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The National Security Question

On January 4, I was on a blogger call with John McCain. I asked him about potential vice presidential picks and he said it was too early in the season to seriously weigh options, but he specifically assured me that whomever he would choose would have strong national security credentials.

In early 2007, Sarah Palin was asked for her thoughts on Iraq. Her answer:

“I’ve been so focused on state government, I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq,” she said. “I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place; I want assurances that we are doing all we can to keep our troops safe.”

In July 2007, she was asked about the surge.

“I’m not here to judge the idea of withdrawing, or the timeline,” she said in a teleconference interview with reporters during a July 2007 visit with Alaska National Guard troops stationed in Kuwait. “I’m not going to judge even the surge. I’m here to find out what Alaskans need of me as their governor.”

These are not bad answers. They are obviously truthful and refreshingly humble. But they make mincemeat out of McCain’s vow, and it’s obvious that after 8 months of running for Republican nominee and then president in a general election, he saw fit to change his foremost criteria for VP pick. Does that not warrant a little skepticism?

Yes, you have to win before you can govern and every running mate has weaknesses. But there are weaknesses – and then there are weaknesses. Since September 11, 2001, there hasn’t been a stretch of time during which one legitimate threat to U.S. national security has cooled down without another heating up. Some say that Palin is no risk because should she ever assume the presidency all McCain’s appointees will be in place and she’s not going to drastically change course. The problem here is that McCain’s greatest contribution to national security in the past five years came as a result of his being brave and experienced enough to push for a drastic change of course when no one thought it was prudent. National security reassurance isn’t a mere matter of finding a conservative hawk who will say yes to advisors. To read McCain’s words urging George W. Bush to bulk up forces in Iraq in 2006 is to bear witness to a kind of courage and understanding that rises to the level of genius. It is the very best of McCain. It is the maverick bringing his instincts and temperament into line with his experience and expertise. Ditching his vow to find someone to fill those specific shoes is not necessarily catastrophic and it may yet give him an edge between now and November. But it is not, as some suggest, McCain at his best.



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