ThinkProgress filed this report from Urbandale, Iowa.
Even as Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain rises in the polls, his critics have characterized him as a policy lightweight, especially on foreign affairs. The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO did little to shed that impression Monday.
ThinkProgress spoke with Cain at the opening of his Iowa campaign headquarters outside of Des Moines. Given the national focus on China, we asked Cain about relations with Taiwan and how they would look under a Cain presidency.
Officially, the United States stopped recognizing Taiwan in 1979. Seven years prior, during President Nixon’s infamous visit to China, the United States acknowledged the “One China policy” which recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole government of China, including Taiwan. Since that time, the United States has maintained a position of “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan, in which we refrain from making our intentions clear in order to prevent either side from taking actions that would lead to war. Though this remains mostly under the radar, American relations with China and Taiwan carry enormous implications both for the United States and the billions of people living in southeast Asia.
When asked his thoughts on the situation and whether the U.S. ought to shift course and officially recognize the government of Taiwan, Cain incorrectly stated, “I think we already recognize their democratically-elected government.” A visibly confused Cain refused to say whether President Obama ought to send an ambassador to Taiwan — something the United States hasn’t done since 1979 — and demurred on whether his administration would do so, saying, “President Cain will get back to you!”:
KEYES: You’ve been out front obviously on criticizing the Obama administration, not being tough enough or promoting democracy around the world. What about a place like Taiwan? Do you think we ought to recognize their democratically-elected government?
CAIN: I think we already recognize their democratically-elected government. So I plan to take each nation’s case by case by case. I don’t believe that we have a real clear foreign policy position on both friends and foes around the world. So I’ve got to go through that process.
KEYES: Do you think Obama ought to send an ambassador to Taiwan?
CAIN: I can’t comment on that because I don’t know what’s going on in his head, and I don’t know all the information that he has.
KEYES: How about President Cain? He going to send one?
CAIN: President Cain [pause] will get back to you!
This isn’t the first time Cain has flubbed a question on foreign policy. Last month, when asked by Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace about the right of return in the Middle East peace process, Cain was baffled on the subject until Wallace provided a helpful definition on the “right of return.”
During his campaign appearances, Cain often touts his lack of political experience — he has never held elected office — as an asset in his White House bid. However, his lack of even a basic understanding of standard foreign policy matters like the Palestinian right of return or the political situation in Taiwan calls into question the former pizza executive’s suitability to act as the nation’s head of state and commander-in-chief.