Palin Power(less)

No one can argue against the need for a strong foreign policy. As a nation, we face challenges ranging from terrorism and climate change to the enduring wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of these problems can be solved without building a better relationship with the rest of the world. None can be solved without creative and informed leaders.

Having spent six months of the last year in Afghanistan, I know firsthand that our nation is confronting a stronger Al Qaeda, a resurgent Taliban and a weakening Pakistan armed with nuclear weapons. America’s leaders cannot lack international experience, and they certainly cannot lack basic knowledge of world affairs.

This year’s presidential election has rightly focused on whether the candidates possess a working knowledge of foreign affairs. During the foreign policy debate between Senators Obama and McCain, the candidates staked out very different positions, but both demonstrated an understanding of the world around them.

On Thursday of this week, their running mates will get the chance to reveal their positions and knowledge.

Most of us in the foreign policy field know Senator Joe Biden well. The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has worked on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, prevention of genocide, combating terrorism and thinking beyond war in Iraq. On these and many other issues, the good Senator could give any expert a run for his money. Governor Sarah Palin, on the other hand, has her work cut out for her.

Palin seems to know very little about politics beyond Alaska’s borders. Other than college, she has lived exclusively in that state since 1964. (She obtained a passport just two years ago.) She has done little if any traveling. As governor she visited Canada, two U.S. Army bases in Kuwait and Germany, went to Mexico for a vacation, and as we know now, set her eyes on the border of Iraq. Not to get picky, but visiting a U.S. Army base is not the same as touring a foreign country: it’s pretty much like visiting military bases here at home.

Since her nomination, Palin has been dogged by her lack of foreign policy expertise and experience. Recent interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric give us reason to worry about her readiness to lead the country, if necessary.

Everyone knows about her “I can see Russia from my State” declaration. Had she spouted some facts on Russian oil production or military might, I might cut her some slack, but “seeing” Russia no more makes her an expert on Russian-American relations than cooking linguine makes chef Mario Batali an expert on U.S.-Italian relations. (At least Mario has spent considerable time in Italy.)

Palin’s statement that she is “Commander and Chief” of the Alaska National Guard also falls short. Palin has never exercised an ounce of oversight over the 3,800 troops there. Only in times of emergency does the governor have a say. It is the federal government that’s really in charge, particularly if there are deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan, in which case no governor has a say.

Moreover, she has had limited, if any, contact with the U.S. military and its activities in Alaska. In an interview with The Associated Press, Major General Craig E. Campbell, the actual commander of the Alaska Guard, said neither of them plays a role in national defense activities in Alaska, even when those activities include the Alaska National Guard.

Palin’s other attempts to display her foreign policy acumen have largely consisted of photo-ops. Sorry, but meeting and greeting a few nations’ leaders doesn’t convince me of her readiness – and neither does her “New York minute” with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Frankly, the whole thing is frightening. If Senator McCain wanted to complement his presidential ticket with a woman, he could have picked one who at least knows her party’s international policies. Yes, I am specifically talking about the Bush doctrine. Preemption, after all, led us into the war with Iraq, and in McCain’s mind, may lead us from there to Iran.

In an era of terrorism, complex multilateral coalitions, as well as a resurgent Russia and China, foreign policy must transcend party politics. McCain knows this. Unfortunately, he decided to pander to his most conservative constituency by making Sarah Palin his V.P. pick.

If elected, Palin would be one step away from running this country. For McCain to have selected someone with no knowledge of the world is completely irresponsible.
Nonetheless, Governor Palin will be debating Senator Biden on October 2nd, so she better get busy. The world is much more complex than “good guys and bad guys,” as she told Katie Couric. Our nation’s security is not some corny “B” movie.

Many people are counting on the United States to exercise enlightened leadership in the world, so if Palin is serious about staying on this ticket, she needs to “hit the books.”
McCain put Palin, women and our country in an awkward, not to mention dangerous, position. His reckless actions have not only contributed to making this a more divided nation, but have put Palin in an embarrassing situation.

Today, there’s little she can do but move forward with the debates. Unless, of course, she would rather put the country first, ditch McCain, and step down.

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