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Ilan Goldenberg Headshot

Palin's Dangerous Saber Rattling on Russia

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Sarah Palin said something very very dangerous today during her interview with Charlie Gibson.

PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO. Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but...

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: 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.

There are numerous problems with this statement.  The most important element is that it sends a very dangerous and extreme signal to the world -- especially other nuclear powers. This type of dangerous talk reinforces the militaristic saber-rattling of the McCain campaign.  From joking about bombing Iran, to talking about invading Iraq, Iran and Syria weeks after 9/11 to the misguided "we are all Georgians now," the McCain campaign is sending all kinds of horrifying signals to the world about the types of wars it would fight. Leaders in other capitals are paying attention and words matter.

Technically, if Georgia and Ukraine were to become part of NATO under Article Five, we would be obligated to protect them and even Obama-Biden support bringing them into NATO.  But here's the thing...

No sane American or European leader would ever ever ever give an answer like that.  You do not get into hypotheticals about nuclear war.  You just don't.  Palin references the Cold War.  The only reason the Cold War stayed cold is because our leaders understood the stakes of getting things wrong and saying things that could lead to catastrophic nuclear war.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis every word, every public statement, and any message that the Kennedy administration sent to the Soviets was checked, double checked, and triple checked to make sure it was sending precisely the right signal.  This is what you are forced to do when you have thousands of nuclear weapons and so does your opponent. The stakes are simply too high.  And yet there is a nominee for the vice presidency of the United States who may one day have her hand on the button and she is casually talking about potential catastrophic nuclear war. 

Barack Obama would never give that answer.  Joe Biden would never give that answer.  They would say that we don't discuss those types of hypotheticals.  That might sound like a cop out, but think of the Palin alternative and what kind of alarm bells that sets off in Moscow.  Prescisely the type of alarm bells that could one day lead to mushroom clouds.

Saber rattling matters.  Words matter.  We've learned that from the past eight years.  When George Bush said "With us or against us" it mattered.  When he referred to a "crusade" it mattered.  When McCain jokes about war with Iran, calls our allies "vaccous and posturing",  says that Iraq is building a weapons assembly line for al Qaeda, it matters. 

And when Sarah Palin, a first term Governor with no national security experience or expertise, talks about hypothetical nuclear war it really matters.  It reflects badly on her and her readiness.  It reflects even worse on John McCain who thought that she was qualified to be Commander in Chief.