Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, September 12, 2008

  Dan Quayle is back

Sarah Palin's ABC interviews last night were a national embarrassment. From the opening moments it had the feel of a cringe comedy except the joke is on America. I had a sense of deja vu from Dan Quayle's elevation in 1988. Just as with Quayle's first infamous interviews, Palin came across as ignorant and full of conviction and vacuous and earnest and equivocating and bellicose and naive and talking-pointed and unreflective and determined and shallow and self-righteous and hapless. It was immediately clear why the McCain campaign had to keep Palin away from reporters for the last two weeks.

Although the train-wreck is attracting plenty of attention already, what has gone unremarked is that the questions were straightforward, predictable, and fairly general. Charles Gibson did ask Palin about a couple of her controversial statements, though given how many false, contradictory, and bizarre comments she has made, he went exceedingly easy on her. He also pressed Palin a few times when she was especially evasive. But that was the extent to which the interview could be considered 'tough'. None of his questions were specific in the way that reporters generally test the extent of an unknown candidate's understanding of governance, policy issues, legislation, foreign relations, or history. Anybody who was remotely competent should have been able to respond to every one of those questions with ease. So the train-wreck was self-induced.

In the most revealing moment, when Gibson asked whether Palin supported the Bush Doctrine of preemptively and unilaterally attacking countries that might pose a threat to the US, it became clear that she had never heard of his policy. That's an astounding level of ignorance. To justify the invasion of Iraq, Bush had rejected a world consensus on international relations going back to the establishment of the UN 60 years earlier. Even as her own son was about to ship out to Iraq, Palin still hadn't figured out the basis on which Bush had invaded the country in the first place.

Here is how in September 2002 the White House outlined the Bush Doctrine of preemptively attacking countries that might pose a threat:

For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat—most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack.

We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction—weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning...

The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans are dead as a direct result of the Bush Doctrine, millions more Iraqis are driven into exile, cities lie in ruins, our reputation among the world's nations is in tatters, John McCain has threatened further war against Iran on the same basis, and the Republican vice-presidential nominee couldn't even figure out what Gibson was talking about when he raised the issue.

Her deer-in-the-headlights look, as she sought repeatedly to avoid being pinned down, showed how far out of her depth she is. For she's more than just ignorant. Her blathering about the need to fight terrorism, a transparent smokescreen, shows that Palin thinks others don't know what she doesn't know.

Especially pathetic was her sudden attempt to change the subject to Bush's blunders and the need for new leadership. And even after Gibson explained to her what the Bush Doctrine is, she tried to deflect the question another time with more platitudes. Pressed once again to take a position, Palin appeared to fall back on the pre-Bush consensus that it's the imminence of a threat which justifies taking military action. Thus, unwittingly, she backed into a position that conflicts with McCain's support for the Bush Doctrine.

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view.

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that's the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

GIBSON: 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?

PALIN: I agree that a president's job, when they swear in their oath to uphold our Constitution, their top priority is to defend the United States of America.

I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people.

GIBSON: Do we have a right to anticipatory self-defense? Do we have a right to make a preemptive strike again another country if we feel that country might strike us?

PALIN: 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.

I've seen this kind of thing many times before – and not just in the abject cluelessness of Dan Quayle during 1988, or George W. Bush during 2000. Palin was the 'F' student trying to convince a teacher that she merits at least a 'B'. Her performance is like the final exam essay that, starting off with an incomprehension of basic terms, and showing an awareness only of a single assigned book – though not its contents - tries to get by on banalities that might have been composed before the course ever began.

It was an interview with a candidate who knows next to nothing about political matters because (as James Fallows remarks) she obviously was never interested enough even to pay attention to the news.

If gross ignorance and the indifference that lie behind it are troubling, even more is the attitude that it doesn't matter. Palin embodies to an even greater degree than McCain the belief on full display at the GOP Convention that issues and policies are insignificant, that the Republican candidates can run instead on their character and biographies.

For example, after Palin had tried yet again to claim national security expertise because Alaska lies close to Russia, Gibson asked whether she'd ever met a foreign leader. In response, Palin suggested that expertise is overrated and that Americans are "sick and tired" of people who have a "big, fat resume":

GIBSON: I'm talking about somebody who's a head of state, who can negotiate for that country. Ever met one?

PALIN: I have not and I think if you go back in history and if you ask that question of many vice presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you. But, Charlie, again, we've got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time. It is for no more politics as usual and somebody's big, fat resume maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment, where, yes, they've had opportunities to meet heads of state ... these last couple of weeks ... it has been overwhelming to me that confirmation of the message that Americans are getting sick and tired of that self-dealing and kind of that closed door, good old boy network that has been the Washington elite.

Asked by Gibson whether she'd hesitated to join the ticket because of her scant experience, Palin replied that her lack of doubt was her chief qualification. Her commitment to McCain's goals is what matters rather than her knowledge, background, or abilities. Evidently the test is not blinking, though maybe not in a deer-in-the-headlights way.

GIBSON: And you didn't say to yourself, "Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I -- will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?"

PALIN: I didn't hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn't that take some hubris?

PALIN: I -- I answered him yes because 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.

So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.

What else does Palin have no qualms about? For starters, an Israeli attack on Iran. Gibson asked what the US should do if Israel wished to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. Palin's repeated response is that the US cannot "second guess" any steps Israel takes to defend itself. She appears not to realize how large that blank check is; that Israel might not hesitate to cash it; and that helping Israel to violate the Iraqi air space it patrols would engulf the US inevitably.

Palin also sees no reason to hesitate about bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. The chance that it would involve the US in war with Russia is barely worth a thought.

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

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


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.

Inviting war with Russia is worth a "perhaps" and nothing more. On top of that, Palin falsely states that the Russian invasion of Georgia was "unprovoked".

On top of all that, there were plenty of moments when Palin clumsily tried to avoid being pinned down on issues whose implications she didn't understand fully, or sought to distance herself from her own previous assertions.

For example, Palin had to acknowledge that human activity might be contributing to global warming. She falsely denied that she was contradicting her earlier position. Here for example is Palin as recently as August 28, 2008:

"A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one, though, who would attribute it to being man-made."

In yesterday's interview, Gibson asked about her tendency to depict government policies she supports as God's will. In a recent speech at a church in her hometown, Palin had described the invasion and occupation of Iraq in those terms:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God," she exhorted the congregants. "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

Gibson quoted Palin and asked her, "Are we fighting a holy war?" Palin first tried to deny that she'd said the war is "a task that is from God", then retreated and claimed she was paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln's exhortation to pray, not that God is on our side, but rather that we are on God's side. However after a good deal of blather about terrorism, democracy and freedom, Palin ends up taking back her assertion that the Iraq war is a task from God.

GIBSON: I take your point about Lincoln's words, but you went on and said, "There is a plan and it is God's plan."

PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That, in my world view, is a grand -- the grand plan.

GIBSON: But then are you sending your son on a task that is from God?

PALIN: I don't know if the task is from God, Charlie.

Palin is not running on expertise, experience, or knowledge – of which she has practically none. She is running on her personal characteristics. What she's demonstrated in these interviews is that she'll say absolutely anything to get elected. Some character.

crossposted at

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