With all the emphasis on America's economic woes, foreign policy has not been a big focus of the GOP race for the presidential nomination. The few times it has come up, candidates have made headlines for their errors not their insights. Here, six (but certainly not all) of the glaring foreign policy gaffes from the race so far:
1. Herman Cain implies China doesn't have nukes
Gaffe: "My China strategy is quite simply outgrow China. ... Yes, they're a military threat. They've indicated that they're trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have. So yes, we have to consider them a military threat." (PBS interview, Oct. 31)
Reaction: "Cain is apparently unaware that China conducted its first test of a nuclear device on October 16th... 1964," says Joel Herrick at Shanghaiist. In fact, "China is estimated to have around 400 nuclear weapons stockpiled, including around 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of targeting the United States." Maybe he meant North Korea? "I mean, it's just so easy to forget who America is supposed to hate these days!"
2. Rick Perry suggests invading Mexico
Gaffe: "It may require our military, in Mexico, working in concert with them, to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off our border and to destroy their networks." (New Hampshire campaign stop, Oct. 1)
Reaction: "Mexico has its own military," rival Mitt Romney said. "And it think it's a bad idea to send American troops into Mexico. I think Mexico would consider it a bad idea. I consider it a bad idea." Bad? It's "Perry's worst idea yet," says Steven Taylor at Outside the Beltway. First, the drug cartels might beat us in a guerrilla war. And second, the "historical tone deafness" is astounding for a Texan. Mexicans certainly haven't "forgotten about the Mexican-American War, not to mention numerous incursions by U.S. troops into Mexican territory in the mid-to-late 1800s and the early 1900s."
3. Rick Santorum hopes for war with China
Gaffe: "You know, Mitt, I don't want to go to a trade war, I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business." (GOP debate, Oct. 11)
Reaction: Um, "what kind of war, exactly? says Max Fisher at The Atlantic. China is the world's most populous nation and one of the closest U.S. trade partners. Santorum "explicitly said it would not be a trade war," but let's "assume that he was speaking figuratively," and not proposing military action. Still, not very presidential.
4. Herman Cain mocks a key American ally
Gaffe: "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?" (Christian Broadcasting Network, Oct. 7)
Reaction: "Cain was almost certainly kidding when he mangled the name of Uzbekistan," says The Atlantic's Fisher. But he chose an unfortunate example of an "insignificant" country. What to do about Uzbekistan is a hot topic in foreign policy circles: Uzbek leader Islam Karimov has an "awful human rights record," but as America's relationship with Pakistan sours, we need passage through his country to supply our forces in Afghanistan. In other words, the question of which is better — "reliable-but-brutal Uzbekistan" or prickly, unreliable Pakistan — is hardly "gotcha" territory.
5. Michele Bachmann forgets which continent Libya is on
Gaffe: "Now with the president, he put us in Libya. He is now putting us in Africa. We already were stretched too thin, and he put our special operations forces in Africa." (GOP debate, Oct. 18)
Reaction: There are two possibilities here, says Tracy Bloom at Neon Tommy. Either "Bachmann misspoke or she really does not know that Libya is in Africa." She totally didn't know, says Alex Moore at Death and Taxes. I mean, Bachmann has already admitted that "geography is not her strong suit." Still, "if you're running for president, an acceptable threshold of being bad at geography means sometimes forgetting whether Paraguay or Uruguay is the one that's further north. But not knowing that Libya is in Africa?" Deal-breaker.
6. Herman Cain blanks on Mideast peace
Gaffe: Discussing Israel with Fox News' Chris Wallace, Cain drew a blank on the question of Palestinians' "right of return" to Israeli territory. "Right of return?" Cain said. "Right of return?" Wallace then defined the term, and Cain offered this: "Yes, but under — but not under — Palestinian conditions. Yes. They should have a right to come back if that is a decision that Israel wants to make.... I don't think they have a big problem with people returning." (Fox News, May 22)
Reaction: "Where does one begin to address the level of ignorance in this statement?" asks Lauri B. Regan at American Thinker. Cain claims to be an "ardent supporter of Israel," so how can he be so clueless about Israel's position on such a central matter regarding relations with the Palestinians. Add this to his other "shocking" foreign policy blunders, and "a President Cain is a scary prospect to anyone serious about the country's national security."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How Israel's hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Why China thinks it could defeat the U.S. in battle
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- The real lesson of Rick Perry's mug shot
- Welcome to the age of ambivalent feminism
- What you need to know before you support the police in Ferguson
- Why your employer should clean your house and do your laundry
- The big policy question libertarians can't answer
- What is Molly? Everything you need to know about the party drug
Subscribe to the Week