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Palin and Foreign Policy

Palin is interested in a 2012 presidential run, she would be wise to continue to stress foreign policy issues. ~Craig Robinson

Via Ben Smith

This is probably the worst advice Palin could possibly receive. By all means, Palin should keep stressing a subject she doesn’t understand and make herself nothing more than an echo of Mitt Romney. Her “hard-hitting critique” in her Iowa speech wasn’t hard-hitting. She repeated a few boilerplate lines that many Republican politicians and pundits have used countless times before. Calling it a critique suggests that some thought or analysis was involved in making it. Her foreign policy remarks were a perfect example of a reflexive rejectionism that makes whatever Obama does or tries to do into the wrong thing regardless of the substance. She has made an empty litany of complaints like this before. Last time, she made more obviously false statements, but her latest remarks do contain some false and misleading claims as well.

Robinson quotes her as saying:

The president writes friendly letters to Iran’s leaders, and yet, picks a fight over housing policy with Israel, our strongest ally over there. He reset relations with Russia, but cancels missile defense plans with our NATO allies. He’s eased sanctions with Cuba, but failed to move forward on trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea. And he can’t muster spending time or meaningful support for Iranians risking their lives by opposing Ahmadinejad, but he found the time to send a report to the United Nations claiming our own country’s alleged human rights violations.

What is a little funny about this is that Palin is mostly harping on things that happened in early 2009, which conveniently ignores everything that has happened since then, such as the push for sanctioning Iran and the complete climbdown on settlements. Referring to opposition to illegal settlements as a “fight over housing policy” is dishonest, but it is also just echoing what dozens of pundits have already said. Her statement about missile defense is misleading at best, since a different missile defense system is being built with Romanian cooperation, and Patriot missile batteries are being installed in Poland much to Moscow’s chagrin. I don’t know whether Palin has been told about these things, but making this objection keeps drawing attention to how little she knows about the subject. Had Obama lent the Green movement some substantial or direct support, he would be aiding the Iranian government in providing a pretext for harming them even more. Restrictions on travel to Cuba have been eased slightly, which is a boon mainly to Cuban Americans who want to visit relatives, but the futile, ridiculous embargo remains in place.

So most of her claims are untrue, or they fail to acknowledge what has happened since the first months of 2009, or they ignore that doing the opposite would have led to a worse result on Palin’s own terms. That reduces her “hard-hitting critique” to complaining about the slow progress of free trade agreements of questionable value and a basically irrelevant human rights report. I’d be interested to know how many voters, including Republican voters, are actually offended that Obama has not been rushing to push through additional free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia. On the whole, her new empty litany of complaints shows what she is: a demagogue rattling off a series of half-truths and distortions as if she had just said something really insightful and clever.

Back in 1999 and 2000, Bush was a lightweight on foreign policy, and everyone knew it, but because he was surrounded by veterans of the first Bush administration many people assumed that he might at least be well-advised. We know how wrong that assumption was, but it seemed plausible at the time. At present, Sarah Palin is lighter than lightweight, everyone knows it, and she is advised by Randy Scheunemann, who inspires zero confidence in anyone who doesn’t want to go to war over South Ossetia. If I were a Republican partisan whose goal was to win the White House, I would not want to nominate someone who would make Obama seem like a foreign policy giant by comparison. If I were a Republican partisan who didn’t want to see his party destroyed by another episode of gross presidential incompetence on foreign policy, I wouldn’t want such a person to have a chance of becoming President. Unwittingly, Robinson has just highlighted one of the main reasons why Palin is not going to be the nominee in 2012.

It’s important to remember that back in 1999-2000 that foreign policy was a minor part of Bush’s campaign. To the extent that he had a dominant theme, it was his focus on domestic policy and so-called “compassionate conservatism.” Bush was considered a “safe” nominee in 2000 partly because there appeared to be no major foreign policy crises on the horizon, but foreign policy is likely to be a much more significant element in the next presidential election campaign. Republicans are not going to want to put forward an ill-equipped, ignorant nominee against Obama, especially when some of his best approval ratings come from his handling of foreign policy. They have the problem that their likely contenders for 2012 are all almost equally unqualified to discuss the subject, but some of them might be more successful at pretending that they know what they’re talking about. Palin isn’t one of those, and more and more Republican voters are going to see that as time goes by.

P.S. An interesting new survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reveals a lot about changes in American attitudes on foreign policy (via Scoblete). Particularly relevant to this post was this finding on trade agreements:

Americans favor the status quo on free trade agreements, opposing new agreements with
China, Colombia, India, and South Korea. Only Japan receives majority support, though slim, for
a free trade agreement with the United States.

On the one issue where Palin may have detected a real administration weakness in the eyes of the political class, a majority of the public opposes her position. Obviously, if most Americans oppose these agreements they are unlikely to see their non-passage as proof that the administration is slighting U.S. allies. On the contrary, Palin has managed to put herself on the wrong side of public opinion by taking a fairly elite view of free trade and identified Obama with opposition to unpopular trade deals.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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