Herman Cain’s Odd Response On Negotiation With Terrorists

Yesterday before the Republican debate, Herman Cain made a misstep that once again displayed out far out of his depth he is when it comes to foreign policy. It came in an interview with Wolf Blitzer in response to a question about the release of Israeli solider Galid Shalit in a prisoner exchange:

BLITZER: Imagine if you were President – we’re almost out of time – uh, and there were one American soldier who’d been held for years, and the demand was, al Qaeda or some other terrorist group, you- ya gotta free everybody at Guantanamo Bay- several hundred prisoners at Guantanam- could you see yourself as President authorizing that kind of transfer?

CAIN: I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer. but what I would do, is I would make sure that I got all of the information, that I got all of the input, considered all of the options, and then the President has to be the President and make a judgment call. I can make that call if I had to.”

Cain was asked about the comment during the debate last night and equivocated:

“You would have to consider the entire situation. But let me say this first: I would have a policy that we do not negotiate with terrorists. We have to lay that principle down first,” Cain said. “Now, then you have to look at each individual situation and consider all the facts. The point that I made about this particular situation is that I’m sure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to consider a lot of things before he made that. So on the surface, I don’t think we can say he did the right thing or not. A responsible decision-maker would have considered everything.

Then after the debate was over, Cain said that he misspoke:

The easy answer, the one most conservatives would want to hear from Cain is, that America does not negotiate with terrorists. Reality, of course, is quite different. Pretty much every President since Jimmy Carter has negotiated with terrorists, or with representatives of a regime designated as supporting terrorists. As Ron Paul pointed out during the debate, Ronald Reagan not only negotiated with terrorists, he sold them weapons as part of a scheme to gain the release of Americans being held hostage in Lebanon. The idea that we’d never negotiate with terrorists is, quite frankly, silly and doesn’t comport with reality.

That said, Cain letting the idea of releasing everyone at Gitmo, including people like Khalid Shiekh Mohammed, suggests that he doesn’t necessarily think things through when he’s talking. What that means for the job of the Presidency I don’t know, but I can’t believe that conservatives are going to be all too thrilled about guy who says stuff like this.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, National Security, Terrorism, 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.


  1. Cain fell into a really weird speech pattern I’ve noticed politicians use a lot:

    “I will not [X] I would, however, [long rambling phrase that is essentially the dictionary definition of X]”

    “But that’s the same thing as [X]!”

    “Look, I just said I will not [X]”

  2. Sincity says:

    Yes we all know that officially the USA do not negotiate with terrorists because if we openly declared we would negotiate with terrorists then we would have major fricking problems.

    I can’t help but notice that in your article you left out that part during the debate when Cain called those being held at Gitmo ‘hostages’.
    So not only does Cain want to negotiate with terrorists he also admitted that American is quite happy to hold hostages and the nice guy that he is would be happy to do a swap. Mmmm terrorists seeks like minded terrorists to do swap. There should be a website about that.

  3. TOBY
    [loudly] Hang on a second Sam, you give into terrorist demands and that’s the ballgame!

    I understand the principle but there are real lives at stake!

    Ah, it’s real easy to stick to principles when nothing’s at stake Sam!