Foreign Policy Flunk-out Won't Hurt Bush

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Hey, it's not as if the guy misspelled "potato".... George W. Bush was given a foreign policy test — probably a bit unfairly — in a TV interview Wednesday, and scored a big "can do better." Asked to name the heads of state of four hot spots currently in the news, the Republican presidential front-runner managed only one — Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui. The names of India's prime minister, Pakistan's coup leader and Chechnya's president escaped him. (Respectively, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Pervez Musharraf and Aslan Maskhadov — TIME Daily knew that...). But while the media (after a quick mental check that they'd have passed muster themselves) may snigger, the electorate is unlikely to mind very much. "It's not as if many Americans knew the answers to those questions," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "And remember, when Ronald Reagan made mistakes early on and the press pounced on them, the public got mad at the press for picking on him. If the voters like a candidate, they're prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt."

The quiz arose from criticism that Bush lacks the expertise in foreign policy necessary to manage the world's last superpower — an expertise, ironically, that had been his father's strong suit. Bush aides shot back that 99.9 percent of Americans couldn't name the president of Chechnya — and, perhaps more alarmingly, that Bush's foreign policy adviser Joel Shinn hadn't known all four answers — stressing that a clear sense of America's strategic interests was more important to a U.S. president than good "Jeopardy" skills. Still, no candidate likes to be found wanting in a political quiz, and compulsory Trivial Pursuit sessions may be the rule in the Bush camp on that bus to New Hampshire.