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What about foreign policy?

November 18, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

We've been meaning to write an editorial about this for at least a month, but a recent interview flub by Herman Cain warned us that the situation is more urgent than we had thought.

Please, national media people, ask the candidates more questions about foreign policy.

Domestic issues have dominated the debates, to the exclusion of international ones. Certainly, Americans want to know how each candidate wants to steer the nation.

But foreign policy is more important when voting for a president, as opposed to a congressional representative. That's because the president has so much more power in that sphere than in domestic matters.

Most domestic policies the president wants to pursue must go through Congress, where hundreds of other representatives of the people have a chance to weigh in, alter the plan, stall it or kill it.

But the president alone is the commander in chief of the military and has unilateral powers in diplomacy, spying, national security and United Nations doings. Congress has little power to check him or her in these matters.

Although the Constitution says only Congress may declare war, the White House can order military strikes all over the world without a word of approval from the Capitol. Presidents have skipped Congress in starting every U.S. war since World War II, and Congress has allowed this, approving funds for each after the fact - often adding to the national debt to do so.

If a candidate is going to ask the nation to put him in a position of such power, he or she should have deep knowledge about how the world works, guiding principles to follow and the ability to tell Americans what kind of global leadership to expect.

So it was painful to watch a video of Herman Cain this week, stumbling all over himself to try to answer a simple question posed by the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper: "So do you agree with President Obama on Libya or not?"

After a long, nervous pause, Cain said, "President Obama supported the uprising, correct?"

Hoo, boy.

He then proceeded to go on at length about how he couldn't answer the question because he would first need to study the information - which sounded like a roundabout admission that he hadn't been reading news accounts or otherwise paying attention to this civil war that the U.S. and NATO have been in the thick of since March.

Mr. Cain is a good presidential candidate in many ways. We agree with him that the tax code needs to be radically simplified, and although we don't agree entirely with his 9-9-9 plan, it's beautiful in its self-evidence and its elimination of loopholes and credits.

But the nation could have any candidate's tax plan without having him or her as its leader. A senator or representative can suggest one that sticks. These things are decided in the large halls of Congress, with many of the people's representatives taking part.

But when there's a terrorism or military development late at night, it's ultimately the president's call. Same thing with how to nuance the next exchange with Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Israel, Fateh or Hamas.

In past presidential races, this ignoring of international issues is somewhat common, especially in the primary-caucus season. George W. Bush comes to mind for not knowing the names of some foreign leaders in response to a reporter's pop quiz in public in 2000. Mr. Bush campaigned on domestic issues, saying he wasn't interested in "nation building," but as we know, events during his two terms forced much of his time to be taken up with international issues.

The next president will also, undoubtedly, face world-rocking events, and will also have to deal with problems that began during previous presidents' terms. His or her decisions will be world-rocking events by themselves. We need to choose someone we can trust with that kind of responsibility, but there's a lot we need to know about them first.

Going back to Mr. Cain, as amazing as it seems, it sounded like no one had ever asked him about Libya in all these months of heavy campaigning. That's pathetic.

We hope it prompts a quick round of foreign policy questions to all the candidates.

 
 

 

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