The issue of John McCain's health has been somewhat
muted thus far in the presidential campaign, possibly because no mainstream
media talking head wants to appear to be picking on someone who is old and
sick, not to mention frequently querulous. If McCain were to be elected and
then die or become incapacitated, Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin would become president.
There has been considerable criticism of her lack of experience, but, as many
of the critics are actually opposed to her in-your-face religiosity and conservative
social values but afraid to be open about it, it is not quite that simple.
Harry Truman knew almost nothing about running a government and a world war
when he became president upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but he
was frequently able to overcome his lack of experience by exercising good judgment
and listening to key advisers such as George Marshall whose judgment he trusted.
Similarly, it might be argued that Palin could be a candidate who has no experience
but who has plenty of common sense combined with homespun virtue that will
lead her to make the right decisions.
Many Americans who are particularly concerned by the issue of war and peace
have also expressed reservations about Palin's worldview and the type of decisions
that it is likely to produce. Palin's universe is defined by fundamentalist
Christianity and small-town values, undeniably a plus in rural America but
hardly a sufficient grounding when one has to step on the world stage and deal
with frequently hostile nations and peoples that cannot relate to either. Like
President Bush, she sees things in simplistic, Manichean terms, telling Katie
Couric that "It is obvious to me who the good guys are … and who the bad
guys are." Palin's inability to articulate foreign policy issues and her
lack of interest in reading either newspapers or books suggest that she has
little curiosity about foreigners and their ways, a view not terribly dissimilar
to that of George W. Bush when he first ran for president in 2000. It has been
noted that Palin did not even acquire a U.S. passport until last year, at age
At this point in the campaign, it is important to make some assessment of
how Palin thinks of foreign policy issues based on the information she does
have combined with her understanding of the national interest. She frequently
demonstrates a worldview grounded in American exceptionalism, believing that
all nations in the world aspire to American values and that any country that
does not want Western-style government with its constitutional guarantees and
freedoms is somehow outside the pale and potentially subject to enforced democracy.
She clearly supports nation-building, saying of the war on terror that it has
been a mechanism to "usher in democratic values and ideals around the
world." She also has a clear view of the enemy as "Islamic extremism,
terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation," and she is willing
to use force when necessary, insisting that "We must do whatever it takes,
and we must not blink."
There have been reports that Sarah Palin is being "schooled" on
international issues by the stalwart warriors at the American Enterprise Institute,
and there have been suggestions that her tutors have not always been happy
with her impulsive "shoot-from-the-lip" responses to hypothetical
situations posed as teaching points. If that is so, she could well be considered
a work in progress and many of her statements might be regarded as carefully
coached attempts to provide coherent responses to scenarios that she knows
little about. If she is not speaking from conviction, she might even prove
to be sensible once she is free of her minders, but it would nevertheless be
useful for those who are concerned about the future of the United States to
take a look at what she has already said on foreign and security policy issues
in her speech at the Republican convention, her intended speech before a rally
condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in interviews with Charles
Gibson and Katie Couric, and in her debate with Democratic vice presidential
candidate Joe Biden.
Palin frequently appears to be genuinely ignorant of anything have to do with
the world outside the United States, and she is forced to hem and haw whenever
there is a question about foreign or security policy. Many of her responses
tend to be generic. She does not believe that countries that "hate America
for its tolerance" should ever be allowed to get their hands on nuclear
weapons, and she does not think that one should negotiate with "dictators
who hate America and hate what we stand for." Palin believes that victory
is at hand in Iraq, due to the "proven" success of the surge, and
that any talk of a timeline for withdrawal of American troops is raising "a
white flag of surrender." She believes that the central front in the war
on terror has been in Iraq but also now includes Afghanistan, and she describes
Barack Obama as "reckless" because he has expressed concern about
the killing of Afghan civilians in U.S. air raids. She supports the application
of "surge principles" to Afghanistan in spite of evidence that the
different conditions in that country would make such a policy unlikely to succeed.
Palin also approves of American attacks into Pakistan to "stop the terrorists
from coming any further in," even without the consent of the government
in Islamabad. She demurs at describing such attacks as U.S. policy, because
she does not want to "show our cards to terrorists … and let them know
what the game plan was." She does not seem disturbed over attacking a
nation with which the United States is not at war and is almost Rudy Giuliani
redux, with the threat of terrorism revisited over again as a justification
for the U.S. military to do anything to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Regarding Iran, Palin says that the mullahs "seek to destroy America,"
and she incorrectly repeats over and over again the canard that Iran has threatened
to destroy Israel. Tehran should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, Palin
asserts, because it would give them to terrorists, whom she describes as "seeking
nuculer [sic] weapons without delay," and she adheres to the neocon/AIPAC
line that Iran should not even have access to nuclear energy. She describes
Iran as a threat to the entire world, claims that it might "seek to cut
off a fifth of the world energy supplies," and calls it the number-one
state sponsor of terrorism. Somewhat mysteriously, she also asserts that Iran's
leaders "have persecuted countless people simply because they are Jewish."
She says that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be "held accountable
for inciting genocide" and that he dreams of "being an agent in a
'Final Solution' – the elimination of the Jewish people." In the debate
with Biden, she also said that Ahmadinejad is "not sane or stable."
Palin is most predictable in her analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
having already passed through the gauntlet of an AIPAC briefing during the
Republican convention, and believing as she does as a Christian dispensationalist
that Jews have a unique, divine right to the Holy Land. She exclaimed to Biden,
"I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel," which she also
described as "our strongest and best ally in the Middle East." In
fact, she has spoken about Israel more than any other country, has never mentioned
other key U.S. allies in the region, and is clear that her policy in the Middle
East would be completely Israel-centric. She reportedly sometimes wears an
Israeli flag pin on her lapel. She claimed at one point, incorrectly, that
she has only an Israeli flag in her office, though photos show that there are
also American and Alaskan state flags behind her desk. With Charles Gibson,
she responded to a question about what the United States should do if Israel
decides to attack Iran by answering, "We cannot second guess the measures
Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security." Gibson's
second and third attempts to elicit something more detailed met with the same
response. She subsequently explained to Katie Couric that if the United States
were to place any restraints on Israel it would not be fulfilling its responsibility
to stop a second Holocaust, a theme she returned to in her debate with Biden
and in her planned speech in New York condemning Iran, which was canceled by
the organizers when Hillary Clinton refused to attend.
Palin has also demanded that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,
a development that would undercut any possibility for a two-state solution
for Israel-Palestine, something that she claims to support. Curiously, no interviewer
has yet confronted Palin on how her Armageddonist view that the second coming
of Christ, which she prays for, might affect her foreign policy. Some interpretations
of the Book of Revelation foretell a great war in the Middle East that will
result in the death of all non-believers and the Rapturing of all true Christians
into heaven. Would she welcome such a war as divinely inspired and encourage
it? Or look the other way and let the Israelis start it?
Regarding Russia, the only power in the world capable of destroying the United
States in a nuclear exchange, Palin claims to have a particular insight into
Moscow's thinking because Alaska has a "narrow maritime border" with
Russia; she has been on the front line because when "Putin rears his head
and comes into the air space of the United States … it's in Alaska." She
has also claimed international experience because she has dealt with Russian
trade missions, which is not actually true. As for Russian intrusions into
U.S. airspace, Palin appears to be poorly informe,d as there have been none
since the Cold War ended. Palin believes that the Ukraine and Georgia should
be allowed to join NATO and that the United States should "perhaps"
be prepared to go to war with Russia if they get into a fight with their larger
neighbor, even if it is a purely local dispute and even if they have initiated
the fighting. She also denounced Russia for unwarranted and "unprovoked"
aggression against Georgia over South Ossetia, putting her completely on message
with John McCain, George W. Bush, and Randy Scheunemann, McCain's key foreign
policy adviser, who was a paid lobbyist for Georgia.
In short, based on what Palin has actually said, her foreign policy would
be like that of George W. Bush, only worse. She would extend NATO up to the
border of Russia and be prepared to fight Moscow if it objects; she would refuse
to negotiate with any country that hates "what we stand for"; she
would let Israel attack Iran; she would continue and expand attacks by U.S.
forces inside Pakistan; she would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,
making peace with the Palestinians impossible; she would stay in Iraq indefinitely
and expand the war in Afghanistan; she would support democracy promotion; she
would base all American foreign policy in the Middle East on Israel's interests;
and she would target "Islamic extremists" worldwide. She also believes
that terrorists and other "bad guys" are out to get us because they
hate our freedom, and she just might believe that a war that would end the
world could be God's will. If a lot of it sounds like something we've heard
before, it should.