There is a false argument being peddled by supporters of the McCain-Palin ticket lately; one that equates the experience of Sarah Palin, the hockey mom and former mayor of Wasilla, AK (population 7,500), with that of Barack Obama, the former state senator and twelve-year professor of constitutional law.
What the pundits and newscasters seem to miss is the obvious: that this isn't about experience, but about knowledge. Anyone who has read or viewed any in-depth interview with Barack Obama will readily admit that the man knows his stuff. Here are links to just a couple of such interviews on foreign policy. Judge for yourself.
Obama understands that we live in a complicated, nuanced world, one in which cowboy-style "straight talk" does little but earn us dismissive laughs from friends and enemies overseas. This is what Bush has offered us for eight years, weakening our alliances, our credibility and our deterrent capabilities, as is evident with the most recent crisis in Georgia. Yet this is what John McCain keeps telling us we need.
In contrast, Obama's accomplished intellectual preparation in international relations and law would be a welcome change. It isn't enough to have good advisers. One has to have the knowledge to be treated like an adult in their presence, and not get intellectually manhandled the way our current president has been by the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. As President Bush has shown us, the lack of judgment goes hand in hand with the lack of knowledge.
John McCain has many years under his belt as a U.S. senator, but he still can't tell the difference between Sunni and Shia, and on repeated occasions he has actually forgotten that Czechoslovakia is no longer a country. McCain has a great resume, but sadly he has only the most limited knowledge about foreign policy. Sarah Palin, who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency, has neither.
Since getting picked as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Palin has been getting briefed by Bush foreign policy advisers on the issues of our day. But if McCain's consistent gaffes are any indication, there is little a candidate can do to cram during prime time. McCain has had his entire career to learn about foreign policy, but he still misses the mark on the most basic of facts.
This election may be couched in language of experience versus change, but if we want to elect a leader with the judgment to put us on the right track, let's hope we finally elect a leader who actually knows his stuff.
Nathan Gonzalez is author of Engaging Iran (2007) and the upcoming The Sunni-Shia Conflict and the Iraq War (2009).