The Carmen Sandiego election

Everyone seems to be having some fun at the expense of Romney campaign advisor Pierre Prosper, who referred to "Czechoslovakia" when discussing missile defense in a conference call with reporters. Lord knows we've done our share of foreign-policy gaffe-spotting around here and it's fair to expect candidates and their surrogates to understand the global issues they discuss, but this is kind of a cheap shot. I think it's important to emphasize the difference between slips of the tongue and actual displays of ignorance about the world.

Is it really likely that Prosper, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor, State Department staffer, and ambassador-at-large doesn't know Czechoslovakia broke up in 1992? Or is it more reasonable to assume that he simply slipped and said the name that had been in use for the first 40 years of his life? (John McCain also got in trouble with "Czechoslovakia" in 2008.) Similarly, is it more likely that President Obama doesn't know that "Maldives" and "Malvinas" are different places or that he just slipped and mentioned the wrong island chain that starts with Mal-? These errors would get a contestant kicked off "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" but they don't actually tell us much about a candidates' knowledge of the world.

The problem with Herman Cain's Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan moment was not that he can't immediately recall the name of every head of state, it's that he mocked the idea that such knowledge would ever be necessary. Sarah Palin would have deserved a lot more slack for the infamous Katie Couric interview if she had merely mixed up whether Putin was president or prime minister or some such slip. The problem was that she was clearly feigning having any sort of knowledge about the vitally important country right next door. 

It's good that we want to test candidates' knowledge of world affairs, but a geography bee isn't the best way to do it. In this election cycle, there will be more than enough actual ignorance to go around. 


Franklin Graham calls for U.S. airstrikes on Sudan

In a Washington Times op-ed, the evangelical leader and son of Billy Graham says U.S. airpower is the only way to stop the escalating violence in the Nuba mountains:

Now I am asking him and his administration to do something that may sound unusual for a preacher of the Gospel. I am asking him to use our Air Force to destroy Mr. Bashir’s airstrips - the airstrips his military uses to launch bombers that carry out daily attacks in the Nuba Mountains. The Nuba people don’t want American soldiers - they can fight for themselves. They just want to be free. But they have no defense against bombs dropping from the sky on their villages, schools and hospitals.

As a pilot with 40 years of experience, I can assure you that an airplane doesn’t do well with holes in the runway. I certainly am not asking the president to kill anyone, just to break up some concrete to prevent the bombers from taking off. I think that by destroying those runways, we can force Mr. Bashir to the negotiating table. This needs to happen soon because Sudan’s rainy season is coming. If we continue to turn our backs and don’t act, it will be too late for thousands of men, women and children. We need to make it possible for Samaritan’s Purse and other aid agencies to reach these suffering people. The coming rainy season and impassible muddy roads will leave us with airlifts as our only option. But with Sudan’s MiG fighter jets and Antonov bombers overhead, we simply can’t risk the lives of our staff.

In a 2011 interivew with Foreign Policy, Graham said that he "found Bashir to be somebody you could speak with, could negotiate with." 

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