Listening to her critics, one might think that John McCain’s chosen running-mate is a complete ignoramus when it comes to matters of national security. In fact, Sarah Palin’s background in Alaska, including most recently her service as that state’s governor, suggests that the judgment of the Republicans’ candidate for Vice President with respect to this portfolio is likely to be substantially better than that of either Barak Obama or Joe Biden.
Consider the following factors:
Gov. Palin has spent much of her adult life dealing with matters long central to the Alaskan experience and now of surpassing importance to the nation as a whole – namely, energy security and how we can provide for it. Having managed her state’s department responsible for oil and gas exploration and exploitation, having negotiated a long-delayed natural gas pipeline through Canada to the Lower 48 and having been married for nearly two decades to a blue-collar worker in Alaska’s North Slope oil fields, she knows more about the subject than all three of the others on the two parties’ tickets put together.
If Gov. Palin can bring to bear her insights into the need for expanded, yet environmentally sensitive drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) – together with an appreciation of the need to introduce fuel-choice in our transportation sector, the object of the bipartisan Open Fuel Standard Act introduced in both the House and Senate shortly before the August recess – she will demonstrate unsurpassed leadership in what is, arguably, the single most important national security challenge of our time.
Napoleon is said to have declared that "Geography is destiny." That certainly is true of Gov. Palin. Her state is adjacent to Russia, a nation that has in recent years demonstrated a rising aggressiveness towards its neighbors. The targets are not just the relatively weak and formerly enslaved countries on its littoral like Georgia – the scene of a bloody invasion last month aimed at toppling the elected government there. Moscow has also conducted simulated strategic bombing runs with Soviet-era long-range, nuclear-capable aircraft. These offensive missions are designed to penetrate U.S. northern air defenses in a manner reminiscent of the most provocative of Kremlin behavior during the Cold War.
As it happens, the best of those defenses – including a squadron of America’s state-of-the-art interceptors, the F-22 Raptor – are stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage. Governor Palin would not only be intimately familiar with that facilities’ vital role in protecting U.S. territory. She would also appreciate its importance in the projection of American power in Asia and beyond as much of the nation’s long-range transport aircraft supplying our military operations around the world transit through Elmendorf. Every Commander-in-Chief should have such insights.
Speaking of geography, Alaskan territory is also along the trajectory of ballistic missiles launched eastward out of Stalinist North Korea. For that reason, among others, Alaska’s Fort Greely was selected as the site for the principal U.S. ground-based defense against such missiles.
As that state’s governor, Sarah Palin would know more by osmosis – if nothing else – about the necessity for U.S. anti-missile systems than either Messrs. Obama or Biden. In fact, the Democrats have reflexively opposed such defenses and promise to starve them of funds if elected. Opinion polls suggest that the support missile defense enjoys among Gov. Palin’s Alaskans is shared by strong majorities of their countrymen elsewhere. Her judgment versus Sen. Biden’s on the question of whether America should be protected against present and growing missile-delivered threats will be one of the highlights of the vice presidential nominees’ debate.
At present, one can only infer Sarah Palin’s grasp of the danger posed by today’s principal enemy: adherents to the brutally repressive and seditious program the Islamists call Shariah, a program they seek to impose worldwide through violent means and "soft jihad" (including, Shariah-Compliant Finance, influence operations, subversive proselytizing and recruitment in our mosques, prisons and military, etc.) A tangible indicator of her views, however, is the enlistment of her eldest son, Track, on the anniversary of 9/11 last year and his imminent deployment to Iraq. His mother – like the loved ones of millions of other servicemen and women – has had to confront directly and personally the prospect of making the ultimate sacrifice for their country in the face of such evil.
In short, America is only beginning to get to know Sarah Palin. As we do, she will have plenty of opportunities to illuminate her views on national security. One thing is already clear, though: By virtue of her home state and its unique role in America’s energy, defense and power-projection and thanks to her own public sector service and that of her offspring in the U.S. Army, it is not only wrong but foolish to portray her as totally unprepared to contend with the epochal foreign and defense policy issues we are confronting.
If anything, Gov. Palin’s personal story and qualities that are clearly resonating with millions of Americans across the political spectrum – her intelligence, scrappiness, integrity, common sense and deep-seated faith – when combined with her real-world experience in Alaska, suggest that she will prove to be better equipped than her rivals to deal with the dynamic and increasingly ominous national security challenges of our times.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is President of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for the Washington Times.