Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday appeared to link the war in Iraq to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of seven years ago. In a speech to an Iraq-bound brigade that included her son, she said that the soldiers would “defend the innocent from enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.”
The problem is that any such link, although once employed by the Bush administration as a rationale for going to war with Iraq, has been widely repudiated by intelligence sources and renounced by Bush himself. Since the U.S. invasion, some elements allied with the al-Qaida attackers have taken root in Iraq, and it was that link that Palin referred to, according to conservative commentators rushing in to cover her tracks.
The Republican vice presidential nominee’s remarks came at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and were reported by the Washington Post. Her appearance at the Army post and her sitting for a much-hyped interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson marked a coming-out party of sorts for Palin who, since her selection two weeks ago, has been shielded from the national press and carefully scripted by John McCain’s advisers.
The ABC interview was aired in two installments. In the first, Palin proclaimed her readiness to be president. She also presumed that the United States would go to war with Russia if Georgia is admitted to NATO and if Russian troops re-entered the small central Asian country. She called Russia’s recent incursion into Georgia “unprovoked,” a view at odds with that of U.S. officials who studied events leading to the action.
Change on climate change
On global warming, Palin reversed her view, saying that human activity may indeed be a contributing factor. She told Gibson that aside from a trip last year to visit troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Germany, her foreign travel has been limited to Canada and Mexico. She said she had never met a head of state, although she did have a phone conversation last week with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, she said.
In her most difficult moment, she appeared confused when Gibson asked her to discuss the Bush Doctrine, which holds that the United States can wage pre-emptive war against nations it considers potentially hostile. At another point, she appeared to credit President Ronald Reagan with winning the Cold War, a popular view among conservatives but considered simplistic by historians who site multiple factors in the Soviet collapse three years after Reagan left office. She said she was “thankful that under Reagan we won the Cold War.”
Her other foreign policy remarks echoed the thinking of McCain. She favors NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, she said, despite Russia’s view that that would threaten its security. Asked, then, if the United States would have to go to war if Georgia were again attacked, Palin said, “Perhaps so,” adding, “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.”
Gibson did not ask whether she thought other countries should apply the principles of the Bush Doctrine by making pre-emptive strikes against perceived enemies. He did, however, allude to McCain’s recent remark that Alaska’s proximity to Russia lent Palin some expertise on that nation.
Parts 1 and 2 of Charles Gibson’s interview with Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
“They’re our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska — from an island in Alaska,” she replied.
On Iran, Palin said that nuclear weapons in the hands of its leaders would be “extremely dangerous to everyone on this globe.” She said she wouldn’t stand in the way of Israel if it decided to strike Iranian nuclear facilities.
Palin’s shift on global warming brings her closer to McCain’s view that greenhouse gases from human activity do contribute to climate change. Last December, she was quoted as saying, “I’m not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity.” Her view is significant in that it brings her closer to favoring steps to curb carbon emissions, a step that Republicans have been reluctant to advocate.
Gibson cited a video in which Palin had told members of a church she attends to pray for U.S. troops “sent on a task that is from God.” Gibson asked, “Are we fighting a holy war?”
Palin disputed the characterization by paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln and saying she meant, “Let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God’s side.”
Struggles with Bush Doctrine
The candidate’s hardest moment came when Gibson asked if she agreed with the Bush Doctrine.
“In what respect, Charlie?” she responded. After Gibson explained that the doctrine referred to pre-emptive wars, she said: “I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way though. There have been mistakes made.” With new leadership “comes the opportunity to do things better,” she said.
Pressing her on whether she agreed or disagreed with the doctrine of pre-emptive war, Palin finally said: “Charlie, if there is a legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against the American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend.”
Gibson complained that Palin had buried him in a “blizzard of words” supplied by her handlers as he sought a direct response on whether she though the United States had the right to send troops into Pakistan, as Bush has done, against Pakistan’s wishes. Earlier this year, McCain had criticized Barack Obama for saying he would consider such strikes, calling it naïve. McCain had asked: “Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally Pakistan?”
Palin dodged the question by saying, “Now, as for our right to invade, we’re going to work with these countries.”
Gibson seemed annoyed by the rote answers and his inability to get the authenticity from Palin that he had hoped for. Commented the Times’ TV critic Alessandra Stanley: “Mr. Gibson, who sat back in his chair and wriggled his foot impatiently, had the skeptical, annoyed tone of a university president who agrees to interview the daughter of a trustee, but doesn’t believe she merits admission.”
Allies rushed to defend her performance. “Let Sarah be Sarah,” proclaimed a headline on the National Review’s website. “She did just fine,” the piece concluded.
MSNBC collected a set of mixed reviews, and Huffington Post blogger Ilan Goldenberg said Palin’s unseasoned performance “reflects badly on her and her readiness. It reflects even worse on John McCain who thought that she was qualified.”
Rather than being bothered, the public seems generally thrilled that McCain plucked Palin out of obscurity and created a new political celebrity. “For working moms, ‘flawed’ Palin is the perfect choice,” a Washington Post headlined proclaimed. “She justifies what we do every day,” said one adoring mother at a northern Virginia campaign event.
Polls show Palin giving the GOP ticket a significant boost but not yet securing comfortable margins in key states. Obama still leads by five points in Ohio and three points in Pennsylvania according to Quinnipiac University polls, with McCain up by seven points in Florida. McCain’s support among women grew by four to five points in Ohio and Pennsylvania after Palin’s selection, the polls found. Those three states are considered critical for both tickets.
Steve Berg reports on a variety of topics for MinnPost, including urban design, transportation, national politics and world affairs. He can be reached at sberg [at] minnpost [dot] com.