Who Was Right on Ukraine: Sarah Palin or FP?

In late October 2008, in the heat of the U.S. presidential campaign, Sarah Palin took to a stage in Reno, Nevada, and announced that if Barack Obama were elected president of the United States, Russia might invade Ukraine. "After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama’s reaction was one of indecision and ...

Roberto Gonzalez/Getty Images
Roberto Gonzalez/Getty Images
Roberto Gonzalez/Getty Images

In late October 2008, in the heat of the U.S. presidential campaign, Sarah Palin took to a stage in Reno, Nevada, and announced that if Barack Obama were elected president of the United States, Russia might invade Ukraine. "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," Palin said.  

Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell called that hypothetical "an extremely far-fetched scenario." "Given how Russia has been able to unsettle Ukraine's pro-Western government without firing a shot, I don't see why violence would be necessary to bring Kiev to heel."

In late October 2008, in the heat of the U.S. presidential campaign, Sarah Palin took to a stage in Reno, Nevada, and announced that if Barack Obama were elected president of the United States, Russia might invade Ukraine. "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," Palin said.  

Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell called that hypothetical "an extremely far-fetched scenario." "Given how Russia has been able to unsettle Ukraine’s pro-Western government without firing a shot, I don’t see why violence would be necessary to bring Kiev to heel."

Well, this week Russia did in fact invade Ukraine. And it turns out the former governor of Alaska has a very long memory. "Yes, I could see this one from Alaska. I’m usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did, despite my accurate prediction being derided as ‘an extremely far-fetched scenario’ by the ‘high-brow’ Foreign Policy magazine," Palin wrote on her Facebook page Friday, reminding her four million followers of her soothsaying. (We thank the former governor for the resulting web traffic.)

So we have to hand it to her: Six years after the publication of a 156-word blog post, points to Palin. Sort of.

Foreign policy wasn’t Palin’s strong suit when the campaign began, so the McCain team assigned two Republican foreign policy operatives — Randy Scheunemann and Steve Biegun — to tutor her. And while Palin took to her studies with gusto, the campaign made a horrifying discovering in September 2008. "Palin couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations. She didn’t know what the Fed did," John Heilemann and Mark Halperin write in their book Game Change. "Asked who attacked America on 9/11, she suggested several times that it was Saddam Hussein. Asked to identify the enemy that her son [in the National Guard] would be fighting in Iraq, she drew a blank." And then, of course, Palin told ABC’s Charlie Gibson that "you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska" — a comment quickly immortalized by comedian Tina Fey as "I can see Russia from my house," which would become a one-line metaphor for the governor’s thin foreign policy resume.

So…did Palin sit down one day in October, soberly consider the facts, and conclude that, yes, Russia would probably invade Ukraine if Obama were elected?

It’s easier to see the comment in the context of the GOP’s 2008 narrative, which was the same as most Republican campaigns since World War II: Democrats are weak on national defense and that weakness will invite aggression, endangering us all. Obama would do things like "sit down with the world’s worst dictators," Palin said, referring to Iran, while depriving our troops in Iraq of the tools they needed to win. In short, there are powerful enemies in the world; I am strong; my opponent is not; I’ll keep you safe.

It is a psychologically powerful message, which is why conservatives use it over and over again. America is always under threat, Democrats are always naïve, the GOP is always strong. So, for the purposes of riling up the crowd in Reno — which Palin did quite effectively — almost any scenario would have done.

Which may be something Palin would prefer you didn’t remember. One of the other "crisis scenarios" she said could befall an Obama administration entailed President Obama sending American troops into Pakistan without Islamabad’s permission — "invading the sovereign territory of a troubled partner in the war against terrorism." On that, Palin was right again: that horrible scenario came to pass as well, resulting in the killing of Osama bin Laden. But as far as we can tell, she has yet to say Told-Ya-So on Facebook.

Here is the full video of Palin’s Reno appearance:

 Twitter: @EliasGroll

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