Foreign policy isn’t her strong suit

FOREIGN POLICY ISN’T HER STRONG SUIT…. In last week’s debate, John McCain repeatedly insisted that Barack Obama “doesn’t understand” foreign policy. He had the right phrase, but was applying it to the wrong candidate.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan, after having watched last night’s debate, decided it’s time to drop the curve and weigh Sarah Palin’s positions as we would any “competent political leader.” Unfortunately for Palin, that’s not a standard she’s able to meet.

When Palin called Obama’s plan for a phased withdrawal from Iraq “a white flag of surrender,” Biden shot back that the plan was identical to the policy of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

When Palin repeated her charge that Obama was “beyond naive” in calling for negotiating with adversaries “without preconditions,” Biden explained what the phrase meant, then noted that it was supported not just by the five former secretaries of state who recently co-authored an endorsement of the idea but by our allies, with whom Palin had just said we needed to work together.

When Palin recited McCain’s line about applying the principles of the Iraqi surge to Afghanistan, Biden (correctly) noted that the U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan has said the surge wouldn’t work there.

That Palin got the general’s name wrong is amusing, I suppose, but the more important point is that Palin had no idea what the general’s policy position is. Indeed, she had Gen. David McKiernan’s approach, not “McClellan’s,” backwards.

It was like this all night. Palin was wrong about McCain’s approach to the Middle East peace process. She was wrong about how many U.S. troops are in Iraq. When Ifill asked a question about Darfur, Palin didn’t even try to answer it, responding instead to something Biden said about Iraq.

The truth is, anyone who takes foreign policy seriously almost certainly concluded a long time ago that Sarah Palin is not to be taken seriously (Alaska’s proximity to Russia notwithstanding). But I was nevertheless curious whether campaign aides would prep Palin on how to answer questions about international affairs or how not to answer questions about international affairs. We now know it was the latter.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.