The most important part of the latest baffling Herman Cain interview might not be his confused answer on Libya, but what he said to excuse it: "Some people want to say, 'Well as president you have to know everything' -- no, you don't!" If there is one position Cain is sticking more to than any others -- after wavering on on abortion, negotiating with terrorists, and his memory of sexual harassment allegations against him -- is that he doesn't need to know everything. This has been the most consistent message of the Cain campaign.
Cain sat down with editorial board of the Milwakuee Journal-Sentinel -- his former spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael wondered why he'd be pitching himself to the not-so-early voting state right now -- and was asked whether he agreed with President Obama's decisions on Libya. Cain knew one thing: he disagreed with Obama, probably.
Okay, Libya ... [nine second pause] President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of Qaddafi. Just want to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I said yes I agree, I know I didn't agree. Ah, I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason: [pauses for a second, looks up]. No that's a different one [eight second pause]. I gotta go back to … Got all this stuff twirling around in my head. Specifically, what are you asking me, did I agree or not disagree with on what?
In May, Cain didn't know what Palestinian "right of return" was -- and later said he'd "been consulting with a number of experts to get up to speed on some of the situations we have around the world, so I challenge anybody who says I wouldn’t know how to address foreign policy." On October 8, Cain said the name of the leader of Uzbekistan wasn't worth knowing. At Saturday's debate, Cain was asked how he'd know when to overrule military leaders; he replied his staffers would tell him:
The approach to making a critical decision, first make sure that you surround yourself with the right people. 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. You will know you're makin' the right decision when you consider all the facts and ask them for alternatives ... And because I'll have mult-- a multiple group of people offering different recommendations, this gives me the best opportunity to select the one that makes the most amount of sense.
On October 16, Cain went on Meet the Press and said he couldn't possibly offer a full answer on whether an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador was an act of war, because "I can't make that decision because I'm not privy to all of that information." When pushed, Cain said he'd lean on his smart staff: "If, if it's an act of war, and the evidence suggests that, then I am going to consult with my advisers and say, 'What are our options?'" Host David Gregory then asked the candidate what he thought a victory in Afghanistan would look like Cain said he didn't have to know that yet: "I don't know if that's possible right now because, here again, what do the commanders on the ground say? What does the intelligence community say? A lot of analysis needs to into determining whether or not there is a definition of victory in Afghanistan."
And yet Cain also seemed to not know that he'd already said he wouldn't lean on smart people so much in his book:
GREGORY: Here's a general question. You said you wouldn't rely on wise men, so-called wise men, when it comes to foreign policy views, although you mentioned Henry Kissinger just a moment ago, that you're familiar with his writings. Generally speaking, you know, what, what you have as a great strength, I think to many, is no government experience. But you have no government experience whatsoever, and you want to do some big things. Explain that vision. I mean, would you bring outsiders in to Washington? Would you eschew the establishment of Washington and do things in a completely different way, maybe like Jimmy Carter?CAIN: Don't use Jimmy Carter as the example.GREGORY: Perhaps not ideologically.CAIN: Not ideological--don't--that's not a good example. Secondly, I don't recall saying I would not use wise men and wise women. My philosophy on...GREGORY: You wrote that in your book. "I won't lean on so-called `wise men' as other commanders in chief have done."CAIN: Well, let me explain what that means. I'm going to have a combination of people that are outside government and people that are inside government. As much as I and others talk about many of the problems that are perceived outside of Washington as what's going on inside Washington, D.C., there are some good people inside Washington, D.C., holding elected office that I am going to lean on and I'm going to call upon. But I'm also going to bring in people who understand, understand defining the right problem, knowing how to put--surround yourself with good people, and then putting together the right plans based upon some guiding principles that I have established throughout my career and I will establish as president.
At least Cain knew he didn't want to be compared to Jimmy Carter.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.