Talk About Posturing
Palin and Gingrich are wrong about Obama's nuclear strategy.
Long ago, during one of President Lyndon Johnson's informal Oval Office press gaggles, a reporter put forth a particularly trivial question. LBJ gave him a hard look and said, "You're talkin' to the commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world, and you ask a chickenshit question like that?"
Barack Obama must have longed for those days last week when, sitting for an exclusive interview on ABC News, he was asked by host George Stephanopoulos to comment on Sarah Palin's critique of his Nuclear Posture Review.
Obama might have considered three options in replying. He could have gone LBJ on Stephanopoulos (no longer a real option); he could have dealt with her attack seriously; or he could have dismissed the question's premise.
He chose the last option. "Last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues," Obama said, adding, "If the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I'm probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin."
In retrospect, that turned out to be the right approach. The next day, at a convention of Southern Republicans, Palin scratched back, poking fun at Obama for "all the vast experience that he acquired as a community organizer."
If there were any doubts that Sarah Palin is a total idiot, she settled them with that single statement.
Was the former half-term governor of Alaska really claiming that the president of the United States has no more experience on nuclear matters than she does? For starters, he has been the president of the United States for the past 15 months, making momentous decisions about war and peace, getting the briefing on the nuclear war plan, and chairing a dozen meetings at which top generals and other advisers deliberated over the Nuclear Posture Review (which, it's worth noting, is a document signed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was also a top adviser or Cabinet officer to both President Bushes).
Tip to Sarah Palin: Obama may have some vulnerabilities, and you may have some strengths, but command of the issues doesn't fall in either category.
What set this off was a comment that Palin made while discussing the president's just-published Nuclear Posture Review with Sean Hannity on Fox News:
It's unbelievable. Unbelievable. No administration in America's history would, I think, ever have considered such a step that we just found out President Obama is supporting today. It's kinda like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, "Go ahead, punch me in the face and I'm not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want with me."
It's clear that she hadn't read the document. It's a good bet that she hadn't read any serious book or article about the general subject of nuclear strategy in her entire life.
Obama's perhaps-too-flip dismissal of Stephanopoulos' question may have stemmed from a broader frustration over why this once-serious political commentator was citing Sarah Palin on this sort of issue in the first place.
As for Palin's dig, here's the substantive rebuttal, should you need one: Obama's policy does not say we won't retaliate if someone hits us. Rather, it says we won't retaliate with nuclear weapons if the attacker has no nuclear weapons and is not in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Sarah Palin by Cheryl Gerber/Getty Images.