Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who is scheduled to roll out his foreign policy platform in two weeks, was given the chance to demonstrate his knowledge on the subject in a television interview this week.
The GOP presidential front-runner sat down on Wednesday for an interview with WHDH-TV in Boston and was hit with a pop quiz. Political correspondent Andy Hiller, known as an aggressive questioner, asked Bush if he could name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan, all of which have been prominent in the news recently.
Bush got one right: Taiwan.
The interview got at the crux of what Bush's rivals say he lacks most: the familiarity with international affairs that the public expects from the leader of the world's only remaining superpower.
Asked to name the general in charge of Pakistan, who seized control in a highly publicized coup three weeks ago, Bush answered: "General. I can't name the general. General." The answer: Pervez Musharraf.
Asked to name the leader of India, who began another term in office last month and who 18 months ago presided over the country's first nuclear tests since 1974, Bush answered: "The new prime minister of India is--" He paused. "No." The answer: Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Asked to name the leader of Chechnya, a breakaway region engaged in a violent military conflict with Russia, Bush answered: "No, can you?" The answer: Aslan Maskhadov.
On Taiwan, Bush answered correctly. "Yeah, Lee," he said, referring to Lee Teng-hui.
When Bush tried to turn the tables on Hiller, asking him if he could name the foreign minister of Mexico, Hiller reminded Bush that "I'm not running for president."
Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes defended the Texas governor yesterday.
"I have yet to meet anyone who knows off the tip of their tongue who the president of Chechnya is," she said, adding that neither the Bush campaign's senior policy adviser, Josh Bolton, nor foreign policy adviser Joel Shinn knew all the answers off the top of their heads.
"What the American people want to know is not whether a candidate has memorized the names of hundreds of premiers and prime ministers around the world," she said. "What they do want to know is does a candidate have a clear vision of America's strategic interests around the world and can that candidate exert American leadership in the world."
Bush has shown a propensity for mixing up names and places on foreign policy issues. So far this campaign season, he has called Kosovars "Kosovarians," Greeks "Grecians" and East Timorese "East Timorians," and has mixed up Slovakia and Slovenia.
While the campaign of GOP rival Steve Forbes decided not to say anything, the campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain took a subtle jab. When spokesman Todd Harris was asked yesterday if McCain would have been able to answer those questions, he answered: "Oh, definitely."
"We don't want to pile on," Harris said, chuckling, before adding: "Our feeling is, it was probably an unfair question that the governor was not prepared for and was not briefed on."
McCain has closed to within 8 points of Bush in New Hampshire, according to a poll released yesterday.
Vice President Gore's campaign spokesman, Chris Lehane, laughed his way through his answer. Alluding to a report in the New Yorker magazine detailing Bush's "C" average at Yale, he said: "I guess we know that C at Yale was really a gentleman's C."
Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
'Wait, Wait, Is This 50 Questions?'
Text of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's interview with Andy Hiller, political correspondent for WHDH-TV in Boston.
Hiller: "Can you name the president of Chechnya?"
Bush: "No, can you?"
Hiller: "Can you name the president of Taiwan?"
Bush: "Yeah, Lee."
Hiller: "Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?"
Bush: "Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?"
Hiller: "No, it's four questions of four leaders in four hot spots."
Bush: "The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected--not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the subcontinent."
Hiller: "Can you name him?"
Bush: "General. I can't name the general. General."
Hiller: "And the prime minister of India?"
Bush: "The new prime minister of India is [pause]. 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: "What I'm suggesting to you is, if you can't name the foreign minister of Mexico, therefore, you know, you're not capable about what you do. But the truth of the matter is you are, whether you can or not."