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 43.
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.