Whatever else you think of Sarah Palin, she has, since the 2008 presidential campaign, been a clear voice in favor of a robust American presence in the world, a defender of the Afghanistan war, a friend of Israel and a counterweight to neo-isolationist elements on the right.
But careful observers of Palin noticed that recently she was sounding more like Obama’s liberal critics than the VP candidate who echoed Sen. John McCain’s forward-leaning foreign policy. She put out a statement on Facebook last week on Libya that can only be described as incoherent. It was hard to tell if she wanted more or less American firepower in Libya. (“At this point, to avoid further mission creep and involvement in a third war — one we certainly can’t afford — you need to step up and justify our Libyan involvement, or Americans are going to demand you pull out. Simply put, what are we doing there?”) Was she for or against a war to remove the Libyan dictator?
Then she gave a speech on Monday that sounded like she swallowed the Ron Paul briefing book. Politico reported:
First, Palin said, “we should only commit our forces when clear and vital American interests are at stake. Period.” That point led to her second, dismissing nation-building as a “nice idea in theory,” but not the “main purpose” guiding American foreign policy.
Palin continued down that track by insisting that a president must be able to articulate “clearly defined objectives” before engaging in foreign interventions — a standard she has recently said Obama failed to live up to in Libya. As her fourth point, Palin declared that “American soldiers must never be put under foreign command. . . . We can’t fight every war, we can’t undo every justice in the world.” Sunday’s attack on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was “an effective use of force,” Palin said, unlike the “ill-defined” mission in Libya.
Ben Smith reported what many suspected, namely that Palin and her experienced neo-conservative foreign policy advisers Randy Scheunemann and Michael Goldfarb had a parting of the ways. Frankly, since her ill-chosen reference to a “blood libel” in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting incident, it was fairly evident she wasn’t taking counsel from those with a sophisticated foreign policy bent and sharp political radar.
Her about-face in foreign policy tells us a couple of things. First, her views then and perhaps now don’t spring from a well-grounded understanding of foreign policy but from briefing cards. Change the cards, and presto, a new foreign policy! To the dismay of many who saw great potential in her, she chose not to immerse herself in issues and put meat on the bones of her intuitive policy positions. Second, as Bill Kristol ruefully remarked (in response to the suggestion his diminished enthusiasm was responsible for her about face): “The surge in Iraq works. The surge in Afghanistan works. There’s an Arab Spring. The world obviously needs American strength and leadership more than ever. And now everyone (even Palin, to some degree) decides, hey, time to back off? It’s foolish substantively and politically. Do Republicans really want to run as Obama-lite in foreign policy?”
Well, it is far from clear that Palin is running for president. But if she keeps up the neo-isolationist drumbeat she’ll soon find herself as isolated in the Republican Party on foreign policy as Ron and Rand Paul.