VP Nominees Vie Over Foreign Policy
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
The presidential candidates have had their hands full dealing with the economy and debating about debating. So their vice presidential choices are dealing with foreign policy. Yesterday, Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin took on the world in very different ways. NPR's Robert Smith reports.
ROBERT SMITH: Some politicians have traveled the globe. Sarah Palin has only taken one trip overseas. So this week she let the world come to her. In New York City over the last two days, Palin did a sort of CliffsNotes version of world leaders 101. She held brief meetings with the heads of the Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, and Iraq, all of those meetings closed to the press. After pressuring the campaign, reporters did get to peek in briefly during photo ops, but they didn't get much. As Palin sat with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, he was the only one doing the talking.
President MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI (Georgia): I'm so thrilled to meet vice presidential candidate Governor Palin. And again, thank you for everything you have been doing for us for all this time.
SMITH: Palin said nothing. As cameras clicked away, a reporter for the AP shouted out a question.
Unidentified Reporter: Governor, what did you learn from your meetings?
Unidentified Woman: Thank you. Thank you so much. We're going to head out.
SMITH: If you didn't catch that, the question was what have you learned from your meetings? The campaign staff hurried reporters out of the room before they could get an answer. Any glimpse of the foreign policy of Sarah Palin had to come from the world leaders themselves. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, said he found her a capable woman and that she asked the right questions. The Obama campaign knows an opportunity when they see it, so they dispatched vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden. If Sarah Palin was going to give the press a 40-second photo op, then Biden was going to give them a 40-minute lecture on world politics. Speaking in Cincinnati, he mentioned his eight trips to Iraq, his two visits to Afghanistan. He even told a story about a world leader who apparently he's on a first-name basis with.
Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware; Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee): When Russia invaded Georgia, an independent country, I got a call from Misha Saakashvili, the president. He said, Joe, will you come over? I sat with him while Russian tanks were still on the outskirts of his city.
SMITH: Biden could even share his personal knowledge of the region where al-Qaeda is hiding out.
Senator BIDEN: Where is that safe haven? It is not Baghdad. It's in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan where my helicopter was recently forced down.
SMITH: Biden doesn't mention that the incident on a Senate trip last February has nothing to do with hostile forces. His helicopter was forced to land because of a heavy snowstorm. But still, Biden wanted to make a larger point here, that John McCain is too focused on Iraq and not on chasing al-Qaeda.
Senator BIDEN: Ladies and gentlemen, on this John McCain is more than wrong, he's dangerously wrong.
SMITH: So, Joe Biden got to give the big speech. But the world had to wait until the end of the day just to hear Sarah Palin's voice. The only time she answered questions yesterday, or all week for that matter, was on the "CBS Evening News" with Katie Couric. The interview was supposed to cover foreign policy, but it ended up on economic issues. Palin said that unless something is done about the financial crisis, America may find itself on the road to another Great Depression.
(Soundbite of TV show "CBS Evening News")
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; Republican Vice Presidential Nominee): There has got to be action taken, bipartisan effort, Congress not pointing fingers at this point at one another, but finding the solution to this, taking action, and being serious about the reforms on Wall Street that are needed.
SMITH: But when Katie Couric pushed Palin on John McCain's record of financial reform, Palin struggled to come up with any specific examples.
Governor PALIN: He's also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party, trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about the need to reform government.
Ms. KATIE COURIC (Host, "CBS Evening News"): I'm just going to ask you one more time, not to belabor the point, specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.
Governor PALIN: I'll try to find you some, and I'll bring them to you.
SMITH: Neither vice presidential candidate made reference to the other on the campaign trail yesterday. That level of confrontation will have to wait at least a week. That's when Palin and Biden are scheduled to debate in St. Louis. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.
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