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Herman Cain stumbles badly on Libya question


Updated 11:58 p.m. Eastern Time

Herman Cain struggled to explain his position on President Obama's handling of Libya in an interview with the Journal Sentinel of Milwaukee released Monday, at one point asking if Mr. Obama supported the uprising and suggesting he was having a hard time articulating an answer because he has "all this stuff twirling around in my head."

Video of the interaction is at left. Asked if he agrees with the president on Libya, Cain looks up and says, "OK, Libya." He then pauses for a moment.

"President Obama supported the uprising, correct?" he asks, speaking carefully. "President Obama called for the removal of Qaddafi - just want to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say yes I agree, or no I didn't agree. I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason - nope, that's a different one."

Cain then pauses for about five seconds.

"I gotta go back and see - um, I got all this stuff twirling around in my head," he says. "Specifically, what are you asking me. Did I agree or not disagree with Obama?"

Told he was being asked if he agreed with how Mr. Obama handled the uprising in Libya, Cain said, "I would have done a better job of determining who the opposition is. And I'm sure that our intelligence people had some of that information. Based upon who made up that opposition, OK, based upon who made up that opposition, might have caused me to make some different decisions about how we participated."

"Secondly, no I did not agree with Qaddafi killing his citizens. Absolutely not. So something would have had to been - I would have supported many of the things that they did in order to help stop that. It's not a simple yes/no because there are different pieces and I would have gone about assessing the situation differently, which might have caused us to end up at the same place, but where I think more could have been done is what's the nature of the opposition."

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Cain was then asked - so, you would have sent ground troops into the country?

"I didn't - nope. I didn't - I said I would have done a better job of assessing the situation relative to the opposition first before I made decisions about what we would do," he said.

Cain then said he wasn't "criticizing" Mr. Obama, but he is "just saying I just don't think enough was done relative to assessing the opposition before everything, you know, exploded. That's what I'm saying."

"I'm a much more deliberate decision maker," he adds. "It's a point that I keep coming back to. Some people want to say, well as president you're supposed to know everything. No you don't. I believe in having all of the information, as much of it as I possibly can, rather than making a decision or making a statement about whether I totally agreed or didn't agree when I wasn't privy to the entire situation. There might be some things there that might have caused me to feel differently. So I'm not trying to hedge on questions. It's just that that's my nature as a businessman. I need to know the facts as much as possible."

When the interviewer says he isn't clear on Cain's criticism, he reiterates that he is discussing questions about the opposition to Qaddafi, saying considerations like their ability to govern had to be taken into account. Asked if he was saying if the opposition was not up to certain standards he would not have gotten as involved as Mr. Obama, Cain responded, "It would depend upon which part they didn't have."

"See what I'm saying is it's not a clear yes/no answer because all of those things I think should have been assessed. That's what I'm saying," he said.

Asked if he doesn't think they were assessed, Cain responds, "I don't know that they were or were not assessed. I didn't see reports of that assessment."

Cain's campaign told CBS News that the video is being taken out of context, and that Cain was answering 30 or 40 minutes pf questions in a sleep-deprived state. The campaign said Cain simply took a while to recall the issue, and did not say anything that is inaccurate.

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Cain attended a fundraiser tailgate at the Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As he came off from his bus, Cain spoke to the media regarding his remarks to The Journal-Sentinel.

"They asked me a question about Libya, and I paused so I could gather [my] thoughts. You know it's really complimentary when people start documenting my pauses. We [he and Obama] differ in that number one, I would have done a better job of figuring out exactly who was in the opposition. After things erupted, now we discover that some of the members of the opposition were actually al-Qaida members. That's not the proper due diligence in my opinion. And I've got to believe that our intelligence sources could have provided some of that information before decisions were made.

"Secondly, I did not agree with Qaddafi killing his own people-- no one would! We needed to have a better handle on opposition, and now the company is in shambles, we're not sure whether or not this new 'government' is going to be able to fill that void. So I would have done more due diligence, which is the way I do everything before I make a decision."

Asked if his Libya response was his Rick Perry 'oops' moment, the candidate responded: "It was a PAUSE! That's all it was, good grief!"

Cain's earlier comments come in the wake of a CBS News/National Journal debate on foreign policy Saturday in which Cain avoided major gaffes but offered vague answers when pressed on foreign policy questions. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO, who has no foreign policy experience, was asked in that debate to describe his take on the Arab spring.

"What's happening in the Arab Spring, you have to look at Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and all of the revolutions that are going on, and how this administration has mishandled them," Cain said. "As a result, they have gotten totally out of hand. Our relationship with Egypt may not survive. Because when this president backed the opposition, it turned out that opposition was more of the Muslim Brotherhood, which could end up with a majority of control of this new government. This president has already said that the president of Yemen should go. He is our friend. He has been helping us to fight al Qaeda. This president has been on the wrong side in nearly every situation in the Arab world, which has basically done nothing except to put that entire thing at risk."

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In the Journal Sentinel interview, Cain also seems to have gotten caught up on issue of collective bargaining. Asked if federal workers should have collective bargaining rights, he replied, "they already have it, don't they?"

Most federal employees do not have collective bargaining rights when it comes to pay and benefits, though they do have such rights over working conditions.

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