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International press looks for clues of Palin’s foreign-policy views

By Sharon Schmickle | Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008
Sarah Palin is mystifying the foreign press at the Republican National Convention as they seek answers to their questions about her positions on foreign policy, but can’t find answers.

Foreign correspondents hope to learn more about Palin's views when she speaks to GOP delegates tonight.
REUTERS/John Gress
Foreign correspondents hope to learn more about Palin’s views when she speaks to GOP delegates tonight.

Leo Zuckerman typed “sarah palin immigration” into a Google search box on his laptop. Here’s what he found: “No issues stance yet recorded by”

“That tells you a lot,” said Zuckerman, who is a political columnist for Excelsior, a newspaper based in Mexico City.

Throughout the foreign press room at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, correspondents like Zuckerman were starting with blank screens when trying to explain Sen. John McCain’s choice of running mate on the GOP ticket to their audiences worldwide.

Each correspondent represented a different set of stakes in the questions they could not answer about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Many were hoping to hear at least clues to the answers in her convention speech tonight.

“We have fought in every conflict with you guys for the last 100 years,” said Geoff Elliott, a Washington correspondent for The Australian. “There is real concern in Australia that if McCain, at age 72, should fall off the perch she would become commander in chief.”

Indeed, Americans are as eager as the foreign correspondents to learn more about Palin’s foreign-policy experience and positions.

From what little is known, she got a passport in July 2007 when she visited members of the Alaska National Guard in Kuwait, the New York Times reported. She also visited wounded troops in Germany during that trip.

She established several award programs to highlight and encourage Alaska’s participation in trade and other international activity, according to The Center for U.S. Global Engagement in Washington, D.C. And she hosted delegations from China, Canada and other countries.

Dustup with Campbell Brown
As governor, she also was commander of Alaska’s National Guard. And the McCain campaign has cited that experience as a qualification to handle national security. But when CNN’s Campbell Brown pressed campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds this week to name an important decision she has made in that position, he could not answer, according to a clip of the interview on YouTube. Later, the campaign canceled McCain’s scheduled appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” reportedly as punishment for the probing interview.

The sketchiness of Palin’s foreign policy profile worried South Korean journalists covering the convention this week.

“With the North Korean nuclear issues, it is very important to consider the vice president to be an expert in the Korean Peninsula’s problems,” said Lee Dong Hoon, who is deputy general manager of the editorial division of The Kukmin Daily, a newspaper based in Seoul.

He ticked off a list of questions that reflect the enormous stakes for people all over the world in the choice American voters are about to make: “How can she meet with President Medvedev in Russia? How will she decide on attacking Iran? Or Pyongyang? Will she be able to draw in allies to help solve important issues?”

Korean people are fascinated with Palin’s personal story and the revelation Monday that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, said Ryu Jae Hoon, a Washington correspondent for The Han-Kyoreh newspaper.

“But most Koreans think she is a novice who has no experience in foreign policy,” he said.

Not far from the Korean correspondents, Radoslaw Korzycki was reporting for the Warsaw-based newspaper Dziennik.

Poland’s stake in the U.S. presidential choice ballooned last month when Russian troops marched into Georgia. Poland had been divided over a U.S. proposal to station parts of a new missile shield in that country. But Russia’s aggression rattled its neighbors, and Poland quickly agreed to the shield deal. Now Russia is furious with Poland.

“There has been a tremendous shift in the mood in Poland,” Korzycki said. “Now, the majority of the society wants to be attached to American foreign policy, to become a close ally.”

‘Little bit afraid’
But Poland is a “little bit afraid” of the election’s outcome whichever way it goes, he said. A Republican victory would put Palin second in line at the Oval Office with no foreign policy experience.

On the other hand, Poland worries that Democrats might not be as committed as the Bush administration to building the controversial shield, Korzycki said. A U.S. pullout from the deal after the new president takes office next year could leave Poland facing Russia’s wrath with no missiles to show for the risk it is taking.

Canadians also take mixed views on Palin’s candidacy, said Jeffrey Simpson, a columnist for the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper. Palin’s appeal to social conservatives counts for little in Canada where that movement is insignificant, he said.

On foreign policy grounds, she is seen as a disappointing and surprising choice.

“She doesn’t have any foreign policy experience,” Simpson said.

Still, as governor of Alaska, Palin knows more than most U.S. officials about Canada, especially the Yukon Territories. And she has pushed hard for a natural gas pipeline a Canadian company proposes to build from Alaska’s North Slope through Canada to North American markets.

“Unlike the majority of American politicians, she does know where Canada is on the map, and she has had some detailed cross-border dealings,” Simpson said.

Martino Mazzonis, who reports for several progressive newspapers in Italy, said he was not shocked at McCain’s choice of a running mate with so little foreign policy experience. It is “quite common in the United States” to find people who do not articulate a clear understanding of the world, he said.

But many Americans — including McCain and President Bush — do know a great deal about Mexico. And Zuckerman was baffled trying to answer questions from his readers in Mexico City about who Palin is and what she stands for.

“Mexico has a very big stake in who sits in the White House,” he said. “The relationship between our countries is very complex, and we are trying to find common ground where we can work on important issues such as immigration, drugs and border security. . . .  As far as I know, she has never visited our country.” 

Sharon Schmickle writes about national and foreign affairs and science. She can be reached at sschmickle [at] minnpost [dot] com.