Cain on China: "They're trying to develop nuclear capability"; Update: Cain getting a bad rap?

Via Ace, skip ahead to 11:30 or so for the key bit. The quote:

HERMAN CAIN: I do view China as a potential military threat to the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what could you do as president to head that off?

HERMAN CAIN: My China strategy is quite simply outgrow China. It gets back to economics. China has a $6 trillion economy and they’re growing at approximately 10 percent. We have a $14 trillion economy — much bigger — but we’re growing at an anemic 1.5, 1.6 percent. When we get our economy growing back at the rate of 5 or 6 percent that it has the ability to do, we will outgrow China.

And secondly, we already have superiority in terms of our military capability, and I plan to get away from making cutting our defense a priority and make investing in our military capability a priority, going back to my statement: peace through strength and clarity. So yes they’re a military threat. They’ve indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have. So yes, we have to consider them a military threat.

The phrasing’s slightly ambiguous so it becomes a rorschach test on Cain. If you like him and trust that he has a grasp on policy, you’ll think he’s referring here to developing nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The Pentagon’s chief worry right now is China building any sort of carrier, not necessarily a nuclear one, so this would be an odd bit of specificity from Cain. But fair enough — a Chinese nuclear carrier would indeed be a big deal. If you don’t like him and/or don’t trust him on policy, you’ll think he’s referring here to China developing a general nuclear capability, i.e. nuclear weapons. Which, as pretty much everyone in the world except maybe him knows, they’ve already had for decades. The way the sentence is phrased, with the two parts separated by “and,” it sounds like he’s distinguishing the nuclear component conceptually from the carriers. Could a guy who didn’t know what the “right of return” was and who whiffed on the biggest softball question ever about Gitmo really not know that China has a nuclear deterrent? I’m thinking … maybe. Although it won’t be spun that way tomorrow, needless to say.

The fact that we’re about to have a debate in the comments about whether he knows China has nukes doesn’t bode well for the general election campaign against Obama.

Watch Cain Confident He Can Win Nomination, Says Harassment Claims Are ‘Baseless’ on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Update: I didn’t see it last night, but here’s what commenter Jason Coleman had to say about Cain’s background with China and nukes:

Herman Cain spent the Vietnam war evaluating the capabilities of the Chinese to deliver a nuclear weapon onto the heads of our forces in South Vietnam.

He examined the test launches of the Dongfeng 1 (SS-1) and plotted out the trajectories for a 500kg warheads.

When China started testing the Dongfeng 2 (CSS-1) Cain plotted out the trajectories and capabilities of it’s delivery of 15 kiloton nuclear weapons.

Both of these missiles were provided to the PRC by the Soviets, Cain analysed data from the Russian test launches and determined the risk to U.S. troops in SE Asia.

Cain also observed the development of China’s first domestically produced missile, Dongfeng 3 (CSS-2) and plotted out it’s use with China’s 15-20KT fissile devices as well as China’s new thermonuclear devices.

Finally, Cain was involved in the determination that China’s Dongfeng 4 (CSS-3) was capable of delivering both fissile and thermonuclear devices to both Moscow and Guam as well as cover the entire deployment of U.S. forces in SE Asia.

Cain is well aware of China’s nuclear missile capability, the only reasonable conclusion is that Cain was indeed referring to China’s attempts to develop and sail their first nuclear aircraft carrier and their attempts to develop more dangerous nuclear cruisers.

I would have broken this out into a separate post except that, after googling, I can’t find anything to confirm Coleman’s claims that Cain spent time on Chinese nukes while he worked on ballistics in the Navy. I e-mailed Coleman to ask for his source but haven’t heard back. He mentioned in another comment last night that some of this is in Cain’s book; I haven’t read it yet but anyone who has is welcome to confirm or deny. Cain’s website says of his time working for the Navy, “Herman continued his education by earning his Master’s degree in computer science from Purdue University while working full-time developing fire control systems for ships and fighter planes for the Department of the Navy,” but Coleman claimed in his second comment that that description is incomplete. If so, I’m surprised Cain hasn’t talked more about his Navy work as a foreign-policy credential. We’ve heard endlessly about Pillsbury and Godfather’s Pizza, but the only time I remember him talking at any length about his Navy work was when Lawrence O’Donnell tried to demagogue him for being some sort of draft dodger. (He told O’Donnell he worked on a “rocket-assisted projectile.”) In any case, there’s at least some reason to doubt the theory that Cain didn’t know about China’s nuke stockpile. Duly noted.

Update: Jason Coleman e-mails to say that some of the details he provided are in Cain’s book, some have been gleaned from bits of info dropped by Cain on the trail, and some he knows from chatting with Cain’s former colleagues. He has no online links to point me too (Cain’s work for the Navy long predated the Internet, obviously) but will send them along if he finds any.