Hermain Cain’s Hollow Iran Plan

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Herman Cain appears to be digesting his foreign policy briefings. In an interview with the Israeli publication Israel Hayom–and by the way, where does Cain find the time?–the improbable GOP star sounds far more coherent on world affairs than he has at moments like, say, this. Check out Cain riffing on the relative production costs for Middle Eastern oil nations:

What do you think of the Obama administration’s handling of Iran and what would you do differently, if anything?

I don’t know if this is going to translate well in your language: Choke. Choke them economically. Here’s what I mean by that and I know that that’s not politically correct to say but here’s the idea: It costs them $70 a barrel to break even on their oil. It costs Saudi Arabia $30. We’re going to develop an energy-independent strategy. We will move toward energy independence in the Cain administration. We’ve got the resources to do it, we need the will, the leadership and we get some of these unnecessary regulations out of the way. We will impact the world price of oil. We get the price of oil down to $70 or below, and the Iranians won’t have enough money to build a nuclear program. They’re going to have to worry about feeding their people instead.

This answer is a little gem of sophistry. Cain flashes some detailed knowledge about the Saudi and Iranian oil industries. Maybe that fact reflects Cain’s deep understanding of the global oil markets, but it seems just as likely to be something printed on a flashcard by Cain’s advisers, who have been giving him a crash course in foreign affairs. Anyone inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt should note Cain’s subsequent promise to dramatically drive down oil prices, which sounds about as plausible as Michele Bachmann’s deservedly-ridiculed pledge to lower gas prices to $2. Cain’s energy plan calls for stripping away industry regulations and allowing new oil drilling–actions which could conceivably affect energy prices over the long term. But a spike in U.S. energy production would amount to a tiny fraction of global demand from developing nations like China and India. More importantly, Iran may be on the brink of developing a nuclear bomb, and even if you grant Cain the idea that his policies will drive down global oil prices, the long process of deregulation and new U.S. energy production almost certainly couldn’t happen fast enough to affect Tehran’s ability to cross the nuclear threshold. So, the answer is basically nonsense.

What’s more, Cain simply ignores the fact that the Obama administration is already working to “choke” Iran through the far more direct, swift and targeted means of an international economic sanctions regime. There’s evidence that those sanctions, coupled with some effective sabotage operations, have slowed the Iranian nuclear program, even if some GOP critics grumble that Obama should crack down even harder. But it’s just silly for Cain to accuse Obama, as he has elsewhere, of singing “Kumbayah” with Iran. After a brief effort at engagement in 2009, designed largely to demonstrate to the world that America had made a good-faith effort at diplomacy, Obama has been steadily tightening the screws on Tehran.

Cain likes to say that his foreign policy is defined by the principles of strength and clarity, so that our enemies neither misunderstand or underestimate us. But the more he talks about foreign policy, the less sense he makes. The question is whether Republican primary voters will ever care, or whether Cain’s theatrical Obama-bashing provides the cover he needs to get away with not knowing much about the world outside U.S. borders.