FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – John McCain running mate Sarah Palin sought Thursday to defend her qualifications but struggled with foreign policy, unable to describe President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against threatening nations and acknowledging she’s never met a foreign head of state.
The Republican vice presidential nominee told Charles Gibson, of ABC News, in her first televised interview since being named to the GOP ticket that “I’m ready” to be president if called upon. She sidestepped on whether she had the national security credentials needed to be commander in chief.
Palin, 44, has been Alaska’s governor for less than two years and before that was a small-town mayor. McCain has defended her qualifications, citing her command of the Alaska National Guard and Alaska’s proximity to Russia.
Asked whether those were sufficient credentials, Palin said: “It is about reform of government, and it’s about putting government back on the side of the people, and that has much to do with foreign policy and national security issues.” She said she brings expertise in making the country energy independent as a former chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “I want you to not lose sight of the fact that energy is a foundation of national security,” she said.
Palin said other than a trip to visit soldiers in Kuwait and Germany last year – “a trip of a lifetime” that “changed my life” – her only other foreign travel was to Mexico and Canada. She also said she had never met a head of state and added: “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.”
Pressed about what insights into recent Russian actions she gained by living in Alaska, Palin answered: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”
Foreign policy questions dominated the first of three interviews Palin was giving Gibson over two days.
In the interview Thursday, Palin:
•Appeared unsure of the Bush doctrine – essentially that the United States must help spread democracy to stop terrorism and that the nation will act pre-emptively to stop potential foes.
Asked whether she agreed with that, Palin said: “In what respect, Charlie?” Gibson pressed her for an interpretation of it. She said: “His world view.” That prompted Gibson to say “no, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war” and described it to her. “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,” Palin said, adding “there have been mistakes made.”
Pressed on whether the United States could attack terrorist hideouts in Pakistan without the country’s permission, she said: “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.”
•Said nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands are dangerous, and said “we’ve got to put the pressure on Iran.” Asked three times what her position would be if Israel felt threatened enough to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, Palin repeatedly said the United States shouldn’t “second-guess” Israel’s steps to secure itself.
•Called for Georgia and the Ukraine to be included in NATO, a treaty that requires the U.S. to defend them militarily. She also said Russia’s attack into Georgia last month was “unprovoked.” Asked to clarify that she’d support going to war over Georgia, she said: “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,” she said.
•Said she “didn’t hesitate” when McCain asked her to be his running mate. “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.”
Later Thursday, after her return to Alaska, Palin indirectly linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, telling an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would “defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.”
“America can never go back to that false sense of security that came before Sept. 11, 2001,” Palin said.