GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin has given her first media interview since her selection as John McCain's running mate nearly two weeks ago. ABC's Charlie Gibson is spending a couple of days with Palin in Alaska, and airing pieces of the interviews over the course of several ABC News programs today and tomorrow. The excerpts on this evening's World News Tonight mainly dealt with national security -- considered an area of vulnerability for the Alaska governor.
Overall this first glimpse at the interview was a bit of a cringer for both Gibson and Palin. In an attempt not to seem overbearing, Gibson at times came across as patronizing. And Palin, obviously working hard to stick to her talking points, seemed blustery and at other moments evasive.
Gibson opened with what he called "the central question" of the campaign:
Can you look the country in the eye and say, "I have the experience and I have the ability to be not just Vice President but perhaps President of the United States of America"?
Palin's response: "I do Charlie...I'm ready." Gibson followed up by asking whether she hesitated when McCain asked her to be his running mate. Palin said no. "I thought yes right off the bat."
When Gibson pressed Palin on her foreign policy credentials, she changed the subject to government reform and her experience with energy-policy as the Governor of an oil-rich state. But her tone of voice seemed to get a little testy when he followed up by asking her if she'd ever met a foreign head of state:
I have not. And I think if you go back in history and if you ask that question of many Vice Presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you. But Charlie, again. We've got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time, it is for no more politics as usual and somebody's big, fat resume maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment where, yeah, they've had opportunity to meet heads of state.
(If that argument sounds familiar, it's because it's the same one that Barack Obama has used to counter first Hillary Clinton's accusations of inexperience and John McCain's more recent claims that he's "not ready to lead.")
Palin took a hard line on Russia, calling that country's recent incursions into Georgia "unacceptable" and "unprovoked." She also said she believes Georgia and Ukraine should be members of NATO. Gibson pointed out that if Georgia were a NATO member the US would be obligated to go to war with Russia if it invaded Georgia again. Palin didn't back down: "perhaps so."
She also stuck firmly to a talking point that the U.S. shouldn't "second-guess" Israel's decisions about how to defend itself -- including taking out Iranian nuclear facilities. (Unlike in her convention speech, which had the word phonetically spelled new-clear on the teleprompter, Palin pronounced the word nu-cu-lar tonight.)
Things got slightly awkward when Gibson asked Palin if she believed in the Bush Doctrine. Palin clearly didn't know what he was getting at, saying,
What President Bush has attempted to do is rid the world of Islamic terrorism...there have been blunders along the way though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership...comes opportunity to do things better.
Gibson clarified that he was talking about pre-emptive attacks, and specifically asked about incursions into Pakistan. Palin replied that war should be a "last option" but that "we have got to have all options out there on the table."
A little context on that question: in August 2007, Barack Obama said in a speech that the U.S. would take out a "target of opportunity" in Pakistan even without the approval of then-President Pervez Musharraf. Then-rival Hillary Clinton took him to task for that answer in a subsequent debate (though now-running-mate Joe Biden defended him, saying it's already U.S. policy to go into Pakistan if we have actionable intelligence -- as we read in today's NYT). John McCain seized on the comments several months later, telling reporters in February that America cannot afford the "confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally Pakistan."
After playing an excerpt from Palin's remarks to her church about the Iraq war being a "task that is from God," Gibson asked Palin if the U.S. is fighting a "holy war." Palin said she "would never presume to know God's will" and said she was referring to an Abraham Lincoln quote, which she paraphrased thus: "let us not pray that God is on our side, in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God's side." She then added:
I believe that there is a plan for this world, and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie. And I believe that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That, in my world-view is a grand, the grand plan.
Gibson followed up by asking if Palin's son Track, whose unit is about to deploy to Iraq, is on a "task that is from God." Palin said she didn't know, but she is proud of her son's decision to serve.
More excerpts to come on tonight's Nightline, which we'll sum up for you tomorrow morning.