Palin sketches out her foreign-policy views

The GOP vice-presidential candidate talked about Israel, Pakistan, and preemptive strikes in an ABC interview.

By , Staff writer

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    Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was interviewed by ABC news anchor Charles Gibson as they walked beside a section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System in Fairbanks.
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The Bush doctrine? That’s old news. Let’s talk about the emerging Palin doctrine.

Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin appeared to be caught off guard when ABC News anchor Charles Gibson asked her whether she agreed with the Bush doctrine during a portion of a sit-down interview broadcast Sept. 11.

It’s possible that she didn’t know at first what the Bush doctrine is. (Preemptive war is OK if it strikes at an imminent threat.) It’s possible she simply was surprised to hear the word “Bush," given how seldom it was uttered at the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn.

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That said, the answer she eventually gave was one pretty much any administration, Republican or Democratic, would probably agree with. “If there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent on the American people, we have every right to defend this country,” she told Mr. Gibson.

Fair enough. That part about “legitimate and enough intelligence,” though – that’s where the debate begins.

But enough about President Bush's policies. He’s going to be retired in a few months anyway, so the stuff Governor Palin said about her own views arguably is far more important than what she knows about Bush policies.

And so far, this can be said about the emerging Palin doctrine: It appears to be mainstream GOP, on the assertive side, and a little vague.

Of course, vague can be good when you’re still a candidate. Ask Barack Obama. During a speech in June he opined that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel. This was a gaffe, of sorts – Palestinians believe they have a claim on Jerusalem as their capital, too. Obama took it back days later.

Or “clarified,” rather, by saying that the status of Jerusalem is the subject for future peace talks.

Palin seemed fully aware that the Middle East is a subject where specificity can get a US politician into trouble. Three times Gibson asked her, in essence, whether a McCain/Palin administration would support an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. But Palin wouldn’t budge from her basic answer: “I don’t think we can second-guess what Israel has to do to secure its nation.”

Actually, pretty much every administration since Truman’s has done just that, at some point. They do it in private, though. Certainly not on network TV.

On Russia, Palin said the Kremlin’s push into Georgia this summer was “unprovoked” and “unacceptable.” She said she supports NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine and, pressed by Gibson, admitted that “perhaps” this might mean that the US would be committed to go to war to defend Georgian and Ukrainian independence.

Sen. John McCain, as well as Mr. Bush, express similar sentiments. However, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili may have prodded the Russian bear a bit too hard prior to the invasion, in the view of some foreign-policy observers.

And if Georgia and Ukraine gain NATO membership, it may be during the administration of Track Palin (Palin’s teenage son). European allies of the US remain opposed to such expansion of NATO precisely because they do not want to risk their own capitals for the sake of Tbilisi, Georgia.

On Pakistan, Palin appeared to sidestep Gibson’s question as to whether the US should conduct unilateral strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan’s frontier tribal regions.

“We must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions,” she said.

Yes, but which way would those tough decisions go? Palin did not really say.

Of course, as with Israel and Iran, this was a subject on which it would have been easy for Palin to get into trouble if she talked too much.

Senator McCain has called Barack Obama “naïve” for saying he would consider such strikes. Pakistan is our ally, and unilateral military action on the part of the US risks offending Islamabad and destabilizing thePakistani government, according to McCain.

So Palin should have agreed with her running mate and ruled them out, right?

Maybe not, as it appears the US now is actually conducting such strikes. In June, Bush secretly approved orders for US forces to conduct ground operations in Pakistan without Islamabad’s prior approval, according to media reports.

So, given the choice of contradicting the head or her ticket or the head of the country, what’s the right answer to this question?

Of course! “Charlie, I don’t think we can second-guess what Israel has to do to secure its nation....”

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