Undiplomatic Banner
12th September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps


I just watched the Palin interview again.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is in its entirety.  For the purposes of this post, please pay particular attention to the section on Russia, which begins at 3:25 and ends at 4:50:

Here’s the key part:

GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.

GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.

PALIN: 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.

Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but…

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: 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.

But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point and I think that we need to — especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn on, on either ticket, we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members.

We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.

GIBSON: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States to go to war if Russia were to invade.

PALIN: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.

And we have got to be vigilant. We have got to show the support, in this case, for Georgia. The support that we can show is economic sanctions perhaps against Russia, if this is what it leads to.

It doesn’t have to lead to war and it doesn’t have to lead, as I said, to a Cold War, but economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, again, counting on our allies to help us do that in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin and some of his desire to control and to control much more than smaller democratic countries.

If I and everyone else heard/read her correctly, she just suggested that a) Georgia should be part of NATO, and b) were Russia to invade again, other NATO members should go to war with Russia.

To say that those comments are staggeringly naive and dangerous would be a vast understatement.

First of all, let’s put her comments into historical perspective.  Here is a list of countries that the Soviet Union and its primary successor, Russia, have invaded since 1920, excluding the “Great Patriotic War” (Russia’s name for World War II between the June 1941 German invasion and 1945):

  • Poland (1920)
  • Poland  (1939)
  • Finland (1939)
  • Estonia (1940)
  • Latvia (1940)
  • Lithuania (1940)
  • Hungary (1956)
  • Czechoslovakia (1968)
  • Afghanistan (1979)
  • Georgia (2008)

In addition, the Soviet Union annexed parts of a number of countries during or after World War II:

  • Moldova (from Romania)
  • Eastern Poland (first taken in 1939 and then ratified at Yalta as part of the decision to shift Poland westwards)
  • Subcarpathian Ruthenia (Czechoslovakia)
  • Konigsberg (Germany — later renamed Kaliningrad Oblast)

After the Second World War, Soviet troops occupied a number of countries, most of which became part of the Comintern and later Warsaw Pact.  The exceptions were northern Iran, Austria, and (after 1948) Yugoslavia.

Now here’s a list of American Presidents who threatened war with the Soviet Union and/or Russia as a result of these invasions, all of which violated international law.

There aren’t any.

Not Roosevelt or Truman.

Not JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Not Reagan.

Not even Dubya.

Palin has moved into territory that no President or Presidential candidate (not even Goldwater in 1964) has ever ventured.  The only time anyone has said something this bad is in 1968, when Curtis LeMay, upon being named George Wallace’s VP candidate, said that he would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons.

I don’t think that comparisons to “Bombs Away” LeMay — who was the model for Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove — were what John McCain was hoping for in selecting the Sarahnator.

Let’s draw a flowchart showing where Sarah Palin’s policy could lead us.

Georgia joins NATO → Russia attacks Georgia → Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which says an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members → NATO declares war on Russia → nuclear war.

Ilan Goldenberg over at Democracy Arsenal highlights just how dangerous this kind of talk is:

No sane American or European leader would ever ever ever give an answer like that.  You do not get into hypotheticals about nuclear war.  You just don’t.

Palin references the Cold War.  The only reason the Cold War stayed cold is because our leaders understood the stakes of getting things wrong and saying things that could lead to catastrophic nuclear war.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis every word, every public statement, and any message that the Kennedy administration sent to the Soviets was checked, double checked, and triple checked to make sure it was sending precisely the right signal.

This is what you are forced to do when you have thousands of nuclear weapons and so does your opponent. The stakes are simply too high.  And yet there is a nominee for the Vice Presidency of the United States who may one day have her hand on the button and she is casually talking about potential catastrophic nuclear war.

To be fair, both Obama and McCain believe that Georgia should join NATO.  But neither of them — not even John McCain — has ever said, suggested, or even hinted that the United States would go to war with Russia over Georgia.

Let me be clear here.  The problem isn’t that Sarah Palin is crazy.  She’s not.  The problem is that she is in no way prepared to answer basic questions on foreign policy in a way that doesn’t make her look crazy.  And that means she is not prepared to be Vice President or President.  She might be someday, but not right now.

To put this all in perspective, let me contrast the process the McCain campaign used to prepare Sarah Palin for these interviews and the process used by the State Department to prepare its officials for Congressional testimony.

Assistant Secretaries of State are usually people who have spent years (if not decades) becoming experts on the particular area or subject matter that they now oversee on behalf of the State Department.  They usually know their stuff.  But when they go to testify before Congress on one small part of their portfolio, they get a two inch-thick briefing book with every possible question they might get, along with answers consistent with U.S. Government policy.  Those answers have been vetted by everyone in the building who plays a role in determining policy.  The Assistant Secretaries also spend hours in what are known as “murder boards,” where their staffmembers pepper them with the questions and then critique their answers until they get it right.

Assistant Secretaries of State:  weeks and hours of intensive, hands-on preparation for a narrow topic, undertaken by someone who already is an expert on a topic.

Sarah Palin:  At most two weeks of probably not very intensive preparation (given all the speeches and appearances since she was announced, it didn’t leave much study time) to prepare answers to every possible question on every possible subject under the sun, by someone with little or no foreign policy experience.  She was expected to come out of this less-than-rigorous process prepared to provide short, simple answers to easy questions on topics about which she had never thought.

And people wonder why she did so badly?

It turned out that Charlie Gibson, the McCain’s first choice for a first interview, wasn’t prepared to roll over like they expected.  So when Gibson pursued a line of questioning in any depth, Palin ran out of sound bites. When that happened, she  had to improvise.  She had to make stuff up when she doesn’t have the experience or background to do so knowledgeably.

A more experienced politician would have had the wisdom in such a situation to avoid talking about war.  But Palin is not experienced.  She doesn’t understand the consequences of straying from the playbook.  As a result, she committed a McCain Administration to a course that could lead directly to nuclear war.  And chances are, given the McCain campaign’s recent refusal to backtrack on anything, it’s highly unlikely that the Senator would do the smart thing, which would be to issue a clarification.

In the end, however, we should judge not Sarah Palin, but John McCain.  His choice of her was thoughtless, reckless, and fundamentally unwise.   Such lapses in judgment demonstrate his manifest unsuitability to be President.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 12th, 2008 at 8:45 am and is filed under foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war. It is tagged under , , , , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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