled as Frisbees and was half as edible, as far as I can tell he wasn’t very good at sexual harassment as he never got laid. He did make several million $ but my bet is he did through a con.

  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    Well Doug at least no ones calling you a racist ever other comment in these Cain posts… One good reason not to concern yourself with Obama…

    It should tell you something about the hypocrite libs that post here though:)

    That’s why they attack Cain, he will take their only position away for the 2012 election…well most of them anyway as we have already seen.

    Oh, and can we get a half like half sucks button on here? I was somewhat conflicted with superdestroyer comment and had to give him a like.

  10. mike says:

    @Ozark Hillbilly: Too funny. I have to confess I never tried his pizza. I am just saying he made a lot of money doing what he did – which in a capitalist/business world for an executive is a success – he is also good at settling sexual harassment claims, which he has done on a few occasions.


  11. I still can’t believe she wasn’t elected purely on her hotness. The French have their priorities all wrong.

    If you followed that election you would note that her “hotness” increased the perception that she was not prepared to be President of France.

  12. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Cain’s total lack of knowledge on these points is a positive feature in the eyes of his stupefied supporters. Ultimately, however, it’s nearly impossible to conceive of Cain actually garnering the nomination; ergo this all should wind up moot. If Cain were to receive the nomination, however, then the GOP will have crossed the proverbial Rubicon into sheer, terminal idiocy.

  13. b-psycho says:

    @mike: I used to eat at Godfathers as a kid. Their quality was an all-or-nothing affair: either you loved it or hated it. Sometimes you’d get both in the same trip if you went buffet.

    Authenticity? Hell no. But expecting that from a big chain is a mugs game anyway.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    he is also good at settling sexual harassment claims, which he has done on a few occasions

    YOU LIE!!!!!!

  15. Scott O. says:

    @G.A.Phillips: You are correct sir. Herman Cain may be adept at committing sexual harassment but in fact it was the National Restaurant Association that settled the claims.

  16. G.A.Phillips says:

    You are correct sir. Herman Cain may be adept at committing sexual harassment but in fact it was the National Restaurant Association that settled the claims.

    Um..Prove it.

    I say one crazy chick got a severance agreement because crazy chicks can just accuse some dude and get paid and then more crazy chicks got them some and then some gold digger(not my words but the words of her friends) wanted to be in the spotlight and maybe get paid.

    That’s what I see.

    And you guys spreading lies.That’s what I see…

  17. matt b says:

    @G.A.Phillips:

    Well Doug at least no ones calling you a racist ever other comment in these Cain posts… One good reason not to concern yourself with Obama…

    *Sigh* … Ok, so out of everyone on OTB, Doug has probably been the most consistently critical of Obama. And yet, I cannot think of any case where a so-called “lib” commentor accused him of being racist.

    Why you ask? Because Doug has not — to my knowledge — ever used racist/bigoted logic, language or imagery to attack the president or his positions. Generally speaking, he’s always made substantive attacks on Obama.

    So here’s the trick: attack the substance and not the man (or his race) and you won’t be called a racist.

    Note that the above also disproves that commonn theme used by conservative trolls that any attack on Obama is considered racists. Generally speaking, we try to only call racist attacks racist.

  18. levotb says:

    @mike: This is an excellent column! So Cain’s Chief of Staff is up to his neck in trouble…Has the MSM covered this? No. This is the first I’ve seen it in the alternative media though I imagine Libertarian Alex Jones or his writers have discussed it. Doug Mataconis is absolutely right! Cain belongs at the bottom of the heap. He’s a schmoozer, a b.s.er and a serial harasser and groper.

  19. So you don’t like Herman Cain? Wow, who knew?

  20. KarenJ says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You could say something similar about Sarah Palin: “I still can’t believe she was nominated purely on her hotness. The FUNamentalist/evangelicals have their priorities all wrong.”

    …although “hotness” in her case was/is purely in the eyes of the beholder — usually a potbellied grayhaired 50-something. Of either sex.

    (ba-da-boom)

  21. Building on Michael Reynolds’ initial comment, I believe that Cain’s governance model has been tried at least once by a former President – John F. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs liberation plan. Compare this to Kennedy’s subsequent performance during the Cuban Missile Crisis, where he made the ultimate decision.

    It’s clear that having a “buck stops here” (Truman) “decider” (Dubya) is better for the country. Certainly some will argue about the wisdom of the firing of MacArthur or the war in Iraq, but we elect a President to actually govern.

    I wonder if it’s possible to run a pizza company by having a pollster survey all of the chief advisers. Somehow I doubt it.

  22. jan says:

    @John E. Bredehoft:

    I agree with you that the ‘ultimate’ decision has to be done by the President. Cain is scary in that he is so out of his league, but seems to have the wind at his back regarding some steadfast electorate. I continue to be mystified, and somewhat disappointed, by this collection of R candidates.

    Where is the ‘Lone Ranger” and Tonto when you need them?

  23. Scott O. says:

    @G.A.Phillips: We may need to subject Mr. Cain to waterboarding to get at the truth of the matter.

  24. G.A.Phillips says:

    *Sigh* … Ok, so out of everyone on OTB, Doug has probably been the most consistently critical of Obama. And yet, I cannot think of any case where a so-called “lib” commenter accused him of being racist.

    Why you ask? Because Doug has not — to my knowledge — ever used racist/bigoted logic, language or imagery to attack the president or his positions. Generally speaking, he’s always made substantive attacks on Obama.

    So here’s the trick: attack the substance and not the man (or his race) and you won’t be called a racist.

    I Was joking to Doug while getting a point across to the so called
    Lib commentators about how they are hypocrites, sigh.. you do read the comment?.

    So here’s the trick: attack the substance and not the man (or his race) and you won’t be called a racist.

    lol….that’s not true,,, I have been called a racist many many times here and so has every one else here that dares to say anything about him or his government or mainly his worldview.

    But not people who attack Cain relentlessly…..

    We may need to subject Mr. Cain to waterboarding to get at the truth of the matter.

    And I say we preemptively waterboard you so you stop lying.

  25. sam says:

    @G.A.Phillips:

    Oh, and can we get a half like half sucks button on here?

    Can we get a double-suck button for anything you post here?

  26. Rick Almeida says:

    @G.A.Phillips:

    I have been called a racist many many times here and so has every one else here that dares to say anything about him or his government or mainly his worldview.

    Nope. Unless you can demonstrate the bolded portion of your absurd claim, in addition to your numerous other character flaws, you’re a liar to boot.

  27. matt b says:

    @G.A.Phillips:

    Lib commentators about how they are hypocrites, sigh.. you do read the comment? … I have been called a racist many many times here and so has every one else here that dares to say anything about him or his government or mainly his worldview.

    Again:
    Doug, James and a number of others here have criticized Obama’s Policies WITHOUT EVER BEING CALLED A RACIST. In fact G.A. I challenge you to find any example of them being called racist for criticizing Obama.

    In fact, you’ve even criticized Obama without being called a racist.

    And as for those times someone accused you of Racism, a quick google search turns up the fact that that usually happens when you start to say things like “even after both versions of the documents were released, birthers have a real point, Obama doesn’t appear to be born in America” or “Obama isn’t a real American” or pretty much anything to do with Muslims and that the president is a secret Muslim.

    So do me a favor, be a good conservative and stop playing the “I’m the victim of evil liberals who think I’m a racist.” That’s as tired as liberals who complain that they’re always being called Marxists.

  28. matt b says:

    @G.A.Phillips:
    BTW, what do you think about Cain and members of his camnpaign’s continual claim that these attacks are starting from Republicans (so far they’ve named at different times the Perry Camp, Romney Supporters, and Carl Rove). I’m not talking about radio hosts or commentors, I’m talking about Cain and members of his campaign.

    Why exactly are you so concerned about “lib” attacks on Cain when it seems like much of this is coming from conservatives…?

  29. mantis says:

    Short G.A. Phillips: Leave Herman Cain alone! He’s just keeping to himself, running for president. Why do you keep talking about him? I would call you a racist if I thought racism was bad.

  30. URKiddinMee says:

    Cain is not a career politician nor is he currently a Congressman or Senator. Hence, he does not have access, yet, to the intelligence information which they do. And he is correct in saying that he does not know what the mission in Afghanistan is. Nobody ELSE does either, including our Community Organizer in Chief!

  31. An Interested Party says:

    Cain is not a career politician nor is he currently a Congressman or Senator. Hence, he does not have access, yet, to the intelligence information which they do.

    Please, his comments prove that he does not have access to intelligence of any kind…

    Nobody ELSE does either, including our Community Organizer in Chief!

    And yet, the Community Organizer in Chief would wipe the floor with Cain in a head-to-head matchup…