Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Taxonomy of Herman Cain’s World View

Herman Cain released his vision of U.S. foreign policy this week. The primary document containing his vision weighs in at just6.5 pages. In that brief space, Mr. Cain really simply assesses U.S. relations with a handful of states. In an even briefer brochure, Cain lays out his “pillars” of U.S. foreign policy. In the short exposition of his philosophy he notes that his is a “pragmatic and principled approach.” One might suggest the two are necessarily contradictory. If Mr. Cain has found a way to resolve the apparent contradiction between principle and pragmatism, it is certainly worth some description that his foreign policy vision currently lacks.

These pillars consist of platitudes that, unsurprisingly, don’t address any real issues or problems. For example, the pillar “Reassert U.S. Leadership” includes “reassure our friends and deter our adversaries.” Outstanding, Mr. Cain; your nuanced perspective on the world would do George Kennan proud. Let us not bother with any sort of criteria or principles to assess who is a friend and who is an ally. Let us instead skip to the chase and reassure our friends and deter our adversaries. How might we do that? Are we not currently providing assurance to our friends?

This pillar also includes, “re-examin[ing] our role in the United Nations.” Obviously, this trope is meant to be red meat to the anti-UN constituency of the GOP base. There is no indication of what this would entail—though, as a member of that base, we are supposed to infer this would mean quitting the UN—no indication of the criteria used to reassess our position, no indication of what the better position would be. Indeed, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, vested with a veto, there is no better position to have within the United Nations. Oddly, in his exposition, Cain declares he will “never relegate the U.S.A. to being just another country in the United Nations.” The U.S. is of course not “just another country”—it’s one of five possessing a veto. So far as this Editor knows, there is no move afoot to make it one.

Further, it is unclear to this Editor, at least, how quitting the UN—again, presumably the inference we are to draw, as members of the GOP base—exhibits leadership, unless we are leading the U.N. to its demise. Of course, a number of our friends—e.g., the United Kingdom, classified as “special relationship”—apparently buy into the utility of the United Nations. This Editor is not sure how leading the U.N. to its demise would reassure our friends.

Another pillar, “Restore Our Global Competitiveness,” is really focused on domestic policy and includes implementing the 9-9-9 plan, making free trade work for the United States, outgrowing our competitors, and ending our dependence on overseas oil. With the exception of implementing the 9-9-9 plan, there is no indication of how any of these would be implemented in practice. Although, improving our global competitiveness is a worthy goal, this Editor would like to see more details. Additionally, the 9-9-9 plan reportedly increases the tax burden on poor Americans, how this improves our global competitiveness is lost on this Editor.

The third and final pillar of Mr. Cain’s plan, “Counter Urgent Threats” is quite specific in its goals but, unfortunately, light on details. This pillar includes stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, fixing border security “for real,” and shielding us against “cyber and electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attacks.” There is no indication as to why cyber attacks and EMP attacks are lumped together. They both deal with (vaguely) electronics, but beyond that they are totally different. It is nice to see, however, that Newt Gingrich’s reference to EMP attacks in the last debate has penetrated the public consciousness enough that Mr. Cain felt it necessary to address.

Perhaps the most controversial portion of Mr. Cain’s foreign policy vision is his taxonomy of nations. Cain has categorized select nations into the following categories “special relationship,” “friend and ally,” “friend and partner,” “friend,” “strategic partner,” “danger and opportunity,” “competitor,” “rival,” and “adversary regime.”

Special Relationship
United Kingdom
Friend and Ally
Canada, Israel, Japan
Friend and Partner
Strategic Partner
Danger and Opportunity
Egypt, Pakistan
Adversary Regime
Iran, North Korea, Venezuela

This taxonomy of nation-states is certainly more nuanced than President Bush’s dichotomy—with us or against us—but it is hardly nuanced. What makes Mexico merely a Friend and Partner rather than a Friend and Ally? Why is Egypt, like Pakistan, a Danger and Opportunity? What does that mean for uncategorized Tunisia? But what strikes me most is that Israel is lumped in as merely a Friend and Ally with Canada and Japan. This is an odd downgrade for a candidate in a field that has been falling over itself to be the greatest friend to Israel (particularly, the right wing of Israel) imaginable. That too is worth some explanation. 

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