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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 11/07/2011

From Bush to Cain: The disappearance of shame in foreign policy ignorance


No one likes pop quizzes, especially candidates for public office. And if you’re running for president, no surprise test is more irksome than the foreign affairs exam. Who’s the president/prime minister/ruler of [obscure yet important country]? What is your view of the [doctrine du jour], and how would you change it? The burden is especially heavy on Republicans. They are the strong-on-defense, keep-America-safe party, after all. But something has changed since then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush flunked an on-camera quiz in 1999. The shame of not knowing or not caring that one doesn’t know no longer exists.

Bush was the front-runner for the Republican nomination when he sat down with Boston television reporter Andy Hiller. “George W. Bush has money, momentum and charisma. If he has an Achilles heel, it’s foreign policy, where his experience is limited,” Hiller wrote at the time. “So that’s what I wanted to talk about with him today — to see if questions about world hot spots put him on a hot seat.” He asked Bush to name the leaders of four hot-spot nations in the news at the time: Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan.

Hiller: “Can you name the president of Chechnya?”
Bush: “No, can you?”
Hiller: “Can you name the president of Taiwan?”
Bush: “Yeah . . . Wait a minute . . . Is this 50 questions?”
Hiller: “No, it’s four questions of four leaders of four hot spots.”
Bush: “The new Pakistani general — just been elected — he’s not been elected — the guy took over office ... it appears he’s going to bring stability to the country, and I think that’s good news for the subcontinent.”
Hiller: “And you can name him?”
Bush: “General, I can name the general ...”
Hiller: “And it’s ...”
Bush: “General.”
Hiller: “And the Prime Minister of India?”
Bush: “The new prime minister of India is ... uh ... No.
Can you name the foreign minister of Mexico?”
Hiller: “No sir, but I would say to that I’m not running for president.”
Bush: “I understand. But the point is, if what you’re suggesting is ... What I’m suggesting to you is that if you can’t name the foreign minister of Mexico, therefore you’re not capable of what you do, but the truth is you are ... whether you can or not.”

Sure, Bush was testy and defensive right off the bat. But there was something else notable about his responses. He tried to answer the questions, which bespeaks a respect for the office and voters. Herman Cain, the front-runner for the GOP nomination in many polls, is a different story. He couldn’t care less.

CBN News’s David Brody: Are you ready for the gotcha questions that are coming from the media and others? Like who’s the president of Uzbekistan? It’s coming. All of this stuff and how are you dealing with that?
Cain: I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions, and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’ And then I’m going to say, ‘How’s that going to create one job?’
I want to focus on the top priorities of this country. That’s what leaders do. They make sure that the nation is focused on the critical issues with critical solutions. Knowing who is the head of some of these small insignificant states around the world, I don’t think that is something that is critical to focusing on national security and getting this economy going.
When I get ready to go visit that country, I’ll know who it is. But until then I want to focus on the big issues that we need to solve.

In this highly interconnected world where danger lurks in unpredictable places, there’s no such thing as “these small, insignificant states around the world.”

Say this much for Sarah Palin, when she was asked about her foreign policy experience or about the Bush Doctrine, she tried her best to look serious and seem knowledgeable despite painful evidence to the contrary.

From the border fence to releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to his nonsensical thoughts on how to deal with China and Iran, Cain has shown a disdain for the preparation and discipline needed to stand on the world stage as the leader of the free world. When will Republican primary voters start to care that Cain doesn’t care, and isn’t ashamed of it?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 11/07/2011

 
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