Palin v. Obama: Who’s Better Suited for National Security Leadership
by Clark S. Judge
In the Category 100 hurricane of mainstream media sarcasm, dismissals and denunciations that has blown over the number two spot on the GOP ticket this week, one simple fact remains standing amidst the debris: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is better suited to take responsibility for the national security of the United States than is Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
Let me be clear first about the reasons I could have had in mind, but did NOT have in mind, in reaching this contrarian conclusion.
First off, I was NOT thinking about the MSM’s record for perceptiveness and insight when it comes to national strategy and commanders in chief. It is not a good record.
Over seven years, I served in the Reagan Administration in capacities ranging from volunteer staff for a commission to review government management to an international economic policy assignment to speechwriter to the president. I watched as the same institutions – even sometimes the same people – directed the same rhetorical fire at Ronald Reagan that they are now directing at Governor Palin.
Ignorant, dangerous, trigger-happy cowboy (well, not “boy” in Palin’s case): all this and more they said about the author of the most brilliant national security strategy of the 20th century. For more than a decade after he returned to California, they dismissed as a near buffoon the man whose policies led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War within less than a presidential term of his exit from office.
For example, The New York Times was a leader of the charge of the blind brigade then and is once more leading the pack now. This Sunday’s edition featured a front page story and three columnist writing that the governor who took on corruption in high places, cut federal earmarks accepted in half and enjoyed an 80 percent approval rating was not such an able a leader at all and, of course, not suited for global leadership.
But I am NOT suggesting that, given their record, the opinion of this crowd on the suitability of any candidate for global leadership is beyond laughable and beneath contempt. I’m not. Truly, I’m not.
And in saying that Senator Obama is less qualified than Governor Palin, I am NOT thinking of the almost unbelievable absence of judgment that the senator has displayed on national security matters since the campaign began.
It is hard to pick the low point. There have been so many — from advocating abrogation of NAFTA to proposing unconditional direct talks between US president Obama and Iranian president Ahmadinejad to announcing in a televised debate that he would start pulling US troops out of Iraq within sixty days of taking office to his running mate telling Israeli generals that they would have to learn to live with a nuclear Iran. It is quite a list.
But my top pick for low moment came in just the past couple of weeks. In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Senator Obama said of our troop surge in Iraq that no one could have imagined how successful it would be. The mainstream media glided over the confession, but it is worth noting that early advocate John McCain as well as the much maligned George W. Bush and the brilliant David Petraeus all were able to imagine the surge’s success. By her support for the surge, Governor Palin was, too.
But I am NOT saying that Senator Obama’s breathtaking failure of imagination on the most consequential national security decision of the past four years makes him a less able candidate for national security leadership. After all, maybe he thought that our troops just weren’t up to the job, that they couldn’t do much but cling to their guns and pray for the best.
And I am NOT saying that Governor Palin is more qualified because of her experience related to foreign affairs, though it is vast by comparison with Senator Obama.
Let’s face it — neither has much in the way of direct experience in international policy. Senator Obama’s main claim to stature is co-sponsorship of an uncontroversial, entirely obvious bill regarding acquisition and disposal of Soviet-era weapons of mass destruction still in Russia – legislation that, while beneficial, displayed all the sophistication of an undergraduate term paper and on which he followed the lead of GOP co-sponsor Senator Richard Lugar, a true expert in this field.
But the world and its challenges are changing. Thanks to the surge’s unimaginable success, Iraq may be little more than a cleaning up operation for the next president. But with the economic rise of China and India and events in Russia, it seems clear that outside the Middle East, the big challenges will have to do with access to resources.
Both tickets have placed high emphasis on securing energy from, if not domestic sources, then at least friendly ones. Senator Obama initially put off limits the two forms of energy that are most within reach of current technology – offshore oil drilling and building more nuclear generating plants. He seems to be backing off that position, like so many others. But if he goes through with his threat to demand a renegotiation of NAFTA, he may well complicate access to the next most politically stable and friendly source of both petroleum and uranium: Canada.
By contrast, according to American foreign policy expert James Bennett, writing in this weekend’s London Sunday Telegraph, Palin’s celebrated pipeline deal included successful negotiations with the Canadian national and provincial governments. Because of its rich energy resources, Canada is about to become a far more important factor in US global policy. Obama has spent a good part of this campaign insulting and threatening this ally. Palin already has worked constructively with them.
But, as I say, experience is NOT the reasons that Governor Palin is better suited as a steward of our national security than Senator Obama. Here is the reason.
Presidents are surrounded with lots of foreign policy experts. Most of the National Security Council staff will be the same, whichever ticket wins. Both Obama and Palin are intelligent people who will quickly absorb their briefing books and lectures and within months be extraordinarily well versed in the full range of foreign policy issues.
But then something will happen and, not only will the president have make decisions, but it will be essential that he or she be able to stand firm. No quality is more fundamental to the success of a keeper of our security than strength. In recent weeks, one McCain ploy after another has thrown Senator Obama and his campaign. The senator has backed off one position after another that had been previously cast in cement. He and his campaign have acted deeply intimidated by McCain television ads – well, not ads actually broadcast on television, internet ads, an incredible display of weakness
Meanwhile, Governor Palin has uttered three critical words that mark her as having the strength of a Thatcher or a Reagan – the most telling words she said to Charlie Gibson: “You can’t blink.”
That’s what we learned this week. Under pressure, Senator Obama blinks. Under pressure, Governor Palin does not. That is why Governor Palin has emerged as the one better suited to assume our national security leadership, should she need to step in.
Clark S. Judge is managing director of the White House Writers Group, a policy and communications consulting firm based in Washington