Sorry, Sarah: Why the Left Owes Palin an Apology over Ukraine

As one of the most derided political figures of the 21st century, Sarah Palin’s authority to speak on American foreign policy is by all accounts non-existent. Unrelenting attacks by the liberal media have rendered this former governor and one-time Vice Presidential nominee nothing more than a caricature – an Alaskan hockey mom with little-to-no grasp on world politics, but with big dreams of one day reaching the White House, and as a sort of demented Cinderella story, set in the snowy town of Wasilla, AK. So determined to decimate Ms Palin’s foreign policy credentials, the left has adopted “I can see Russia from my house” as their favourite anti-Sarah mantra, in the same manner one hangs garlic to ward off a vampire attack. The misinformation and vitriol is so strong that few even realise they are quoting Tina Fey’s impersonation from NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and not the Alaskan governor herself.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore, ©2014, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore, ©2014, some rights reserved.

Yet, the developing crisis in Ukraine has brought with it an uncomfortable revelation for the mainstream media.  “Yes, I could see this one from Alaska”, Ms Palin wrote on her Facebook page, rightfully smug. “Here’s what this ‘stupid’, ‘insipid’ woman predicted back in 2008”, proceeding to post a link to one of her most derided comments of the entire 2008 Presidential election [1]. “After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama’s reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia’s Putin to invade Ukraine next.” [2] At the time, the left-wing media swarmed, gleeful that Ms Palin had provided them with yet another ‘gotcha’ moment. American Foreign Policy Magazine scoffed at the “strange” and “extremely far-fetched” scenario that Palin had described, noting that it was self-evident to anyone with an ounce of common sense that Russia would never threaten violence “to bring Kiev to heel” [3].

Was Ukraine just a lucky call for Ms Palin? The laws of probability mean that if you throw enough darts at a board, eventually one of them will hit the bull’s-eye. She also correctly predicted that President Obama would deploy troops in Pakistan without the country’s approval, which he did, albeit to dispatch Osama bin Laden. Other predictions were less accurate, such as the claim that troop withdrawal would destabilise Iraq and ultimately force America to return the country. While Iraq has undoubtedly descended into chaos since the departure of the US military, this has not yet resulted in troop redeployment.

It’s fair to say that Ms Palin deserves credit for her prescience on Ukraine, but ultimately, why should we care what the former governor thinks about foreign policy? The answer is because she was not only the only one warning us about Russia. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney declared Russia to be America’s biggest geopolitical adversary, a notion which led Obama to sassily quip: “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” [4] Cue widespread media coverage of how out-of-touch Mr Romney was with world politics. The sitting President went on to stress that al-Qaeda remained America’s biggest geopolitical threat – despite his contradictory claims a week later that the group had been “decimated” [5]. This paradox was largely ignored, mainly because Mr Obama’s one-liner was clearly a more engaging story for the liberal media than why the President was entirely dismissive of Russia’s potential as a threat to global security.

The outright dismissal of repeated Republican warnings regarding Russia serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the dangerous partisan divide currently plaguing US politics. We could perhaps attribute this lack of foresight to ‘Bush fatigue’ and Mr Obama’s desire to distance himself from America’s growing reputation as an interventionist, war-hungry state. With neo-conservatism falling spectacularly out-of-vogue, it’s not surprising that the Republicans have gained the reputation as the boy who cried wolf one-too-many times. However, what is more concerning is not what Mr Obama did or did not do with regards to Russia foreign policy, but the outright failure of the liberal media to critically engage with any of the substantive points being raised by the American right.

We live in an unfortunate age where the media – on both sides – now care less about what is being said, and more about who is saying it. The ever-widening chasm between the Democrats and Republicans is dangerous, because it creates a culture of political point-scoring, one-liners and mud-slinging. You don’t have to agree that America’s most menacing geopolitical adversary is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Nor do you have to dust off your McCain-Palin: Country First yard sign. But it would have been nice had the liberal media led some intelligent discussion in 2008 over Palin’s comments on Ukraine, rather than using as it as a convenient lead-in for their latest misquoting of Tina Fey.