Pizza Man Has Opinions on Central Asia

by Nathan Hamm on 10/10/2011 · 31 comments

This US presidential campaign is shaping up to be especially entertaining. With a number of GOP candidates in an apparent competition to connect with voters with elaborate displays of ignorance. So it was kind of inevitable that one of them would eventually mention Central Asia. Thankfully, it was Herman Cain.

Cain replied, “I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me, ‘Who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan?’ I’m going to say you know, ‘I don’t know. Do you know?’ And then I’m going to say, ‘How’s that going to create one job?’ I want to focus on the top priorities of this country. That’s what leaders do.

“They make sure that the nation is focused on the critical issues with critical solutions,” Cain said. “Knowing who is the head of some of these small insignificant states around the world, I don’t think that is something that is critical to focusing on national security and getting this economy going. When I get ready to go visit that country, I’ll know who it is, but until then, I want to focus on the big issues that we need to solve.”

I’ll give most people a pass for being ignorant about Central Asia. It doesn’t even surprise me that someone aspiring to be the US President would be ignorant of the region. But to be so epically ill-informed about a supply route that that both the Bush and Obama administrations thought important that runs right through a country he so bluntly calls “small” and “insignificant,” well… that’s just funny. (And not for nothin’ but surely at least one American job has to have been created by GM’s factory in Uzbekistan.”

For the video, head over here.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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carl October 10, 2011 at 5:22 pm

The people who write and read this blog have Central Asia at the front of their minds. The identity of the president of each Alotistans is critically important to the region. That region is important to the people on this blog so the identity of each president is something that should be known.

Central Asia is critically important to the US, and to the people who vote, only until we bug out of Afghanistan. Then nobody will much care.

I don’t think Mr. Cain’s position is an unreasonable one. To the voters it is certainly not unreasonable, and voters tend to be pretty wise about what is important (you are all now welcome to denigrate the average American with tales of Dancing With the Stars and Monster Trucks). There are lot of other things that are more important now and will remain important long after the bug out.

Don Bacon October 10, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Cain: “Reporters have challenged me for not having a specific plan for our nation’s involvement in Afghanistan. They continue to think that if you are running for president then you must have an answer for everything. I don’t! A real leader has the right questions for everything.”

That strikes me as sensible, and a lot of other people agree. (Cain has shot up to second place in the NH polls.) Somebody to ask the right questions would be refreshing. Now if he would promise to ask someone besides generals . . .

CE October 10, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I don’t know about you, but I just saw a wise campaigner tell it like it is. I think his foreign policy approach has been implicitly stated; roughly, he’s not going to worry about Uzbeki-shmeki-shlekiweki-stan; he’s going to delegate and defer to the military. And if you think about it, isn’t that what all POTUSs do? I’m sure Obama/Bush/Reagan weren’t goddamn experts on everything (anything?), but they were smart/dumb enough to let somebody else take the reins.

Also, you think Obama was worrying about Uzbek supply routes in 2008? How about Bush in 2004? You seriously misunderestimate the talent, breadth, and depth of American politicians if you think that any of them know anything about anything before they get elected to the Oval Office. Hell, Obama’s had 4 YEARS in the WH and I bet he still doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to foreign policy.

My preference is to just leave the Presidency vacant from 2012 to 2016.

Don Bacon October 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Reminds me of Edward Abbey: “No man is wise enough to be another man’s master. Each man’s as good as the next — if not a damn sight better.”

Obama, as a candidate, was all “I will do this, I will do that … ” Like he was to be the new Decider.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

Cain, based on what he said, is the antithesis of Obama.

Boris Sizemore October 10, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Unfortunately…Cain makes a good argument. Nathan is a bit off on this and missing the key here.

We are in an economic crisis of near historic porportions. Wars of Choice are not a priority, the economy is. Cain is right on about this.
People could care less who Karimov is when they are losing homes and pensions etc. Cain makes perfect logical sense.

The overpriced supply route, the subject of so many think pieces will be one of the first concepts that goes right out the window. We cannot afford to be invested in anything more than a small scale when the US economy is flashing red warning signals.

No doubt, Think Tankers and Contractors will also start to draw down with the entire defense budget and policy changes that will occur. Sorry to see them go. Can they cut CNAS to a skeleton crew? Please.

People need to get out of the War on Terror Mindset now. The Stans are peripheral to the US. They are in the direct province of Russia, China, and to a smaller extent India. This is the reality now. ‘

Time to get used to this whole theater of interest going into deep marginal not very important mode. It may be hard to swallow, but this happens. Deal with it, or study something else, while you are still working.

This may be a severe bummer to those whose work involves pumping this area up, and the idea that the War on Terror will never end. It was nice while it lasted and we had billions to waste, but that is over, over now. Time for all of us to face bitter reality, the economy is the priority and is a big big mess.

We will stay involved, but only at the level we can realistically afford, which is not much. The cuts will be felt from the beltway to Kandahar and back again. Think Aden 1967, ask the British what pulling back from far flung regions is like.

For those of us who were here in the Eighties and Nineties, we can relate to this disinterested phase. If you still have good local friends and contacts, you are always welcome in Central Asia. A lot is still to be decided, and what happens will be of great interest, It will not be a priority when people are having such a hard time getting by on our streets back home. Only makes sense, No?

Let’s make the best of it, and leave the poor pizza man alone,(Uzbekistan too? Daily Deaths, this is the sad truth, the sooner we admit what a lousy regime it is, the better). Cain’s comment made a lot of sense. ps…GM is not the bellweather for the US economy anymore, for that check out GM China.

Nathan Hamm October 10, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I know treating politicians as ciphers representing whatever it is we believe is something of a national pastime, but he didn’t actually say the things you guys think he said. He didn’t say anything. He said he’s ignorant and that that’s no problem. Critical issues? Ask one of those right questions at least! Big issues? Afghanistan’s one he’s asking us to let him solve. If he wants to make this point, at least don’t be so ignorant as to pick a country right next to Afghanistan to make it.

No, our previous presidents didn’t know this stuff going into office, but, call me old fashioned, but buffoonish, ignorant rhetoric that plays to the worst stereotypes of Americans is something I think actually matters in the White House. I could care less if Cain knows tons about Central Asia, but I do care that he’s using it to make an aggressive defense of his ignorance.

Don Bacon October 10, 2011 at 11:04 pm

[Cain] didn’t actually say the things you guys think he said. He didn’t say anything. He said he’s ignorant and that that’s no problem.

from World Net Daily:

“Reporters have challenged me for not having a specific plan for our nation’s involvement in Afghanistan. They continue to think that if you are running for president then you must have an answer for everything. I don’t! A real leader has the right questions for everything.”

Nathan October 10, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Thanks. Already read that. A bunch of you are reading qualities, stances, leadership styles, and policies that aren’t there. With the actual evidence, all we have is that he’s proudly ignorant because knowing stuff about the foreigns doesn’t creat jobs.

Don Bacon October 11, 2011 at 12:50 am

I get you now. So to put it differently, Cain is saying: I’m not going to distract you voters with that exotic foreign stuff that you don’t really care about, I’m going to focus on what’s best for you where you live, not in some -stan far away

So what’s wrong with that?

Nathan October 11, 2011 at 7:30 am

He didn’t put it that way though, did he? He straight up said that Uzbekistan and countries like it are “small” and “insignificant.” There’s no possible way that kind of rhetoric and attitude is harmful or could backfire at all, is there? “Screw you stupid little countries (until we need you, then heel and give us what we want)!” is an asinine approach to foreign policy.

Don Bacon October 11, 2011 at 11:10 am

You’re flip-flopping.:-)
First you say don’t read his actual words but read his meaning, then it’s the opposite.

Nathan October 11, 2011 at 11:39 am

I think I’ve pretty consistently focused on “small” and “insignificant” AND talked about the impact of that rhetoric, that aggressive celebration of ignorance is not something to be applauded, and that Uzbekistan is a poor country with which to make this poitn. Unless I’m missing something huge, I’m not the one extending out any kind of additional points about platform or leadership style.

Ekspeditsya October 10, 2011 at 10:52 pm

I am torn over this one. It is perfectly legitimate for a presidential hopeful not to be completely au fait with the intricacies of foreign affairs (not to say Central Asia), so the pre-emptive dismissal strategy is a smart one on Cain’s part. However, it strikes me as highly unlikely that anybody would have asked him about Uzbekistan, but perfectly possible that somebody might have quizzed him about Pakistan. That is the test that Bush failed back in 1999, as we all recall:

And that was before anybody really cared about Pakistan. If Cain were asked who the leader of Pakistan was now, or say, name the countries bordering those in which masses of U.S. troops are currently stationed, and failed to provide a reasonable answer, I would be unconvinced of his credentials. And fairly at that.
So, by pre-emptively striking down attempts to probe his even cursory knowledge of international affairs, Cain shows himself to be as clownish a candidate as everybody already knows he is anyway.

Kirstin October 10, 2011 at 11:44 pm

I was completely embarrassed by Cain’s comments about this! He seemed to relish the fact that he knew so little about Uzbekistan that he couldn’t even pronounce it right. It would be one thing if he could show that he had looked into the issues surrounding Afghanistan and the supply route so that his decision to prioritize the US economic issues over such foreign policy issues was even the least bit informed, but like Nathan said, he’s coming from a place of pure ignorance. Who cares what’s going on outside of America when we have problems inside America? It’s a nice platform and we all know the economy needs some serious help, but the US isn’t just going to close itself off from the outside world, we need candidates who recognize that they need a decent knowledge of foreign policy.

ER October 11, 2011 at 7:22 am

at this time, Uzbekistan is the least of all countries to call small and insignificant, hopefully he’ll show some humility & self-correction in response to merited criticism to come his way for that stupid remark

Jeremy Allen October 11, 2011 at 9:52 am

Cain did not *only* say that there are things he does not know. Admitting there are things one doesn’t know is a good thing to admit, as many commenters here have already pointed out.

But Cain said he did know something. He said some of the Central Asian states are insignificant. That impolies knowledge. It implies he already knows about these states, and from his knowledge and analysis he has concluded that they are insignificant.

So, in one part of Cain’s statement, he does a reasonable thing and admits he does not have the answers to every question. But in another part of his statement he reveals that he already has made some conclusions about these states – that they are insignificant. So people are right to question how he made that conclusion.

Pointing to one part of his statement where he says he has limited answers does not excuse him from accounting for the knowledge he says he already has – that these states are insignificant.

Realist Writer October 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm

And maybe they ARE insignificant. This is a blog about Central Asia, so you should expect Central Asian scholars to think Uzbekistan is somewhat significant or important, but what about Liberia, Canada, Australia, Chile, Lithuania, South Africa, etc.? All of these states are somewhat important in the grand scheme of things if you look at them closely…yet these Central Asia scholars specifically focus on Central Asia, implicating implying that ALL those other states are NOT significant enough to be focused on by these major scholars. It is fair to conclude therefore that non-“scholars of Central Asia” will view Central Asia as insignificant, as opposed to whatever grand topic they dedicate themselves at this moment.

And if you’re saying all the states in the world are significant, then it is as if none of them are in the first place and that you’re just arbitrarily choosing what states to spend an inordinate amount of time on. Honestly, this latter option is more horrifying than the former option.

Nathan October 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Liberia would have been a better example for making the point. Hell. Kyrgyzstan would have.

But don’t lose sigh of how he made the point. He bluntly said they’re not worth knowing about. I agree that he doesn’t need to know about them. I find it horrifying that anyone would find it acceptable, let alone praiseworthy, to have a president who expects that belittling other countries (until they’re important to the US) has no costs.

It’s not that a candidate needs to treasure Central Asia. It’s that he happened to pick the worst example in the region (and specifically claimed, incorrectly it would seem, to know enough to confidently assert its unimportance) and that he thinks aggressive ignorance is a defensible stance with which to face the world.

Tianshansky October 11, 2011 at 10:03 am

I’ve never tried Godfather’s pizza because I’m from NY and it’s not in NY as far as I know, but I’m in Dushanbe now and I sure wish the pizza man would come here and show the locals how to make some decent pizza!

Nathan October 11, 2011 at 10:08 am

Seriously. He is missing out that the region is in our strategic economic interests. It is crying our for cheap, delicious pizza. We excel at that in America. He could create so many jobs if he would shed his ignorance!

Nick October 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm

What was it Neville Chamberlain said in 1938:

‘how horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing!’

I really, really dislike boasts of ignorance being portrayed as clever, realist strategies: ‘Oh, I’m too busy worrying about Big Issues to have time to worry about rinky-dink nations and the names of their presidents no-one’s heard of.’

If Herman Cain hasn’t heard of Uzbekistan by now, or doesn’t know who its President is, and he has serious designs on the White House, then he needs to hire some halfway competent foreign policy advisors, like, now.

Nick October 11, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Just to clarify – I’ve provided the quotation from Chamberlain because I think it illustrates perfectly how foreign policy issues involving – in Cain’s words – ‘small insignificant states’, can have the most appalling consequences. Something Chamberlain, grasped – but, apparently, Cain doesn’t.

Don Bacon October 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Which country is “far-away” and which isn’t?
Washington – Tashkent 6,532 miles
London – Prague 643 miles

Nick October 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm

In the 1930s, Prague was “far-away” as far as most Britons were concerned(less so now); but both THEN and NOW Tashkent is still pretty “far-away” as most Americans and Britons are or have been – concerned.

But national strategic interests are no respecter of distance, and in any case Tashkent – Kabul = 467 miles. The USA has quite a few things going on in Kabul, so Tashkent doesn’t seem all that far anymore.

I still think that the US economy will be the deciding factor in the 2012 US presidential election and – to be blunt – if Cain is the nominee (let’s pretend for amoment), his stance on the so-called “big issues” will be his downfall.

Don Bacon October 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Regarding distance, the claim (not only by you) that a poor, small, land-locked mountainous country on the other side of the earth is of national strategic interest is — amazing. And reading Cain, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Does the stated US goal of “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future” in this far-away country qualify as a US “national strategic interest?” I’m not sure.

I mean, while the US State Department has indicated a strategic interest in Central Asia, including with its New Silk Road, I think the average American Joe Sixpack-‘n-pizza guy would be more than happy with limiting the whole deal to the narrow anti-AQ goal stated above, and then leave the area. In fact, that’s the stated US plan, to get out. State’s strategic Silk Road pipe dreams have not hit the national thought-waves yet. (And Mr. Foust is trying to head them off at the pass.)

I think that Cain is (hyperbolically) suggesting the latter, limited approach. In any case the debate tonight might clarify it. This evening’s event might be historical, hysterical, or both. It almost makes me wish that I owned a teevee.

Nathan October 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm

If you believe that getting out of Afghanistan is a vital, national strategic interest, then Uzbekistan is important. All of those men, women, and materiel need routes to exit safely. It can’t all go by air and it can’t all (safely) go through Pakistan.

Don’t say Cain is suggesting anything until he actually suggests it. Again, don’t treat a politician as a cipher representing your own views.

Don Bacon October 11, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I certainly didn’t treat Cain as a “cipher.” I attempted to give meaning to his words.
And don’t you try to tell me what to say — it won’t work. Case closed.

Nathan October 11, 2011 at 7:36 pm

And you failed because he didn’t say those things. Giving his words meaning he didn’t actually give them that apparently happens to coincide with politics that appeal to you is treating him as a cipher.

I’m not telling you what to think, just to actually read the actual words that he actually said and to actually consider the actual tone he actually used. Case closed.

Don Bacon October 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

from the Mizzou Meat Market:
Ham $3.99
Bacon $3.89

You win.

Kirstin October 15, 2011 at 12:09 am

This took me a second to figure out, but it’s actually pretty hilarious. Zing! I love a good pun.

Pavlik October 12, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Admitting you don’t know the answer to a question is ok. But being proud of your ignorance, ala Sarah Palin or W Bush is not. Referring to Uzbekistan as “small and insignificant” is a sign of ignorance, especially for someone who wants to be President.

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