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Well, at least Herman Cain isn’t wasting any time. Yesterday, he officially entered the 2012 GOP race in front of a crowd larger than the other GOP candidates combined could draw. Today, he went on Fox News Sunday and whiffed the foreign policy portion of his interview. Badly.

This one is right up there with the Sarah Palin/Katie Couric interview, folks. That’s how bad it was. Chris Wallace asked Cain about Israel and the Palestinian demand that it accept “right of return” as a condition for peace. The result wasn’t pretty:

When asked about his stance on the matter, Cain appeared confused.

CAIN: Right of return? Right of return?

WALLACE: The Palestinian right of return.

CAIN: That’s something that should be negotiated.

When asked again about whether he believes in the Palestinian right of return, Cain seemed unclear about the Israeli position on the matter, as well as his own.

CAIN: 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.

Yeesh. Look, I’m one of Cain’s biggest fans. I like him as a Presidential candidate and as a person. His reluctance to give us even a basic opinion on foreign policy issues, however, is not acceptable. What happened today was, well, it’s going to cost him at a time when he really needs to keep all the forward momentum he has.

Claire Berlinsky is ready to write Cain off, as is Paul Rahe in the comments at that link. I want to quote Rahe’s comment as is represents what I think will be the commonly-held opinion among the insider types who have been looking for a chance to put about a dozen torpedoes into Cain.

I am with Claire. Cain is a very successful businessman with good political instincts. He appears to be and probably is a very fine man, but he knows very little about the larger world. He should not be in the race. And let’s face it: he really is not in the race.

There’s your CW, folks, in all its poorly-informed fashion. To borrow a quote, Rahe is a very successful historian and author. He probably is a fine man, but he knows very little about this Presidential race.

Now, unlike Rahe with Cain, I’m willing to give him a chance to do better. I won’t write someone off based on one poorly-informed statement made in the heat of a moment. I don’t say that because I think myself a better political pundit than Rahe but because anyone can make a boneheaded mistake.

Which brings me back to Cain. The only thing about Cain that has bothered me is his reluctance to give even basic positions on foreign policy matters. I understand that world affairs are sloppy and there often isn’t an easy simple answer. I get that no Chief Executive is going to have a particularly detailed policy before they get a few skilled and experienced people around them who can lend their knowledge to its crafting.

On the other hand, I do expect that every candidate for President have at least a working knowledge of what is going on around the world and the ability to share share it. We voters are smart enough to understand that a candidate like Cain doesn’t have access to as much information as the President — we don’t expect him to be Henry Kissinger.

I suspect that Cain’s people will be on the phone tomorrow to a few foreign policy wonks to see who he can bring in as advisers. It’s likely he won’t get the big names; he doesn’t have that kind of campaign cash yet. However, he might do very well if he look a bit lower than the top tier, perhaps even into the blogosphere where there are plenty of people who know about the region and its history (including Maggie of Maggie’s Notebook).

Whatever he does, it needs to happen quickly. He’s not such a darling of the talk show circuit that he can get as quick a second-chance as Newt Gingrich got today, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to try. He can still claw back most of the momentum he lost, not with the Paul Rahes of the world who have found the excuse to dismiss him they wanted but with the Claire Berlinskis. I suspect that she, and most of the GOP electorate, are willing to forgive him this mistake if he’s willing to show them he learned a lot from it.

UPDATE: This clarification is a good start toward repairing today’s damage.

All Israeli governments have rejected the “right” of large numbers of Arabs or Palestinians to return to what is now the state of Israel. Such an en masse return would unbalance Israel’s demographic makeup as the world’s sole Jewish state.

In this light, should the “right of return” “be negotiated,” as I said, “if that is a decision that Israel wants to make”? Certainly, and to reiterate, it’s Israel’s call. Israel has a long record of being more gracious to its enemies than its enemies are to it, and this would be yet another example of that. But is the “right of return” a moral imperative? Is it something Israel must grant? Is it something the United States ought to encourage?

The answer is no on every count.

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5 Responses to “How Herman Cain Went from Awesome to Not-So Awesome in 24 Hours and How He Can Be Awesome Again”

  1. Karol says:

    He didn't know what Right of Return meant but he did try to say that whatever it is, it's up to Israel. I'm not excusing his lack of knowledge on this, just saying that ultimately his position is what I like: pro-Israel.

    • Jimmie says:

      That’s a good point, Karol. The one part of Rahe’s comment that did work was that Cain has the right instincts, even if the center of his position is fuzzy right now.

  2. Herman Cain Issues Clarification : The Other McCain says:

    [...] Jimmie Bise Jr. at Sundries Shack has some valuable thoughts. Category: Election 2012, Herman Cain, Israel, Jihad Watch [...]

  3. MaggiesNotebook says:

    Thank you for this very nice link and comment. I wish Herman would give me a call. Like you, I like him very much. I have decided who will be my first choice, but Cain would be on the short list - if he gets a clue about foreign policy, as you suggest.

    His clarification still falls short. Yesterday he said he wasn't sure Palestinians want peace and he is spot-on there. As for the right-of-return (of many millions of refugees), not many were there in the first place. Many Arabs who were there, living in what is now Israel, were welcomed and they stayed, are probably still there.

    If people are forced to buy that millions have the right to live within Israel's borders, there will no longer be a demographically Jewish state. The League of Nations mandate was to give Israel land for a Jewish nation, not a nation known as Israel and dominated by Arabs.

    We have no leaders in either party wanting to talk about the truth of the only democracy in the Middle East. Again, thank you.

  4. Herman Cain’s Achille’s Heel | All American Blogger says:

    [...] Jimmie Bise says, he can recover. But he needs to start impressing people with his grasp of foreign [...]

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