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Russians, Canadians and Palin, oh my!

As much foreign policy experience as a governor can have

Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin has taken enough heat to melt the Artic Circle over this exchange with CBS’ Katie Couric:

Couric: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

Sarah Palin: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.

Couric: Mocked? Palin: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.

Couric: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…

Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

Russia has a long history of probing the edges of U.S. airspace with flights of their TU-95 Bear bombers and other Soviet-era aircraft. These flights have increased significantly over the past two years. In one such flight in March, one of the Russian bombers buzzed an American aircraft carrier:

Two U.S. Air Force F-15s escorted two Russian Bear long-range bombers out of an air exclusion zone off the coast of Alaska, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.

U.S. radar picked up the Russian turbo-prop Tupolev-95 planes about 500 miles off the Alaska coast.

The U.S. fighters from Elmendorf Air Force Base were dispatched to meet the bombers and escorted them out of the area without incident, the officials said.

The United States maintains the air exclusion zone off the coast of Alaska, barring unidentified aircraft or aircraft that don’t file flight plans inside that area…

Then, four Bear bombers flew near the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, with one of them flying about 2,000 feet from the Nimitz’s deck.

From NRO’s Jonah Goldberg:

I don’t dispute that [Gov. Palin] has more national security bona fides than the press is making it seem… Alaskan governors deal a lot more with international and national security issues than, say the Governor of Arkansas. There are all sorts of treaty issues, missile defense stuff, bases, etc up there. The military is a very big presence. Also, while I think there are political drawbacks to the fact that Alaska’s government lives pretty much entirely off oil revenues, understanding of international energy markets requires a grasp of international affairs as well.

Alaska’s unique role in our national security and homeland defense is a matter of fact. And Alaska’s governor is required to have more than just a passing knowledge of those facts. As it was pointed out on the milblog blackfive.net:

Alaska is the first line of defense in our missile interceptor defense system. The 49th Missile Defense Battalion of the Alaska National Guard is the unit that protects the entire nation from ballistic missile attacks. It’s on permanent active duty, unlike other Guard units.

As governor of Alaska, Palin is briefed on highly classified military issues, homeland security, and counterterrorism… She’s also the commander in chief of the Alaska State Defense Force (ASDF), a federally recognized militia incorporated into Homeland Security’s counterterrorism plans.

Palin is privy to military and intelligence secrets that are vital to the entire country’s defense.

As some comments to the Blackfive post reveal:

She doesn’t directly command troops in national defense activities, and she’s not briefed on each and every incursion or development by the U.S. army as it happens, both of which are true. Nobody says she’s commanding the 49th Missile Defense Battalion, for God’s sake, or getting briefings every time a Russain TU-55 strays into Alaskan airspace..

However, my point is that she’s privy to military and intelligence secrets no other governor is. She has to be. There’s no way she could function as governor if she weren’t.

All you have to do is read the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Strategic Plan 2008-2012: Securing the State, Defending the Nation, a PDF here.

The document quotes Maj. Gen. Craig E. Campbell, who serves in the dual roles of Commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and Adjutant General of Alaska’s National Guard:

Our vision statement, “Securing the State, Defending the Nation” is a vision of keeping Alaska and the United States a safe place to live. It sets the tone for how we conduct our day-to-day affairs, falls in line with Governor Palin’s priorities, and recognizes the unique missions and contributions of each of the DMVA’s components.

So the plan, which is designed to make Alaska and the rest of the Unites States safer, was drawn up according to criteria laid out by Gov. Palin.

But national security is about much more than Russian bombers and national defense plans. It is increasingly being recognized that national security is also about energy. Which brings to mind some foreign policy experience Gov. Palin has with another of our nation’s neighbors – Canada.

Palin pushed a deal through her state’s legislature for a major pipeline project to bring natural gas from Alaska’s Northern Slope to the lower 48. This Palin accomplishment required her to be involved in dealings with Canada’s government and TransCanada, a major pipeline and energy company.

Indeed, Alaska’s ties to Canada, like Alaska’s ties to Russia, are economic and cultural in scope and both significant and long in standing. As with Russia, Palin’s state government must deal with the Canadians over fishing rights, matters of trade, foreign consulates and cultural cooperation.

Prior to being introduced to several leaders of countries which are among the U.S.’s staunchest allies recently in New York, Gov. Palin said she had not met with foreign heads of state, although she had met with one. But she has met a number of Consul Generals and trade representatives, as we can plainly see. Gov. Palin also addressed delegates from 14 countries at the 2007 Artic Energy summit.

So Sarah Palin’s foreign policy experience, while not at the “expert” level of say, former Senator Fred Thompson, is, however, more “hands on” than Thompson’s considerable knowledge of the subject. Gov. Palin’s foreign policy creds are without a doubt more substantial than those of Senator Barrack Obama.

- JP

h/t: Tom W.

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