Huffpost Homepage
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

John Lumea Headshot

Does Sarah Palin Know What "Cold War" Means?

Posted: Updated:

On the night that ABC aired the first part of Sarah Palin's interview with Charles Gibson, a commenter over at Open Left --- a doctoral student in physics --- offered this:

When a [physics] grad student takes his or her oral qualifiers/defense...[t]he [unwritten] rule is that [those conducting the defense] keep the initial questions as directly related to the topic of the talks as possible. The questioners respect the speaker's knowledge and experience, and show this respect by staying on topic --- unless...

Unless the student shows ignorance during his or her talk. If that happens, all bets are off, and almost anything is fair game, as the questioners try to figure out just how little the speaker knows.

It's getting close to this time with Sarah Palin. Does she kow what the Bretton Woods system was? The Marshall Plan? The Warsaw Pact? Has she ever heard of Augusto Pinochet? Nikita Khrushchev? I'm actually beginning to wonder if she knows what any of these things are.

Considering the post-Reagan period of U.S. politics, I think I'd actually be in favor of requiring that Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates take two 100-question multiple choice tests on foreign and domestic policy, and that the results be made public. It is getting absurd how ignorant these people are.

This much seems true: Unless and until this country's majority news culture --- now represented by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, the New York Times, and the Washington Post --- incorporates into its presidential campaign coverage this kind of foundational vetting, there should be a formal mechanism, separate from debates, by which every Democratic or Republican (or serious independent or third-party) candidate for President or Vice President of the United States is required to demonstrate to the American people --- well before any primary or caucus vote is cast (or, in the case of Vice Presidential candidates, well before any party's nominating convention) --- that he or she is extremely well-versed in the origins, history, and development of U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

Would corporate sponsors deem it worth their while to pay for the lights, cameras, sets, and other accoutrements necessary to endow a discussion of these historical issues with the kind of "entertainment values" that now characterize "debates" and "forums" and other prime-time political spectacles? Probably not --- but that's just as well.

The fact is, Presidential candidates seeking newspaper endorsements meet one-one-one with editorial boards all the time. They do this well before voting begins; and the questioning --- which takes place out of the limelight --- is far more wide-ranging, detailed, lengthy, probing, and difficult than anything they encounter during an Anderson Cooper cattle call. We should apply a similar idea here; extend it to Vice Presidential candidates, as well; and institutionalize it as the "left bookend" to the campaign season, the early vet that seeks to establish whether a candidate for either of our two highest offices has the serious grasp of American history and policy necessary to satisfy the minimum requirements of the job --- the "right bookend" being the general election debates, which would to continue serve as the final vet on biography, record, proposals, and vision.

In one possible scenario, each candidate would sit for two sessions of live questioning and cross-examination by editorial-board-style roundtables of expert scholars and journalists --- one each on foreign policy history and domestic policy history. Major news organizations would live-stream these "juries," and subsequently would publish complete video and transcripts. Analysis would ensue, and the resulting preliminary judgments would help to establish the baseline against which each candidate's worthiness for high office was assessed.

One can imagine re-casting the Commission on Presidential Debates as the Commission on Presidential Standards, and expanding its current mission to include oversight of these juries. The point of this expanded process would be to require each major Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate to show that he or she is a fully integrated leader --- a practical scholar and politician who both possesses a deep knowledge of the history of the United States (juries) and is able to respond to that history with the insight, wisdom, and judgment required by the office he or she is seeking (debates).

I digress --- but not much. For one need look no further than Sarah Palin's interview with Charles Gibson and her infomercial with Sean Hannity, to understand why each major candidate for high office should be required to provide formal assurances of his or her facility with the language --- the etymology, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and style --- of national policy. (Hint: To protect the country from incompetent leadership.)

Of course, one would like to believe that a question as basic as "What is 'cold war'?" would be beneath the dignity of the kind of jury I'm suggesting.

Obviously not. Consider the following from Palin's interview with Gibson*:

GIBSON
Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

PALIN
Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.

GIBSON
Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.

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.

But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point. And I think that we need to --- especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn in, on either ticket --- we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members. We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to DEFEND ONE ANOTHER IN A VERY DANGEROUS WORLD today.

Palin's response to Gibson --- that the U.S. might be asked to "defend" any of its NATO allies that are "attacked...in a very dangerous world" --- left no doubt that she understood exactly what he was asking. Palin understood that, when Gibson asked whether the U.S. would "go to war if Russia went into Georgia," he was talking about a hot war --- not a cold one.

But when Gibson pressed the point, Palin responded as though she didn't understand the difference between the two.*

GIBSON
And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States, to GO TO WAR if Russia were to invade.

PALIN
What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.

And we have got to be vigilant. We have got to show the support, in this case, for Georgia. The support that we can show is economic sanctions perhaps against Russia, if this is what it leads to.

It doesn't have to lead to war, and IT DOESN'T HAVE TO LEAD, AS I SAID, TO A COLD WAR, BUT ECONOMIC SANCTIONS, DIPLOMATIC PRESSURE, AGAIN, COUNTING ON OUR ALLIES TO HELP US TO THAT IN THIS MISSION OF KEEPING OUR EYE ON RUSSIA AND PUTIN and some of his desire to control and to control much more than smaller democratic countries.

His mission, if it is to control energy supplies, also, coming from and through Russia, that's a dangerous position for our world to be in, if we were to allow that to happen

Softening her stance from just seconds earlier, Palin said here that "[w]e have got to show the support...for Georgia," and that this support could be "economic sanctions...against Russia."

Palin went on to say that "support" in the form of "economic sanctions" "doesn't have to lead to war, and it doesn't have to lead, as I said, to a cold war, but" --- and what is the "but" that Palin offers as an alternative to "cold war"? --- "economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, again, counting on our allies to help us do that in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin...."

Well, what are "economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, [and] counting on our allies...in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin," if not the very instruments of cold war?

When Palin was asked again about Russia, last week --- this time, by Sean Hannity --- she was just as confused*:

HANNITY
What countries today pose the most danger, in your view, to America?

PALIN
Well, any country that's going to house violent Islamic terrorists. We have to keep our eye, of course, on Iran. We have got to keep our eye on some of the ongoing activities in Russia, also. North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Il --- certainly, there is a lot of concern there.

What we have got to commit to, also --- especially when we talk about Russia --- NO COLD WAR. We have got to know that OUR MINDSET NEEDS TO BE OPPORTUNITY FOR PRESSURE AND DIPLOMACY AND SANCTIONS, if need be, as we keep our eye on a country like Russia.

HANNITY
So you don't want to START A WAR with Russia---

PALIN
WE DO NOT WANT TO START A WAR WITH RUSSIA. NO COLD WAR. That's gotta be off the table....

Again, with the "no cold war" pledge --- immediately followed by a push for "pressure and diplomacy and sanctions." Does Palin not understand that pressure and diplomacy and sanctions are part of the cold war toolbox?

And then: "We do not want to start a war with Russia. No cold war." Does Palin believe that "war with Russia" equals "cold war"?

Sarah Palin couldn't pass a high school AP exam in modern American history with answers like these. Hell, she might barely pass a regular high school exam. Does Palin even know what "cold war" means? Based on her responses to Gibson and Hannity, one is forced to one or more of the following (contradictory) conclusions:

* Palin thinks a hot war with Russia would be OK, but a cold war is to be avoided.

* Palin thinks that "cold war" simply is the special term we Americans use for any war --- cold or hot --- with Russia.

* Palin has no idea what a cold war is.

Does it scare you bloody shitless that --- if John McCain is elected --- the person who stands a very decent chance of becoming President of the United States within the next four years speaks glibly of possible war with Russia and discusses "cold war" with all the bullshit sophistication of a high school sophomore trying to get herself crowned Miss Teen Alaska?

It should, my friends. It should.

---
* All emphases are mine.