Business Times - 16 Sep 2008
It is a dangerous mixture of ignorance and arrogance, inexperience and religious fervour
By LEON HADAR
AT first I thought that the guys at Fox News Television, the Republican Party's unofficial propaganda outlet, were pulling my leg. A few hours after Republican presidential candidate John McCain stunned the country by announcing that he had chosen Alaska's governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, Steve Doocy, one of Fox's anchormen, told viewers that the Republican vice-presidential candidate was a foreign policy expert of sorts.
She was, he assured his viewers, very much like the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator Joe Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a veteran member of Washington's foreign policy establishment, who has travelled around the globe and has met many world leaders.
'But the other thing about her, she does know about international relations because she is right up there in Alaska, right next door to Russia,' he explained as a way of trying to convince Americans that if Mr McCain - the 73-year-old cancer survivor - would die in office, Ms Palin will have no problem in terms of filling his shoes as the commander-in-chief of the US military and manage America's relationship with the rest of the world. Because, as you know, Alaska and its leaders have been successful in preventing a Russian invasion through the Bering Strait.
'He's probably kidding,' I told myself. But then a day or two later, Cindy McCain, the Republican presidential candidate's wife, also referred to Alaska's proximity to Russia - 'Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia' - as a way of explaining why Ms Palin would be as successful as, say, President George W Bush in terms of handling diplomacy because his home state of Texas also borders another country, Mexico.
Well, apparently they were not kidding. 'Charlie, you're in Alaska' and Russia is 'our next door neighbours and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska,' Ms Palin stressed during a television interview with ABC News conducted last week on location in Alaska, after reporter Charlie Gibson asked her to provide Americans with some idea about her qualifications to handle the foreign policy.
'We have that very narrow maritime border between the United States, and the 49th state, Alaska, and Russia,' Ms Palin reiterated several times this Alaska-is-neighbour-of-Russia talking point. 'We need to have a good relationship with them. They're very, very important to us and they are our next door neighbour.'
'Good relationship' with Russia indeed. But only, according to Ms Palin, if Russia agreed to the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine as full members in Nato. And it so happens, that Mr McCain's top foreign policy aide is Randy Scheunemann, a former (well) paid lobbyist for Georgia. Ms Palin, like Mr McCain, seems to think that although the American military is overstretched and its economy is in a mess, this is the perfect time to pick a fight with Russia over Georgia and Ukraine. The global war against terrorism, Iraq, Iran, Russia, and . . . who's next?
Read her exchange:
Mr Gibson: And under the Nato treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?
Ms Palin: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a Nato ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help. But Nato, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely at this point, and I think that we need to - especially with new leadership coming in on Jan 20, being sworn in, on either ticket - we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those Nato members. We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.
Mr Gibson: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States, to go to war if Russia were to invade?
Ms Palin: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.
Ms Palin has actually never visited Russia. In fact, she has never visited any country outside North America until last year when she met the troops that belong to Alaska's National Guard in Kuwait and Germany. And, yes, as Alaska's governor she has met with a few foreign trade delegations and her state has a lot of energy resources. And 'energy is a foundation of national security', according to Ms Palin.
It was quite painful to watch her talking about foreign policy during the interview with Mr Gibson. It reminded me of the time I was teaching international relations to college students, such as when one of the students would try to respond to my questions about a new topic on which he or she had only a vague familiarity.
And who could blame Ms Palin? It's impossible even for the smartest student to absorb so much material on world affairs in the few days during which Ms Palin has been briefed by Republican foreign policy experts. Hence she repeated several times the same line provided to her by her Republican handlers - that Washington could not 'second-guess Israel' - when asked by Mr Gibson how she would respond if Israel launched a strike against Iran's nuclear sites.
And she looked like an Alaskan moose caught in the headlights, after Mr Gibson asked her about whether she agreed with the Bush doctrine which ditched US international strategic policy that the Republican and Democratic presidents had pursued since World War II. It seems that Ms Palin thought that Mr Gibson was referring to Mr Bush's world view as opposed to his policy of pre-emptive wars embraced by the US president after 9/11 and which served as a strategic rationale for invading Iraq.
No less disturbing than her lack of knowledge and lack of curiosity about global affairs were Ms Palin's references in the interview and in other forums to the role that her Christian fundamentalist views influence her foreign policy.
For example, she said in a speech at her church that the war in Iraq is 'a task that is from God' and that there was a plan in Iraq, 'and it is God's plan'.
Indeed, these attitudes are not very different from the ones exhibited by President Bush before and after he had entered office - the Us vs Them Manichean approach and the insistence that God was on America's side as it promoted its interests in the Middle East and vis-a-vis Russia and other global powers.
If and when Ms Palin becomes president - and perhaps even in the role of a powerful vice-president - she would bring with her to the conduct of foreign policy the same toxic mixture of ignorance and arrogance, inexperience and religious fervour, that have driven America into the costly military adventure in Mesopotamia and have hurt its image and damaged its influence around the world.
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