September 14, 2008

Sarah Palin Failed Her Oral Exam

After the American Century

Two weeks after she was unveiled as the VP nominee, Sarah Palin has done nothing to dispell fears that she knows little if anything about foreign affairs. She performed poorly in the only interview she has given the press, even though that interview was restricted to one journalist from ABC News, and even though the interview only dealt with the single topic of foreign affairs.

Palin had days to prepare herself for this interview, and she had access to experts to help her, including Joe Lieberman, who spent time with her. Either he was a poor teacher, or more likely, she was a poor student. For she showed herself completely unable to explain the Bush Doctrine or to say anything coherent about Russia and the crisis in Georgia. She was hardly being asked arcane questions. These are matters that any regular reader of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, or Washington Post should be able to talk about.

Palin had less knowledge about US foreign policy than my graduate students. They are Danish and speaking a second (or third) language. Palin only got a passport last year, has never lived or worked abroad, never met a head of state, never learned a foreign language, never been involved in anything international, and never said anything thoughtful or clever about foreign affairs. Had Palin been taking an oral exam for a course on American foreign policy, I would have failed her, and so would any other professor. She kept talking off the point. She did not know about major recent events, She obviously had not done any reading, and she was unable to offer any larger perspective on the issues raised. Like the ABC interviewer, I might have ended up going easy on her, not asking any really hard questions, so as not to destroy her self-confidence too much.

What can we conclude from the Palin interview?

(1) Palin does not know anything about recent developments in foreign affairs. She apparently thinks that we invaded Iraq to get the terrorists responsible 9/11. This preposterous lie was repeatedly told by the first Bush Administration, but has been discredited, along with the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. But it does seem quite possible that Sarah Palin herself could become a weapon of mass destruction, should she get her hands on the nuclear button. As she put it, "I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink."

(2) Palin does not regularly read the newspaper stories about foreign affairs, she has almost certainly never read a book about any aspect of it, because she could not even recover her gaffe - not knowing the Bush Doctrine - by at least discussing the history or background of such a policy. She simply has no clue. This makes her quite dangerous as a national leader. Add to this that neither she nor McCain ever studied law, so they are ill-equipped to think about treaties, if they ever wanted to negotiate one rather than to intervene or fight.

(3) Palin apparently does not exactly know that she is unprepared. She appears to think that the rest of the world is not that difficult to grasp, and whatever knowledge necessary can be picked up on the run. The main thing, apparently, is, as she kept repeating, one must not blink. One must be tough. We have now had eight years of mostly mindless toughness. It is a failed approach - let us not pretend it amounts to a policy or a philosophy. Palin is so ignorant that it is only vaguely beginning to dawn on her that she knows nothing, and the immediate reaction seems to be to blame the media. How dare they attack her? How dare they embarras her? How dare they think that what they know is so important? And so forth.

(4) The McCain team have had good reason to keep Palin away from the press. She has also refused to answer any questions from the public off-the-cuff. Unfortunately for McCain, this is a long ways from the "straight talk express."

The Republicans have found, in Sarah Palin. the potentially most deadly form of mass destruction yet seen. In the last seven years they may not have found whoever sent that anthrax powder through the mails. In the last seven years they may not have caught Osama bin Laden. They may not have found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They may have run up the deficit and the balance of payments to their highest levels in history, destroyed the housing market and quite a number of banks. But surely the American public will not let a few mistakes like that undermine support for the Republican Party?

We must give John McCain and his fervent Republican supporters full credit for finding someone, right in the United States, who has the potential to unleash destruction on an unheard of scale. Her ignorance and self- assurance are perfectly combined. I feel confident that Sarah Palin is prepared not to blink if given the opportunity. I feel certain that, like George Bush, she will start a new war or use any means necessary to defend the world as she sees it. Having no law degree and filled with a sense of righteousness, she is not merely unqualified to be vice president; she is spectacularly dangerous, a real bombshell.