Sarah Palin claims to have earned foreign policy credentials through trade missions with Russia, but evidence that they actually happened is hard to come by.
As John McCain reminds us, “Russia is right next to Alaska; Sarah Palin understands that.” But when pressed by Katie Couric about what, exactly, that understanding lent her in the way of foreign policy savvy, the Republicans’ vice-presidential nominee couldn’t come up with a lot of specifics:
COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.
PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our — our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia —
COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?
PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We — we do — it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is — from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to — to our state.
As you might notice, Palin only cites one discernible foreign interaction under her purview: Trade missions.
I spent some time on the Governor’s Web site seeking more details about her trade negotiations with Russia. There’s a press release about Gov. Palin’s meeting with a trade mission from the Yukon, but nothing about Russia anywhere in the archives. Tony Knowles, a Democrat who was governor from 1994-2002, led a trade mission — back in 1997, while Palin was running Wasilla — to the remote island of Sakhalin, off the coast of Siberia. That seems to be about it for Russia-Alaska trade missions lately.
When asked for examples of trade missions with Russia that have taken place under Palin’s watch, gubernatorial spokeswoman Kate Morgan refused to answer the question. Morgan said she could not legally discuss any trade missions with me because she’s a state employee and I had first heard this claim through the Couric interview, which was part of Palin’s campaign for the vice-presidency. When I pointed out that any trade missions that occurred would have been official state business, Morgan again noted that I had learned about them in the context of the campaign. “The law is very stringent,” she said, and recommended that I contact the McCain-Palin campaign. Two spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.
An article published two weeks ago in the Seattle Times notes that a politician from Russia’s Far East did in fact meet with Palin in Anchorage, and urged her to come to Russia. One of Palin’s trade specialists is also quoted saying that no trade missions with Russia are currently on the agenda: “I am not aware of any plans but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t [arrange any].”
The article noted that Anchorage is host to an organization called the Northern Forum, a council of regional governments from all the northernmost countries of the world. But the Palin administration cut the Forum’s budget from $75,000 to $15,000, and stopped the practice of sending representatives to its meetings.
Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale. More Gabriel Winant.
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