Herman Cain, Republican - AP - August 7 2011
Candidate Cain at a Republican rally in New Orleans. Photo by AP
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Until he announced his bid for the Republican Party's presidential candidate, in May, Herman Cain was hardly known outside of Georgia, where he lives. The 65-year-old Memphis-born minister and businessman, who helped scuttle President Bill Clinton's healthcare reform in 1994, is still trailing other Republican candidates. But he is popular in Tea Party circles, and straw polls among conservatives show him doing well.

Last week's debt ceiling drama provided him with what he says is further proof of how dysfunctional the current government is.

"They didn't solve the problem", Cain said in an interview with Haaretz the day the president finally signed the bill that allowed the U.S. government to continue borrowing money. "They gave President Obama the $2.4 trillion dollar blank check in terms of raising the debt ceiling. We should be freezing the debt ceiling and looking for ways to reduce the debt. Instead, they came with the proposal that was designed to avoid the default - but they didn't solve the problem.

"The second thing that is most disturbing about it is the fact that now they have this super-commission that is going to be empowered to come up with an additional $1.4 trillion dollars in cuts sometime in the future. And if they do not find (where to make ) the cuts, there will be some special triggers that go into effect. For me, that's no way to lead and not the way to manage the budget of the United States."

Cain blames Obama for a lack of leadership. "At least a year ago the president and the administration knew that this was coming. At that point, a leader would have put together a contingency plan.

"If I were the president, that plan would have included paying those things that were absolutely necessary," says Cain, citing interest on the debt, payment for the military forces and their families, social security payments, and Medicare and Medicaid bills. "Then, you might have to cut all other expenditures by 40 percent or more. I wouldn't do it across the board. Some departments we might need to cut 70 percent, others, 20 percent. That's responsible budget-cutting."

He is confident that the United States has enough resources to live within its means - and live well. The country could even help bring about a reduction in world oil prices if it develop its own energy resources and decreases its dependency on foreign oil.

A win for the Tea Party

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid urged not to look for the winners this week, but undeniably the Tea Party came out the big winner, forcing both parties to accept its terms. The faction angered some lawmakers, reportedly prompting some members of Congress to accuse them of using "terrorist" tactics. Cain, who recognized the movement's potential and attended dozens of its events, thinks the Washington establishment's condescending attitude towards the angry conservative may backfire.

"I gave my first speech to a Tea Party group in April 2009. They were expecting 600 people, and 2,600 people showed up. That told me then that this movement isn't something that is going to go away. To try and say that the Tea Party people created a havoc and they are "terrorists" is just hogwash. Because they (Washington ) are not doing their jobs, the people who were elected with the Tea Party's help are forcing Washington, DC, (to move ) in the right direction. We didn't get all of the things we'd like to, but that's not realistic because Republicans control only one third of Washington, DC - the House of Representatives. But the fact that there was no increase in the tax rate is a win. And the fact that they use the language of a balanced budget amendment - that's a win. So there were some victories because of the pressure that from the Tea Party movement and its representatives."

Cain believes the power of the Tea Party movement is on the rise. "I speak all over the country...at Tea Party rallies, at town halls, and all I can say is that the groups continue to get larger and larger because more and more people are frustrated beyond belief.

As a presidential candidate, Memphis-born Cain has some serious credentials in finance and job creation. He used to be a chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, president of the National Restaurant Association, and chairman and CEO of the giant restaurant chain, Godfather's Pizza. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and lost, but doesn't see his lack of experience as an elected official as a disadvantage given the the widespread disenchantment with elected officials, he says. "Whenever I give speeches and mention the fact that some people see the fact that I never held a public office as a disadvantage the audience applauds spontaneously," he says."Many people who vote don't see this as a disadvantage either."

The only black Republican candidate

So far Cain is the only black candidate in the 2012 presidential elections, except for Obama. The Republican Party is for the most part unpopular among African-American voters. Cain doesn't even like the term, preferring to call himself a black American since many generations of his family were born in America, not Africa. "I was proud that the United States of America was able to get past color and elect a person of color as president,", he says. "But I've been very, very disappointed in the performance of this president because of failed policies, many bad decisions, lack of leadership, and the list goes on and on.

"I am getting a huge positive reaction from the black community - and there are more black conservatives out there than most polls show. I know this for a fact from anecdotal evidence. When I was doing my radio show in Atlanta, I would say that one out of three callers to my show were black - and they held conservative views. They don't like to call themselves Republicans because the Republican brand has been damaged. And the only way to improve the Republican brand is to have conservatives there that truly represent some of the original principles of the Republican Party. I believe that a good candidate can attract the black vote."

The crowds at Cain's rallies adore the charismatic 65-year old candidate who smiles and answers them with "Love you all!" But Cain has already angered two minority groups. The Latino community took issue with his harsh position on illegal immigration. American Muslims were upset by his remarks about "not being comfortable" appointing Muslims to his cabinet (a comment he later retracted ) and his support for the right of local communities to veto the construction of mosques.

Alligator patrols

On the immigration issue, Cain says that his proposal to secure the American-Mexican border by building a moat filled with alligators was a joke. "America needs to have a sense of humor about something", he says. "If someone wants to attack me and my campaign they will take something like that out of context. It wasn't meant to insult anybody. But we must secure the border, enforce the existing law and pass laws to empower the states to deal with illegals that are in this country already."

Cain recently met with representatives of the Muslim community in an effort to mend fences. "As the responsible decision maker you should listen to all sides of an issue, but it didn't change my perspective", he says. "I think there is no place for Shari'a (Muslim religious ) law in the United States courts."

"My position is that I am 100 percent supportive of Israel. I've been more direct about my support of Israel than any of the candidates, with the statement: 'If any other country messes with Israel, they are messing with the U.S.' That's not politically correct language, it's just the common sense language. I feel very strongly about my relationship with Israel. I listened to some of the Muslim leaders, but it didn't change my perspective."

As president would you try to reach out to the Muslim world as President Obama has?

"I don't know what reaching out to the Muslim world is going to achieve. I am not going to pander to the Muslim world. I am not going to try to pacify Muslim countries in belief that it's somehow going to change their attitude towards the U.S. I am not going to have a deaf ear, but I am just not going to make it some sort of priority. Where there is an opportunity for peace in the world, I will support it and try to help to facilitate it. Where there isn't a strong possibility to bring peace I am not going to try to do the impossible." Do you believe the two-state solution is possible?

"It's possible if they want to have a peaceful co-existence. But it's not going to be possible if every time Israel is making some concession they are asking for more concessions, and that's the history of this whole peace process".

Cain will be in Israel later this month as one of the politicians addressing the August 24 pro-Israel rally in Jerusalem being organized by conservative radio broadcaster and commentator Glenn Beck. "What Israel had to endure in that part of the world is nothing short of courageous, and so I wanted to commend them for their courage - not only today, but historically. As a citizen and as a president of the U.S., I will provide our support for Israel because they are our best friends in that part of the world, and I don't want these relations to get weaker. I want them to get stronger."

Cain will meet with political leaders who will be in town and visit some historical sites, including the Western Wall. Having been raised as a Christian, I am more excited about this trip from a personal standpoint than a political standpoint. My wife is with me because we have been believers all our lives, and it's very exciting to go back to the place where over 3,000 years ago the Jewish people settled this land".

Would there be any circumstances under which Cain would consider a U.S. military strike against Iran?

He says that will depend largely on Israel. "I believe that Iran is going to get a nuclear weapon. I think that the necessary logistics fire control system that goes with it may be a bit further behind - you need to be able to not only fire a nuclear missile, but fire it with a certain amount of accuracy. That's going to be more difficult for them to achieve. There are other things that can be done to slow down their whole attempt to develop a large nuclear arsenal. But there will be no question on where I would stand supporting Israel if they attack.

An attack on Iran?

"It starts with what does Israel want to do. If I am president - when I am president - the United States will stand beside Israel, and I will make it very clear to rest of the world. It'll be Israel's decision, under what circumstances they feel that they need to take any actions against Iran. That is the decision that the U.S. can't and shouldn't make. However, the thing that I think will happen first is that Iran makes some sort of attack against Israel. And if it were to happen, there will be no debate on how the U.S. will participate in helping Israel to defend itself."

Switching to the diplomatic field, if the United Nations General Assembly votes in September to recognize a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinian Authority, would your Administration support it?

"Not if it is imposed upon the conditions that Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he is not ready to give in on. If the new government is the combination of a terrorist organization, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority I won't recognize it. I would be totally against it. There are too many different implications and scenarios following this vote to list in a soundbite. But I just don't agree with this unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state."

How would you deal with protests in Syria and Libya?

"Libya has become a debacle. Depending on what the generals and experts tell me, I would immediately determine if it's proper for us to withdraw support from this whole effort - or if we are to stay involved then what is our exit strategy.

Syria: Not our business

"As for Syria, I don't see any reason for us to get involved in this situation at all. Yes, it's inhumane that the Syrian government is killing some of its own people. But Syria has never been a friend of the United States, and it's unfortunate that they are doing those things, but we can't be the policeman of the world."

Is America still a superpower?

"Yes, America is still a superpower, but we are slipping. We are a superpower economically, but the economy is stalled. We are a superpower militarily, but this president is weakening our military might. We are superpower in terms of the way of life that people are able to enjoy in this country, but that way of life has been threatened because of the stalled economy and the over-regulatory nature of this president and this administration. We are still a superpower, but that's why we need to make some changes in leadership in order to remain this way."

If the election were held today a generic Republican presidential candidate would beat President Barack Obama by 47 percent to 42 percent, according to a Rasmussen poll published last week. Other polls have shown a similar trend.

Until Cain announced his presidential bid in Atlanta in May, he was hardly known nationally. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is still seen as the frontrunner in the Republican primary race, but one of Cain's favorite phrases on the campaign trail is: "I did not join this race to be second."

Indeed, last Sunday he won the Western Conservative Summit straw poll in Denver, with 48 percent of the 508 people participating in the poll choosing Cain as their favored presidential candidate.