Herman Cain: Taliban and al Qaeda Part of Libya Government

Herman Cain has either doubled down on his foreign policy ignorance or proven himself a man of great nuance.

Herman Cain has either doubled down on his foreign policy ignorance or proven himself a man of great nuance.

Alexander Burns of Politico (“Herman Cain says Taliban holds sway in Libya“):

Herman Cain suggested in Florida Friday that he believes elements of the Taliban are involved in the new Libyan government.

In an Orlando press conference, Cain defended himself from criticism over the meandering, incoherent answer he gave earlier this week to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter’s question about Libya.

Cain insisted he had tried to get the reporter to narrow his question about whether Cain agreed with the Obama administration’s handling of the Libyan revolution. And that’s when Cain said that the Afghanistan- and Pakistan-based Taliban might now hold sway in Tripoli, a city some 3,000 miles away from Kabul.

“Do I agree with siding with the opposition? Do I agree with saying that Qadhafi should go? Do I agree that they now have a country where you’ve got Taliban and Al Qaeda that’s going to be part of the government?” Cain asked reporters, rhetorically. “Do I agree with not knowing the government was going to — which part was he asking me about? I was trying to get him to be specific and he wouldn’t be specific.”

This may be the dumbest thing anyone has said yet in this dumb campaign. Or is it?

In an email, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon points to Libyan military commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj as a sometime Taliban ally now prominent in the Libyan transitional government. Gordon cites a Reuters article from Nov. 11, profiling Belhadj’s role in Libya and noting that “after fighting with the Afghan Taliban [he] was captured and sent to Libya in 2004, where he was jailed until last year.”

Gordon referred to Belhadj as a “former Taliban-linked fighter in Afghanistan now leading the militia in Tripoli.” That’s plainly not the same thing as having “Taliban … that’s going to be part of the government,” as Cain said, but it’s a fair clarification of Cain’s point.

It’s true that Belhadj is an Islamist who fought with the Afghan Taliban. But he’s not actually part of the Libyan government and claims that he has no ambitions to join it.

The chances that Cain, who seemed unaware less than a week ago that we were involved in a place called Libya, recalled this Reuters profile from before that interview are low, indeed.  It’s more likely that he was scrambling his talking points. But we must hold out the possibility that he’s just three steps ahead of us all.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    ” … we must hold out the possibility that he’s just three steps ahead of us all.”

    No, we don’t have to do that at all. He has been claiming all along that the expertise of others is what he brings to the table. So, let him give credit where it is due and tell us who in his vast “brain trust” gave him that information and the advice on how it was useful.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ig’rant cracker: I’m being 99.999% tongue-in-cheek there.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    The one thing uniting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the NTC? None of them eat pizza. Which makes them all the enemy.

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    That was funny Harry….