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Candidates’ Foreign Affairs Blunders

The most infamous slip-ups in auditions for commander in chief

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech on Wednesday was supposed to be an attempt to show him as an effective “presidential leader,” but it was widely panned.

However, one particular moment stood out when he was speaking about the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole and bombings at two American embassies and Trump mispronounced Tanzania as “Tan-ZAY-nia.”  

A presidential candidate’s bona fides on national security and international relations is one of the tests they must pass to become the nation’s commander in chief and ambassador to the world. While Trump’s stumble won’t hurt him with his supporters, it will help feed the narrative that he’s not up to the job.  

Here are a few more prior stumbles as candidates tried to make their way onto the world stage.

Herman Cain’s non-answers

Trump isn’t the first brash businessman to run for president. In 2012, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain ran and famously said he didn’t need to know all the details of each issue facing the U.S. and he didn’t need to know who the president of “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.”  

But, Cain’s most infamous misstep was in an interview with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he stumbled and stalled when asked about his position on intervention in Libya. Cain walked back comments and said he had things “twirling in my head.”  

It was part of a string of misfortunes that the one-time GOP front-runner ran into, including accusations of sexual impropriety, and he dropped out a few weeks after the interview.

Hillary Clinton and Bosnian sniper fire

Hillary Clinton is now viewed as the candidate with the most experience in foreign affairs. But in 2008, she came under fire from liberals for her somewhat more hawkish views than her Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Barack Obama.  

Surprisingly, one of her biggest flubs came not with her position on Iraq but with her experience in Bosnia — where she claimed to have ducked sniper fire in Tuzla in 1996.  

“There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport,” she said. “But instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”  

However, videos showed Clinton landing on a tarmac with children welcoming her. PolitiFact rated it as a “pants on fire” lie and the Obama campaign pounced on it. Clinton later said it was a “misstatement.”

John Kerry’s flip flop

As secretary of State, John Kerry is now the U.S.’s top diplomat. But in 2004, Sen. Kerry largely ran on his Vietnam War record and criticism of President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.  

But while discussing an $87 billion appropriations bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which he voted against, he said “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”  

Bush’s campaign, Republicans and the media pounced on the statement and the label “flip-flopper” dogged him continuously in his loss to Bush.

Gerald Ford’s domination of current events

Gerald Ford wasn’t elected to the executive branch. He had been tapped to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew in the midst of a bribery scandal and then assumed the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned after Watergate. As a result, his 1976 race against Jimmy Carter was his first election on the national stage.  

One of his biggest blunders came in a debate a month before the November election. When asked by the moderator about the increasing influence of the Soviet Union, Ford said “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”  

The moderator was so incredulous at the response that he asked a follow-up to confirm it. Ford was already facing criticism after pardoning Nixon and the blunder didn’t help.  

Contact Garcia at EricGarcia@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @EricMGarcia


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