In her first televised interview since being unexpectedly tapped as John McCain’s running mate and instantly becoming the dominant story of the campaign, Sarah Palin sounded a hawkish line on national security matters ranging from Iran to Russia to Pakistan.
Palin defended her minimal foreign policy background by citing a strong familiarity with energy issues so key to her home state, but also sought to frame her inexperience in a positive light.
Conceding that she had never met a foreign leader and had only traveled to Canada and Mexico before visiting U.S. troops in Kuwait and Germany last year, the Alaska governor offered implicit criticism of her counterpart, Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a 35-year veteran of the upper chamber.
“We’ve got to remember what the desire is in the nation at this time,” Palin told ABC’s Charlie Gibson in a foreign affairs-focused interview taped today in Fairbanks that led the network’s “World News Tonight" broadcast. “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.”
The interview, the first of three sit-downs ABC will have with Palin, amounted to the first survey of Palin’s foreign policy views, a topic on which there is little in her public record to shed much light.
Having been prepared by some of McCain’s top foreign policy advisers, she articulated a similar worldview as her ticketmate. But she appeared to dispense with some of the caution more seasoned politicians offer when asked about international affairs issues where words are closely parsed both here and abroad.
Calling a nuclear-equipped Iran a threat to “everyone in the world,” Palin said she wouldn’t question Israel were they to strike an Iranian nuclear facility.
"Well, first, we are friends with Israel and I don't think that we should second-guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security,” she said, before reiterating twice more to Gibson that the U.S. should not second-guess such a measure.
McCain has offered tough rhetoric toward Tehran, but has also highlighted steps that could be taken to prevent getting to the brink of Israeli air strikes.
“I would hope that would never happen,” McCain said on the campaign trail this summer about Israel attacking Iran, suggesting tough sanctions could be first put in place. “I would hope that Israel would not feel that threatened.”
But McCain has also consistently assured voters that he will “never allow a second Holocaust.”
On Russia, Palin echoed McCain’s tough talk about the country’s conflict last month with Georgia.
“For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable,” she said.
Moscow’s actions weren’t entirely unprovoked. Their offensive last month only came after the Georgians invaded the disputed territory of South Ossetia.
Palin was quick to note that she had recently talked on the phone with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a close friend of McCain.
She said she would support the entry of Georgia and neighboring Ukraine into NATO, and gave a straightforward answer when asked if that would mean American entry into war if the Russians were to again invade their neighbors to the south.
"Perhaps so,” she replied. “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.”
Gibson offered a steady stream of questions on foreign policy matters, but was perhaps most persistent in trying to draw out an unvarnished answer from Palin on the matter of whether American troops should pursue terrorists in Pakistan with or without the Pakistani's government's permission.
He asked Palin three times whether the U.S. should be able to cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to level attacks.
She never specifically responded to the question, but did offer a general response that suggested an openness to such a move.
"I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell bent on destroying America and our allies,” she said. “We have got to have all options out there on the table."
On the same question, McCain has attacked opponents who’ve gone further than Palin.
He criticized comments made by Mike Huckabee late last year in which his former GOP primary rival expressed a willingness to strike terrorists in Pakistan with or without permission.
"I will always do what's necessary to preserve America's national security, but to say something like that is totally unnecessary and probably has a not beneficial effect on our Pakistani allies who are fighting against al Qaeda and with us in Pakistan,” McCain said in November.
Obama has also expressed support for military action in Pakistan – a position which McCain has condemned as “bombing our ally.”
On the matter of her readiness to become vice president, Palin made plain she harbored no doubts.
"I'm ready," Palin said, adding that she “didn’t blink” when McCain made the offer.
ABC is to air more footage from a subsequent interview on Nightline Thursday night before visiting with Palin in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, Friday for another segment to be broadcast on 20/20 Friday night.