The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Foreign Policy and the Cult of Experts

Posted on | October 17, 2011 | 27 Comments

Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy  mocks Herman Cain:

So I thought I’d go over to Cain’s campaign website and spend an equal amount of time to analyze his foreign policy thinking.
I found…. a total of five paragraphs on “national security.” That’s it. No white papers, fact sheets, bullet points, or list of advisors. So you gotta think that these are going to be the most awesome and mind-blowing foreign policy paragraphs ever!!!

Drezner is “professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University,” and his mocking commentary exemplifies a widespread attitude within the foreign policy/national security elite that expertise is essential in all such matters.

Turn back to 2008, however, and this insistence on national security expertise was nowhere to be seen, as John McCain — a man who had specialized in such matters even before being elected to Congress — was scorned in favor of the parvenu Barack Obama, whose only claim to foreign-policy expertise was having spent several years of his childhood in Indonesia.

Obviously, Cain expects the election to be fought over domestic economic issues, his own field of expertise, as a successful businessman. His occasional comments about foreign policy have not demonstrated a reassuring mastery of the subject, but one suspects he’s also losing points with the elite because he doesn’t talk the kind of talk that Obama talks. When Chris Buckley praised Obama’s “first-class temperament,” this was what he was praising: Having attended the right schools (Columbia and Harvard Law), Obama talks like . . . someone who attended the right schools.

Morehouse College and Purdue University graduate school, preparatory to a career in the food-service industry, do not impart the same sort of attitude as do Columbia and Harvard Law, preparatory to a career in academia and government.

Cain’s seeming indifference to expertise, his evident unwillingness to learn to talk the way politicians are supposed to talk about foreign policy, is what’s really being criticized here. But Cain may be smarter about this than his critics suspect. The grassroots voters are apt to think back over the past few years and wonder exactly what we’ve gained by listening to the soi-disant experts in foreign affairs. And so when Cain says wild stuff that sets the tongues of the punditry wagging, I’m not sure that’s going to cost him many votes in the Iowa precinct caucuses.

It may be no comfort to Daniel Drezner or Chris Buckley, but I hope David Brooks will be reassured to know that the creases of Herman Cain’s pants are always meticulously pressed. And if he ever needs to know anything about Vanuatu, I’m sure he’ll ask the expert.


27 Responses to “Foreign Policy and the Cult of Experts”

  1. Joe
    October 17th, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

    Did you land yet or did you post this just before taking off?

  2. richard mcenroe
    October 17th, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

    If Cain sent Putin a reset button, it would only be a novelty item with a nice deep dish.

    It’s not like he’s an expert who would think it was a significant gesture…

  3. Joe
    October 17th, 2011 @ 4:01 pm
  4. Joe
    October 17th, 2011 @ 4:32 pm
  5. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

    Cain’s efforts to avoid saying something stupid seem to be just that. Just because one hasn’t developed a policy doesn’t mean they can’t express an opinion. When David Gregory asked him if the Iranian assassination plot was an act of war there are several safe answers other than I’ll wait for all the top secret info to form an opinion. And if he couldn’t think of one off the top of his head he could have stabbed Gregory in the eye with a pen. Now that might not be considered by some as a foreign policy statement but the Iranians would get the message loud and clear.

  6. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    On the one hand we don’t want a candidate who shoots from the lip. On the other hand, we don’t want somebody who waits until he’s fairly sure of the facts. Make up your damn minds, will you?

  7. Foreign Policy and the Cult of Experts | Herman Cain PAC
    October 17th, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    […] 4 Comments and 0 Reactions […]

  8. Joe
    October 17th, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

    David Gregory:  Is the Iranian assassination plot was an act of war?

    Herman Cain:  “I can say it is a very serious incident.  I am concerned by the lack of response from the Obama White House.”

  9. Adjoran
    October 17th, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    Stabbing Gregory in the eye with a pen would have been a statement we all understood.

  10. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

    That would have been a good response but a good reporter, maybe even David Gregory would press the issue and ask the question again. A better response or addition to that response would be something like well the Iranians have committed numerous acts of war over the years citing as an example the embassy takeover. This wouldn’t have satisfied Gregory or the pundit class but most Americans would agree.

  11. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

    I can’t imagine how my comment demonstrated being of two minds on this. I’ll wait for the experts simply isn’t an acceptable alternative to shooting from the lip (see my reply to Joe below).

  12. Adjoran
    October 17th, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

    Most elections with an incumbent President revolve around the economy.  Foreign wars or foreign policy can be a factor, too:  FDR benefited from a reluctance to change leadership in war, Korea ended any hope of Truman winning a second full term, Nixon was preferred over the pacifist McGovern, Iraq made Bush’s reelection much closer than it would have been. 

    But most end up referenda on the incumbent’s performance on the economic front.  Not since FDR in 1936 has a President been reelected with kind of numbers Obama is likely to be carrying into the election.

  13. OCBill
    October 17th, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    The most important thing for a President in all areas, not just foreign policy, is leadership and a world view. There are “experts” on every side of every issue, foreign and domestic. Obama’s problem is not his lack of expertise. It’s his lack of leadership (thank goodness), and his extraordinarily flawed world view (essentially revolutionaly socialist/communist). What Herman Cain and several other Republican candidates (besides Romney) bring to the game is leadership and a world view more consistent with a traditional conservative world view. Experts are a dime a dozen for any flavor you want. Leaders are few and far between.

  14. Tennwriter
    October 17th, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    At one time, press releases were given to the press, instead of walking into the press room, and letting a bunch of not very bright journalist-activist come up with ‘questions’ with loaded questions long enough to impress a German, and judging the President on how quickly he responded.

    Sorry, but the President is not a fighter pilot. He does not need to know how to shoot from the hip.

  15. Charles
    October 17th, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

    We all should remember that John McCain’s bellicose statements on Georgia failed to cement him in the public mind as Presidential and a foreign policy expert. Presidential candidates shouldn’t declare wars, it’s bad enough that Presidents do it.

    Maybe Herman Cain is no Eisenhower, Nixon, or Bush ’41, but it seems to me that Cain has just as much foreign policy experience as Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush ’43, or Obama.

  16. M. Thompson
    October 17th, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

    Hell, if all else fails and you’re a Republican politician looking for some foreign policy info, call Dr. Kissinger.

    The best reason to vote for the Stupid Party over the Evil is at least they treat dealing with the damn foreigners like it has some importance.

  17. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 9:23 pm

    I don’t think the problem is that Cain on foreign policy isn’t that he “isn’t an expert.”

    He’s made specific statements on the subject that indicate he’s either an abject moron or a casual liar.

    Hint: If you cite John Bolton as someone you look to on foreign policy in one sentence, then pretend not to know what neoconservatism is in the next, and then ape David Horowitz’s conflation of neoconservatism with conservatism in the next, either you’re stupid or you think everyone else is.

  18. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

    Or you don’t care what the kind of people who ask such questions think. Which has nothing to do with stupidity.

  19. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

    It wasn’t aimed at you specifically, and I should have phrased it better so you didn’t take it that way. Sorry.

  20. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

    We used to have a couple fighter pilots in the Big Chair, but they never got any slack from the press either.

  21. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 10:30 pm


  22. Anonymous
    October 17th, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

    Actually, it has everything to do with either airheaded stupidity or  arrogant dishonesty.

    If you don’t care what the kind of people who ask you about your foreign policy viewpoint think, and you’re running for president, either you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, or you’re Hitler.

  23. Dave C
    October 18th, 2011 @ 12:01 am

    And if he couldn’t think of one off the top of his head he could have stabbed Gregory in the eye with a pen

    Which would have been a perfectly acceptable answer from anyone, including Huntsman.

  24. Ian Vaughan
    October 18th, 2011 @ 12:37 am

    Herman has a foreign policy on Iran- listen at 6.00 on.

  25. ThePaganTemple
    October 18th, 2011 @ 8:11 am

    So now we’re picking apart our candidates based on their foreign policy expertise? Cain used to be in charge of some kind of weapons system for the Navy or so I’ve heard, so I think that qualifies him as having some kind of expertise on military matters at least.

    As far as Iran or any similar country goes, all he has to say is “If they place the order I will deliver.”

  26. Cain Seeks to Satisfy Foreign Policy Snobs : The Other McCain
    October 25th, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    […] seriously his need to explain his views.”This is what I’ve previously described as the Cult of Experts, “a widespread attitude within the foreign policy/national security elite that expertise is […]

  27. Cain Seeks to Satisfy Foreign Policy Snobs | Herman Cain PAC
    October 25th, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

    […] is what I’ve previously described as the Cult of Experts, “a widespread attitude within the foreign policy/national security elite that expertise is […]