Does Sarah Palin agree with Barack Obama (and disagree with John McCain) on attacking known terrorist sites inside Pakistan? Despite the Republican nominee's recent denial, evidence is mounting.
While campaigning in Pennsylvania on Saturday, Palin commented on the possibility of a unilateral strike inside the country by saying "if that's what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should." This came one day after McCain himself, in the first presidential debate, went after Obama aggressively for taking the same position.
Seeking to downplay her remarks on Sunday, McCain did Palin the disservice of suggesting her musings on the stump were a one-off mistake, reflecting precious little about the campaign's policy. "I don't think most Americans think that that's a definitive policy statement made by Governor Palin," McCain said on ABC's "This Week." He also noted, somewhat curiously, that Palin "was in a conversation with some young man," as though the need to accurately define a policy is somehow different for a young person than for other voters.
"She understands and has stated repeatedly that we're not going to do anything except in America's national security interest and we are not going to, quote, announce it ahead of time," McCain continued.
But even in her notably brief record of statements on foreign policy matters, Palin has now "stated repeatedly" something else entirely: the idea that, should intelligence provide an exact location of top Al Qaeda figures operating in ungoverned areas of Pakistan, the United States can take matters into its own hands. In her first major network television interview with Charles Gibson, Palin remarked on the Pakistan question by saying: "In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes, and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target."
Gibson even went in for a follow-up to make sure he heard correctly, calling her first pass "a blizzard of words." After pressing Palin for her position on a hypothetical attack "with or without" the approval of the Pakistani government, she said: "I believe America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell-bent on America and our allies. We have got to have all options out there on the table."
As the Huffington Post noted on the evening of the first Gibson interview, Palin's statements on Pakistan were hardly definitive. (The conservative Newsbusters site, by contrast, chided Gibson for even following up his Pakistan question, asking, "What part of 'do whatever it takes' did Gibson not understand?") Yet when combined with her Saturday remarks, the contours of her full opinion seem increasingly clear.
In that respect, Palin is hardly outside of the mainstream in American political thought. Not only has Barack Obama backed the idea, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged that President Bush has already approved strikes against the Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, including at least one in September which caught the country's officials completely by surprise.