National Security Network

Palin’s Reckless Comments on National Security Call Into Question her and McCain’s Judgment

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Report 12 September 2008

Russia Russia Bush administration Bush doctrine iraq john mccain Pakistan Sarah Palin


In Governor Sarah Palin’s first public comments on national security, she was unable to define her own party’s national security doctrine, suggested that war with Russia might be necessary, and repeated a long-debunked canard about Iraq’s connection to the 9-11 attacks – the kind of out of touch, reckless, cavalier approach to national security that has characterized the last eight years. In a dangerous and complicated world where subtle words and signals mean the difference between war and peace, her performance called into question her readiness to be Commander-in-Chief, and, more importantly, Senator McCain’s judgment in choosing her as his running mate.

Palin linked Iraq to 9/11 – a claim that led us into war in the first place but has been debunked for years and disavowed by the Bush administration. The Bush doctrine of preemption represents one of the most important shifts in U.S. foreign policy in a generation – a shift of which she appeared to be simply unaware. Her willingness to entertain the idea of war with Russia – in language no military officer or experienced diplomat would be drawn into using -- is not “tough.” It is reckless. On Pakistan she showed a lack of preparation by siding with Senator Obama’s position – not John McCain’s.

Palin doesn’t have to prove she is tough. She has to prove she can be a savvy and sophisticated advocate for America on the global stage – and last night, with the world watching, she left that very much in doubt.

Palin linked Iraq to 9/11 – an assertion that has been completely debunked and which even the Bush administration will not stand by. “Gov. Sarah Palin linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, telling an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would ‘defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.’ The idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a view once promoted by Bush administration officials, has since been rejected even by the president himself. But it is widely agreed that militants allied with al-Qaeda have taken root in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.” [Washington Post, 9/12/08]

Palin did not understand the most important shift in U.S. foreign policy in a generation. When asked her opinion on the Bush doctrine, the Bush Administration’s national security strategy that inaugurated the concept of preventive war waged against non-imminent threats, Sarah Palin first replied quizzically, “In what respect, Charlie?” In a brief exchange between Gibson and Governor Palin, which made clear that Palin did not understand the meaning of the Bush Doctrine, Gibson had to explain its meaning to her, saying: “The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?” She replied “Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend.” The Bush doctrine, contained in the Administration’s 2002 National Security Strategy, was recognized as the greatest shift in U.S. foreign policy in a generation, and more importantly, served as the foundational justification for the invasion of Iraq. [ABC News, 9/11/08. White House, 09/2002. Washington Post, 6/28/04]

Sarah Palin’s remarks on a potential war with Russia are not “tough.” They are flat out reckless. Responding to Charles Gibson’s hypothetical questions on whether to risk confrontation with Russia by opening NATO to Georgian and Ukrainian membership, Sarah Palin made remarks that send a dangerous signal at a highly sensitive time: “Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.” When pressed by Gibson over the implications of such a move, implications that could include war with Russia, Palin unhesitatingly said: “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.” While a factually correct observation, candidates for the presidency and vice presidency stay away from making these types of reckless observations and instead decline to answer such hypotheticals. And for those who would like Georgia to eventually be a member of NATO, these types of statements are almost certainly going to push Europeans further away from consideration of that step. The stakes are simply too high to address this issue so casually. [ABC News, 9/11/08]

Palin directly undermined her own candidate on terrorism in Pakistan. Asked if she would conduct cross-border strikes against al Qaeda operating in Pakistan, Palin replied: “In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.” That response put her in line with a view expressed by Sen. Barack Obama, now the Democratic presidential nominee, in August 2007, when he stirred controversy by saying that if he were elected president, he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will,” Obama said. At the time, McCain called Obama's comments “naive.” [ABC News, 9/11/08. Washington Post, 9/12/08]

Palin claimed that that the fact that she had not met a foreign leader was no different than many other Vice Presidents, but she would be the first VP in 32 years to not have met a foreign leader. Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush and even Dan Quayle had significantly more foreign policy experience than Sarah Palin. [ABC News, 9/12/08]

Quick Hits

Militants killed two U.S. soldiers yesterday, making 2008 the deadliest year so far in the war in Afghanistan.

The Bolivian decision to expel U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg has been met with solidarity by Venezuela, which has also kicked out its U.S. Ambassador and recalled its representative from Washington; Venezuela also continues to pursue close ties with Russia.

Another U.S. missile strike from Predator drones has reportedly killed twelve in Pakistan; Pakistan did not agree to the new rules of engagement that authorize U.S. ground assaults in Pakistan without Pakistani consent.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held a press conference to detail Russian actions in the Russia-Georgia conflict; meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev stated that he would have attacked Georgia even if it had been in the process of joinging NATO.

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A power-sharing deal has been reached in Zimbabwe between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, though it remains unclear how the government will actually function.

Hurricane Ike is moving swiftly towards Texas, forcing the closure of the port of Houston, the nation’s second-busiest and disrupting international shipping.

The U.S. government has been assisting the buyout of the troubled Lehman Brothers investment bank.