Newly-minted top-tier Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain actually injected foreign policy into the seemingly-endless Republican nomination battle this past weekend; of course the way he chose to do it was pretty sad indeed.
When asked about so-called “gotcha” questions put to presidential candidates – those questions that the candidate really shouldn't be expected to know the answer to, yet by not knowing they look unprepared for the job – Cain said, basically, that in running for president he doesn't really need to know who the leader of Uzbekistan is; his reply referencing a question posed to George W. Bush that started the whole “gotcha” campaign question phenomenon. Now in a broad sense, I think Cain has a point. There are 193 member-nations in the UN, I don't think it is right to expect someone running for the US presidency to know the leaders of them all, though I would expect a candidate to know, in broad terms at least, what kind of relationship the US has with the country in question and the larger regional issues surrounding it. Unfortunately Cain didn't make that simple point, rather he said it didn't matter if he knew who was the president of “Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan”. Way to make a valid point while sounding like a jackass there Herman...
I suppose it would come as a surprise for Mr. Cain to learn that Uzbekistan is an vital ally in our War on Terror operations in Afghanistan: the Uzbeks operate a link in the Northern Supply Route that ships material into Afghanistan, so if the Uzbeks were to decide to drop out of the Route, we'd have a really, really hard time keeping our 100,000 troops in-country clothed and fed – you would kind of think that makes Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan at least worth a little of his attention (the president, by the way, is Islam Karimov).
And Cain's pithy answer illustrates at least a partial answer to that oft-asked US foreign policy question: “why do 'they' hate us?” In part, it is because of the stunningly arrogant view some (or many) Americans have towards the wider world; that not much of it really matters, so why should we care how others feel? We Americans think nothing of chest-thumping exhibitions of patriotism, yet we never seem to think that other people from other countries might be just as proud of their homelands as we are of ours; even folks from Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan. On a personal note, a friend of mine was recently traveling to Central Asia and told me she'd be traveling on Uzbekistan Airways; the image that immediately popped into my head was of Borat and a biplane. But she assured me Uzbekistan Airways was a modern operation, and a quick check on Wikipedia showed that indeed it is – their fleet is made up almost entirely of Boeings and Airbuses, most of which are newer than those aircraft flown by domestic US airlines. I felt appropriately chastised.
But I'm also not running for president. If the current crop of Republican candidates, Mr. Cain included, are truly the best our nation has to offer for the most-important job in the land, maybe we shouldn't feel so proud.
1 day ago