How the Army solved a problem like Sarah

Fort Bragg reversed its no-media policy for Sarah Palin's book signing event on Monday, confirming that the best-selling Alaska author is a ‘politician,’ but not an ‘elected official’

Rex Larsen/AP
Sarah Palin on her "Going Rogue" book tour in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Military regulations are strict: Respect the commander-in-chief.

But given that some popularity polls have former vice presidential candidate -- and ardent Obama critic -- Sarah Palin nearly parallel with President Obama’s approval ratings, the Army faced a real conundrum when deciding how to deal with Ms. Palin’s on-base book signing scheduled for Monday at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The book, “Going Rogue,” describes Palin’s rise from hockey mom to governor of Alaska, to widely attacked (but also hugely popular) vice presidential candidate, whose independent streak caused the John McCain presidential campaign to opine that she was “going rogue.”

Fearful of a grandstanding political event -- and citing military regulations that prohibit public criticism of the commander-in-chief on base -- Fort Bragg brass first banned the media from an otherwise public event.

Facing pushback from the Associated Press and the Fayetteville Observer, the Army eventually pulled back, saying it would allow “limited” media access. Friday night, the Army threw up its beret in exasperation and decided to allow the whole dad gum national press gaggle to come down if they want to.

But Fort Bragg’s head-scratching over how to treat -- and define -- Ms. Palin goes to the heart of Newsweek’s cover story question: “How do you solve a problem like Sarah?” To solve a problem, you have to first define it. And as the Army found out, Palin, at least for now, is a political enigma.

And for the hyper-defining, acronym-crazy Army, that caused a bit of a meltdown, especially since Obama and Palin have dramatically different relationships with the military.

Commander-in-chief Obama, who is in the midst of making a major troop decision on Afghanistan, has no previous ties to the military, and is working to bolster civilian influence on the country’s military establishment.

Before she resigned as Alaska’s governor, Palin commanded the state’s National Guard. Her son Track is an Army soldier currently deployed overseas. She also plans to stop by Fort Hood, the site of the Nov. 5 rampage that killed 13 Americans.

Palin criticized the commander-in-chief in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly Friday night, citing national security specifically: “There’s some questionable actions that he’s taken so recently that I believe weakens our country and our security.”

Further complicating matters for the Army, Palin has been coy about her presidential plans, yet it’s clear to many insiders that she’s at least considering a 2012 presidential run. She outpaces all other self-described Republicans in polls.

But Palin is also widely despised and ridiculed, especially by liberal bloggers. About 50 percent of all Americans view her unfavorably, according to, and a far higher percentage than that -- seven out of ten, according to a CNN poll this week -- say she’s not qualified to be president.

Yet her stature has risen to the point where the President's own fund-raising arm is using her as a foil to raise cash. Organizing For America began sending out letters this week hoping to raise $500,000 from Americans concerned about a “dangerous” Palin derailing healthcare reform.

For now, Palin seems to be enjoying the same kind of power Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have: The ability to shape debate without any real skin in the game. And that’s the point Army officials had to finally concede at Fort Bragg.

How did they do it?

In the end, the Army defined Palin not as a book author, but instead made a distinction between her being a “politician” and Obama being “an elected official.”

"Our fear was that this would turn out to be a political platform, and us being a military installation we don't care who the politician is, we care who the elected official is," said beleaguered Bragg spokesman Tom McCollum.

Late Friday, the Army relented completely, realizing that even the US Army is no match for the best-selling Ms. Palin and her battalion of hangers-on. For now, they decided, she doesn’t represent a threat to the President’s command.

“We have put out the word to the soldiers, they can talk about the book, talk about anything you want to,” Mr. McCollum said Friday night.


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