Sarah Palin's Foreign Policy Goofs—Let's Hope the Russians Don't Take Her Seriously, Either

Pols with real foreign policy experience understand that words matter in foreign affairs.

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It's so very easy to ridicule Sarah Palin's recent Katie Couric-induced pratfalls. Some might say it's cruel. But it would be even crueler to take her seriously, though, since she aspires to the vice presidency, we should.

Take her widely discussed, laugh- or tear-inducing explanation to Couric about why the mere fact of living in Alaska qualifies as foreign policy experience. Break out your Palin-to-English dictionary, cut through the mangled sentences, and try taking her assertions at face value.

At best, she's an absurd self-aggrandizer; at worst, her inability to speak clearly risks an international incident.

Here's Palin:

If you can't watch it, here's the transcript (emphasis added):

Couric: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there...

Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America , where do they go? It's Alaska . It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

The bit about Putin rearing his head presumably refers to recent instances of Russian bombers making unannounced runs toward (but not actually into) U.S. airspace, specifically Alaska, as reported by the Anchorage Daily News (hat tip to TNR). U.S. Air Force jets were scrambled from Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage to intercept and identify the Russians.

The Russians entered the so-called Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone, but Palin is the first person I've seen to actually assert that Russian bombers violated U.S. airspace. It's a distinction with a critical difference—one is legal gamesmanship, the other an entirely different, and more dangerous, type of provocation.

Did Sarah Palin really mean to suggest that Russian bombers had violated U.S. airspace? Politicians who actually have foreign policy experience understand that, in diplomacy, words matter. The difference between "serious" and "grave" can mean pulling an ambassador out of a country versus dropping bombs.

Hopefully, the Russians don't take her seriously.

Even if one forgives that slip, she appears to be saying that as governor of Alaska she has some sort of role here. "It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state."

So...she gives the order to scramble the jets? Last time I checked, the governor of Alaska was not in the U.S. Air Force chain of command. (And the Alaska Air National Guard doesn't have the planes to do the job; hat tip again to TNR.) Perhaps she gets a daily intelligence briefing on Russian activities? Umm, unlikely.

Maybe she's responsible for "an eye...being kept on this very powerful nation"? Perhaps she has a really, really powerful telescope in her house from which she can monitor the Russians?

But there I go—I've slipped back into ridicule. It's just too hard to resist here.