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Palin's Dangerous Lack of Curiosity

The Current Discussion: Does it worry you that Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee talks about issues like gun rights and abortion and teaching "creationism" in school, but has no experience in foreign policy? What does her selection say to people in other countries about how U.S. politics works?

By Chuck McLean

The selection of another incurious, ill-schooled politician with no foreign policy judgment and a simplistic "the military can solve everything" view of foreign policy will continue the dramatic slide of the U.S.'s global influence. It will also dig us much deeper into a foreign policy hole that has already brought us to an international situation more dangerous than the darkest days of the Cold War.

PostGlobal's Global Power Barometer (I'm one of the editors) measures how well the key powers of the world, and by extension their leaders, are exercising their power to achieve their own desired ends. It tells you clearly who's winning and losing on the world power stage. The GPB's "4-week View" makes it obvious how far the U.S. has fallen far behind Russia, China, Iran and even Israel and the Islamists in achieving its global goals.

As we've watched world reaction to the Bush administration over the years, the people and leaders of the world are not as much interested in "experience" per se as they are two critical human traits: 1) curiosity about the world, and, 2) a knowledge of the history and cultures of their nations. Governor Palin has neither and that's downright dangerous.

The Governor, who obtained her first passport less than two years ago, has traveled outside the U.S. only once, to visit Alaska National Guardsmen stationed in Germany and Kuwait. She claimed a visit to Ireland, but the Irish quickly pointed out that a refueling stop in which you don't leave the airport is not a "visit." In fact, she has never even visited Alaska's important next-door neighbor, Canada.

Consistent with a complete lack of curiosity about the world around her, Governor Palin has never had any formal education in history (of the U.S. or the world,) let alone any experience with global culture or politics that might serve as a substitute for formal education.

Beyond what this says to the people of the world (which is that a VP Palin simply wouldn't care), we've just experienced eight years of the costly errors of a President without any curiosity or understanding of how foreign lands will react to U.S. actions. Iraq is a prime example. Even a cursory knowledge of culture and the region would have suggested the outcome of an Iraq invasion (Bush 41's great knowledge and understanding of history and culture kept him out of Baghdad.)

In the current crisis with Russia, an understanding of Russian culture, history and 20th-century experience (and, of course, the right judgment to apply the lessons of that history) would have avoided creating the situation in which Russia had little choice but to draw the line at South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The U.S. has a history as long as a blink of an eye in comparison to much of the rest of the world, so it may be understandable that we have little interest in world history. U.S. citizens are some of the least traveled among developed countries, so that may explain our lack of knowledge of other cultures. But in order just to protect ourselves and avoid mistakes that strengthen our enemies and weaken the U.S., we need leaders who are curious about the world, its history and its cultures. The nomination of Sarah Palin sends exactly the wrong message to the world and guarantees four more years of foreign policy and military mistakes in a world far more dangerous than it was eight years ago.

Chuck McLean is director of the Denver Research Group, which produces PostGlobal's Global Power Barometer.

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Comments (31)

Anonymous:

Palin is practically neighbor with Russia so she must experienced in foreign affairs. God how I love Fox News. :)

Fred:

I lived in Alaska so I must be a foreign policy expert according to McCain. I'm a Christian so I must be the best choice to be a VP according to a poster on this story. How pathetic the Republicans are to concoct this dribble. People who talk like this never have had to hire anyone who they needed to depend on to know what they were doing. If you were a criminal, would you hire an attorney because he lives in a state in which crime occurs? McCain's reasoning is sheer idiocy - like the current president's. He's so bizarre, you just have to ask of McCain "What color is the sky in your world?"

Apollo:

I love Obama's foreign policy views toward Kenya, especially towards his cousin Odinga and his party's mass (Christian) killings after he LOST the election. Genocide against Christians. Wonderful.

What, exactly is Obama's foreign policy experience? Supporting genocide in Kenya? Playing basketball in Afghanistan?...wow...

Biden, on the other hand, protested against Ronald Reagan's firm stance against the Soviet union.

If Biden had his way in the 1980's his actions would have kept the USSR around...

As for those people who want to apologize to the world for the US, I say: huh? La prochaine fois que vous etes en France, demandez-les s'ils voudraient mieux communiquer en allemande? ... when in France next time, ask those who hate Americans meddling in foreign lands if they would prefer to speak German.

Obama has ZERO executive experience. Living in a foreign land (as a muslim or not) as a child just seperates him that much more from the American experience.

Chuck McLean:

Despite not filing Canada on her list of countries visited, the McCain campaign and Governor Palin now say she has visited Canada and Mexico. GPB Staff.

mscarfab:

Ms. Palin has no experience. She has only been out of the country once.....be for real. Christian values....like the one Bush has? It is ok to kill innocent women, men and children for a war that has nothing to do with the twin towers.

Is it christian to give tax breaks to the wealthy and not the poor? Is it christian to take care of other countries before you take care of your own?

How christian was Katrina and the poor people left there?

Maybe chrisitan is not enough!!

Rosie:

It matters such a great deal that her expertise is so thin or non-existent. This move was to get votes and had nothing to do with knowledge, management, world-views or anything else. McCain's dwindling stance was the only reason for this appointment.
HOW PATHETIC.

This is also an extremely dangerous fliration with the rest of the world leaders who don't care for McCane or his policies.

America's position in the world is critical and right now, slipping from #1 doesn;t seem to bother too many people.

AMERICA IS SLOWLY GOING DOWN THE DRAIN.

BE VERY AWARE AMERICA AND WAKE UP.

paul taylor:

Gov. Palin's experience in foreign policy is irrelevant.

This election is about changing the course of America. Bush, along with the support of the Republicans and the GOP, has wrought considerable damage to the U.S., in many ways. The next President must lead a recovery, and he will have a big job on his hands, because Bush has all but institutionalized many changes to the government.

Sen. McCain, true, is not Bush. But he certainly supported Bush in almost all his actions in office. McCain is firmly in the camp of the right wing. And even though he has been a more moderate Republican (maverick) in the past, his choice of Gov. Palin confirms his choice of right-wing political ideology.

Palin is hard-core in her ideology. She has a history of fighting even her own party on issues she feels deeply about. And I dare say her ideology is stronger than McCain's. As veep, and a heartbeat away from her President, Palin will fight him on any issue close to her heart.

We need a unified, strong leadership in the White House and in Congress, to turn the nation around. This won't happen if the Presidency goes Republican and the Congress Democrat. In order for the Democrats to be effective, they need both branches, and all the help they can get from the public.

Arguing about Palin's experience in politics, and her foreign affairs knowledge, is a waste of time and energy.

geoffrey james:

Although I am terrified of them, I hope that McCain/Palin are elected. The mess that George Bush has made is so great that his inheritor doesn't have a hope of being re-elected. Four more years should render apparent the complete moral bankruptcy and stupidity of the extreme Right.

Ted:

Since I have not come across any records that describes her currculum history it is a bit presumptious to know for certain her level of curosity about her interest level in history or culture.

However, my concern over her selection really boils down to is she the best talent to tackle the world problems that affect this nation. Honestly - she is not the "best" choice in this area. From what I have read or observed it does seem that she has a persepective similar to Bush, but then again I base that on the opinion of others and not from her own lips. As long as she does not conduct a wide ranging interview with someone who will give her a fair hearing my doubts remain. I thought and still hope that McCain will bring govenment back to work for the interest of the whole, and yet with Palin as a running mate I see a big disconnect in the message. What I have concluded - she was choosen to keep the extreme right satisfied, which I suppose needs to be done, but I doubt it will deliver the election to McCain.

Pat:

This person is completely insane. Shouldn't sanity be a pre-requisite for the VP Job.

oldhonky:

"Palin's foreign policy position' is an oxymoron.

spiderman2:

The U.S is a great country because of it's Christian Values. The Dems are the worst protector of our security. Al Queda trained here in the U.S to fly planes under Bill Clinton's nose.

Palin has good Christian Values so therefore she would make a good commander in chief.

One reason why Bin Ladin tried to burn the White House with jet fuel is because of Bill Clinton's immorality.

OldUncleTom:

There is real cause for concern about our GOP vice-presidential nominee, considering the advanced age and questionable mental health of their presidential candidate.

Senator McCain would have made a better choice in any number of leading GOP women, but the national theater demanded "something different". Well, he has managed that, I will admit, but can America rely on this woman after McCain's funeral? It is likely to happen you know.

Chuck McLean:

Some of our excellent commenters find it difficult to believe that Governor Palin has not visited Canada. We too found it astonishing to think she hasn't visited at least British Columbia (which is closer to Alaska than Russia). But she claimed only three countries on her list of foreign countries visited: Ireland, Germany and Kuwait. She has signed some agreements with BC (we found reference to those in the Globe and Mail). However, we have not yet found any evidence that she has visited Canada though we are asking for clarification from the campaign. If we do find she visited Canada at some point (and I sincerely hope we do), we will let all our readers know immediately.

center:

Fools Gold calls the Republican tactics: Flash Bang Grenades. I like that!

Matthew on MSNBC call them: Weapons of Mass distraction. Good one too.

No matter what one categorizes the Republican tactics, they remain to be stink bombs.

Distraction from the real issues is what they want....they will continue to wear lipstick...it won't hide who they really are.

FOOLS GOLD:

The media has been frighten of covering Palin because of the backlash from the republican party This includes the fear of being called a sexist. CNN'S Campbell Brown took some serious heat because she asked some revealing questions. Because of her persistance McCain pulled out of an interview. Not only that but the republican party has thrown some "flash bang grenades" to keep the press away from her including the distracting story of Oprah not wanting Palin on her show. (Let her go on the Ellen Degeneres Show if she feels unwelcome.)The media doesn't understand that the public counts on them to get to the truth. Yet, it seems that Palin's cone of silence is starting to show some cracks and it's happening because some in the media have some backbone such as the person who wrote this story. "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a "per diem" allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.""....She wrote some form of "Lodging -- own residence" or "Lodging -- Wasilla residence" more than 30 times at the same time she took a per diem, according to the reports. In two dozen undated amendments to the reports, the governor deleted the reference to staying in her home but still charged the per diem."Lets see, She gets a free house in Juneau, and takes money from tax payers by chargeing per diem to stay in her own home in Wasilla. But leaves a town of about 5,400 $20 million dollars in debt when she was mayor, hmmm. What a hustle. No wonder half of Alaska is under investigation for corruption. What a hustle."Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a "per diem" allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.""....She wrote some form of "Lodging -- own residence" or "Lodging -- Wasilla residence" more than 30 times at the same time she took a per diem, according to the reports. In two dozen undated amendments to the reports, the governor deleted the reference to staying in her home but still charged the per diem."Lets see, She gets a free house in Juneau, and takes money from tax payers by chargeing per diem to stay in her own home in Wasilla. But leaves a town of about 5,400 $20 million dollars in debt when she was mayor, hmmm. What a hustle. No wonder half of Alaska is under investigation for corruption. What a hustle.

klockard:

I spent most of my youth living in Europe and then as an adult I was fortunate to spend several years living in Asia. Non of that makes me an expert on Foreign Policy. I've got a lot of foreign cultural experience but apart from her 6 years away at college Ms. Palin has lived her whole life in Alaska so she can't even claim to have any foreign cultural experience either. The fact is that Sarah Palin's only appeal to the McCain camp is that she talks the talk of the Far Right Wing of the Republican Party AKA the Christian Extremist of the Republican Party. Ms.Palin will definitely rally the vote of the least tolerant segment of American society and may in fact help get McCain elected in November. The message McCain is sending to the nation and/or world is that he'll use means at his disposal to win the White House. Ms. Palin wasn't chosen with any thought as to what kind of successor she might be should God forbid... just how many votes she can bring to the table and that say very little about John McCain's real concern for America.

FLOATBY:

Does that really matter she has been to any foreign country or not, She's not applying for Rice's job, is she?

Women like her just like someone in American Idol, Not nessarily the best in singing, but just the Personality, She does win by this natural-asset, instead of issues, Fact-checking makes no sense to prevent her fans from protecting their true reprentative and idol.

mt:

Don:
You may be confusing the Iron Dog snowmachine race with the Yukon Quest which goes from Alaska into Canada. Todd Palin is a champion Iron Dog snowmachine racer. The Iron Dog takes place in Alaska, but does not go into Canada.

Just because Todd has participated in the Iron Dog is no reason to believe that Sarah Palin has visited Canada. On the other hand, until recently US citizens did not need a passport to get into Canada -- a US driver's license worked fine.

Texas Aggie:

It isn't so much that Palin has no curiosity about other countries. She has no curiosity about anything! As far as she is concerned, all she needs to know is the Bible, hence her belief that the Iraq debacle is God ordained, and her rejection of global warming, evolution, in essence, the real world. A woman who believes that God wants her to build a pipeline across Alaska is not firing on all cylinders and will be a disaster when she has to interact with thoughtful people (foreign leaders) whose opinion of the US administration matters. We donĀ“t need anymore leaders who take their marching orders from a God that only they have communication with.

I fear for the US and the world if she and McCain ever get into a position where they can influence world events.

Don:

First off, I'm an Obama supporter. I have a low opinion of Sarah Palin.

However...

Where did you discover this fact that she's never been to Canada? Her husband participated in the dog races that cross the Canadian border. I'm sure she was there at the end waiting for him. Moreover, it's impossible for a border state governor to function and to not visit her neighbors. Look at Kwami Kilpatrick - a border mayor - regularly had business in Ontario. It got him into trouble with his bail a few weeks ago.

I'm born and raised in Detroit. Just because Palin only recently got a passport and doesn't have a Canada sticker on there doesn't mean she's never visited. Only post-9/11 has someone required a passport to visit Canada, and this law has only taken effect in the last year. I remember a decade ago you could walk across the bridge to visit Windsor and didn't even have to check in with customs. (Thanks for taking that away from me George Bush... btw...)

EJ:

SM Norcal: the Masai may be semi-nomadic, but I doubt you will find many in Botswana.

johnny:

All we need is 8 more years of right wing govt. and everything will be all right

RT:

"Don't mock the constitution".

Gun rights is the 2nd amendment.
Freedom of religion is 1st Amendment.
Right to live is guarrantied by the constituion based on "all men are CREATED equal".

"No experience"? Well the consitution gave you free speech but not the right to "lie".

Now we have evidence of Obama's supporter mocking the constitution.


FLOATBY:

1. what you expect a VP do when an international crisis break out? Have you seen Gore deal with Rebellians in Africa or Chenny handle Invasion of IRAQ? VICE president, VICE means a lot! The comparation should be between the top-top, Second-Second on the ticket, or it will be a humiliation to the the top on either side

2. An Ancient Chinese story, a Master have a horse-racing, he got three horses,A,B,C, in the speed from Fastest to Slowest, His rival had 3 horses too, also in the same sequences,A,B,C

3.how you want arrange the match, A-A,B-B,C-C? That's the fair way, but who knows who will win, in stead,the clever master choose like this, his A beat rival's B, his B beat C, and his C will lose to rival's A

4. More complicated is that who are the A or B on the Republic ticket are fleable based on the potential vulnerable targets. They do have nice shield and sword.

billthinx:

Good article. Sarah Palin herself is not worth much comment; she is a symptom of a larger problem. Americans aren't curious either. The American electorate cannot seem to produce a majority that is curious about the world, interested in other cultures, willing to participate rather than dominate in world affairs. Americans in general have little conception of our actual standing in the world except that "we are the biggest, the best and the strongest." Even our brightest students move through their schooling with very little knowledge of geography or history. Very few people (even those with their degraded college degrees) have any understanding of important issues, e.g. how the world economy functions or why the national debt matters? Our cultural mindset is narrowed all the way down to individual self-interest, period. I lay the blame for this squarely on conservatives who began in the 1960's to target the media, the schools and the tax base. They have succeeded: the profession of serious journalism is gone as we once knew it; the schools are underfunded, overcrowded and overloaded; curricula are subject to constant dilution; and people think they should not pay taxes because "cutting taxes is what increases revenue." With so much nonsense around and their weak educations, Americans respond to Sarah Palin exactly as they were urged to do: emotionally. Her only purpose is to distract the media, fire up the emotions of true believers and help McCain sneak across the finish line. He thinks he knows the world... and that misjudgment is even more dangerous!

SM NorCAL:

Palin's ability to field a moose and shoot wolves from a helicopter may enthrall Masai warriors in Botswana and hard-drinking lumberjacks in Fairbanks, but her complete lack of familiarity with international politics and related issues of import is beyond dismal. If she prides herself on being a lipstick-wearing pit bull/hockey mom mother of five children, one of whom is a baby about to have a baby, while another is a special needs child faced with downs syndrome, maybe that is where she needs to direct her energies.

L.Kurt Engelhart:

Only Democrats expect that political figures will have some influence over their lives and world events. Republicans refuse to acknowledge the importance of mere politicians. Top politics for them is filled with throw away people who will not interfere with the business people who really matter. To expect Democratic credentials for a Republican candidate is simply not recognizing the reality they inhabit. To elect Republicans to office is to respect their reality. To consistently deny them office is the only way to change their reality, over a long period of time.

oberst:

Just in case McCain win the election, I personally apologise to the world.

Hillman :

I wonder if any other Governor in Alaska's history has never been to Canada. Probably not.

LilSugar:

Sarah Palin is just a woman small town mayor and governor who the people in Wasila Alaska are afraid to give their honest opinion of. They anonimously say that she is a racist, and a person who feels that you are either with her or against her. Since Wasila is such a small town to buck the establishment and tell the truth has bad reprocussions. To the women who will vote for her just to see a woman in the VP position is to protray to all men that women are stupid. If a woman wants to be considered equal in the world of men, she needs to be able to withstand the same kinds of questions as the men do and stop crying "sexism". If a woman can't stand the heat then get the hell out of the kitchen. When it comes to governing this country, I don't think Putin will be swayed by a woman crying and begging him to change his tactics.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.