By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2008
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska, Sept. 11 -- Gov. Sarah Palin 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."
The idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a view once promoted by Bush administration officials, has since been rejected even by the president himself. But it is widely agreed that militants allied with al-Qaeda have taken root in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.
"America can never go back to that false sense of security that came before September 11, 2001," she said at the deployment ceremony, which drew hundreds of military families who walked from their homes on the sprawling post to the airstrip where the service was held.
Palin's return to Alaska coincided with her first extensive interview since she became the Republican vice presidential nominee. In the interview, with ABC News correspondent Charles Gibson, she was confronted with questions about the U.S. relationship with Russia and her fitness for office, and she appeared to struggle when asked to define the "Bush doctrine" on foreign policy. Palin drew repeated follow-up questions from Gibson about whether she believed in the right to "anticipatory self-defense" and crossing other nations' borders to take action against threats.
"I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hellbent on destroying America and our allies," she said after several questions on the topic. "We have got to have all options out there on the table."
That response put her in line with a view expressed by Sen. Barack Obama, now the Democratic presidential nominee, in August 2007, when he stirred controversy by saying that if he were elected president, he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," Obama said. At the time, McCain called Obama's comments "naive."
Palin continued to take a hard line on national security issues when asked whether war with Russia could be necessary if Georgia were to join NATO and Russia crossed its borders again. Palin replied, "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.
In the interview, Palin said "I'm ready" when asked whether she had sufficient experience to serve as vice president. She added that she did not hesitate when McCain offered her the No. 2 spot on the ticket.
"I answered 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," she told Gibson.
The event Thursday, held on a barren Army post on the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, provided a powerful visual backdrop for Palin's first solo appearance after weeks of traveling alongside McCain and reading from a carefully prepared script.
McCain aides were adamant that the ceremony had not been coordinated with the campaign, and officers at the installation said the Alaska governor had agreed to attend months before she was chosen for the GOP ticket. Palin's son Track, 19, will deploy to Iraq with his unit later this month. McCain's son Jimmy is with his Marine Corps unit in Iraq, but the senator from Arizona has taken pains to keep him out of the campaign spotlight.
As she has been since McCain plucked her from relative obscurity two weeks ago, Palin continues to be surrounded by senior McCain advisers even here; the senator's top strategist, Steve Schmidt, and several others accompanied her to Alaska. The group is guiding Palin through a crash course on policy issues and is revising the campaign's original plan to send her on fundraising missions separately from McCain.
Instead, seeking to seize on the outpouring of enthusiasm for Palin, McCain advisers are "seriously considering" having McCain and Palin campaign together on the road. It would be an unusual arrangement -- running mates traditionally split up to cover as much ground as possible -- but aides believe it would help brand McCain and Palin as a single unit. It would also prevent Palin from having to contend with her own dedicated press contingent as she works to become more comfortable with an array of national and international issues. The campaign is also cognizant of the fact that McCain has consistently drawn bigger crowds since adding Palin to the ticket.
"It is under serious consideration that they will spend more time together than not, and more time together than is traditional," said a senior McCain adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They are a great duo together, from the perspective of delivering a message." The adviser added: "Sometimes these vice presidential selections, the pairings work in a magical way; they click."
Other campaign formalities have also been taken care of in recent days. Aides confirmed that Palin and her husband, Todd, have been assigned Secret Service names: hers is Denali, after the Alaska national park and wildlife preserve that includes Mount McKinley; his is Driller, a nod to his work as an oilman on the state's North Slope.
On the Army post outside Fairbanks early Thursday afternoon, thousands of soldiers stood in formation as a low sun beamed on the chilly tarmac. One officer who said he had come to know Track Palin said that the ceremony would have taken place in the same way had the governor not been tapped to run for higher office, and that her son was determined to remain as anonymous as possible.
Pvt. 1st Class Palin is being sent to Iraq with the Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division. Palin, 19, will be deployed to northern Iraq and will be primarily tasked with protecting and helping transport the deputy commander of his unit, Lt. Col. Michael W. Smith. His position is one of dismounted infantryman.
"He wants to pave his own route in life. He wants to do his own thing," Maj. Chris Hyde said. "He doesn't want to just be known as Governor Palin's son."
Hyde said Col. Burt Thompson had arranged the deployment ceremony to coincide with the Sept. 11 anniversary as a symbol of the importance of the military. "That was intentional," Hyde said, describing the effort as a "theatrical" one but adding quickly that it had nothing to do with the Palins. "I talked to Track Palin last week, and he's still just an all-American kid," Hyde said.
The governor did not address her son by name in her remarks but spoke broadly on behalf of the troops' families. "Don't mind us -- your parents, your friends, your family -- if we allow for a few tears or if we hold you just a little closer once more before you're gone," she said. "We're going to miss you. We can't help it, we're going to miss you."
She continued: "You may not need our protection anymore. In fact, you're the ones who will now be protecting us, protecting America."