To: Gov. Sarah Palin
From: The American Conservative Editors
Re: What Your Tutors Aren’t Telling You
Congratulations on being chosen as John McCain’s running mate. It’s
an honor, if a dubious one. As you know, conservatives have
reservations about McCain. To your credit, they have few such concerns
You’ve given new life to a party whose brand was bankrupt. You’ve
energized a campaign that was embarrassing its own partisans. Across
America, crowds flock to see you—not that old man who barely wheezed
his way through the primaries. If John McCain wins, he will owe you, as
the guy in the undisclosed location says, “Big time.”
Wonder why Middle America finds you irresistible? Maybe they’re big
Tina Fey fans. More likely, you remind them of the conservative values
they feared lost: faith, family, independence. This impression owes
more to who you are than what you’ve done. But at least you keep Obama
from cornering the market on hope. Conservatives have faith in you.
Don’t fail them as George W. Bush has.
You see what happened: the president’s entire domestic agenda
collapsed under the weight of his failed foreign policy. Social
Security reform stalled. Pro-lifers became political orphans. And
whatever gains Bush’s tax cuts secured were wiped out by record
spending. Everything was subordinated to the war on terror.
Conservatives grasping for something to commend give the president
points for his judicial picks. But he would have much preferred
justices like Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers—toadies whose top
qualification was their willingness to give the executive more power.
The party that championed the things you prize—individual liberty,
fiscal restraint, and a strong defense—has trampled civil rights,
pushed us to the brink of insolvency, and broken our Armed Forces.
After eight years of Bush, even diehard Republicans are glad to see him
go. You might have noticed the elephant not in the room in St. Paul.
There’s a better way. In fact, you figured it out in the 1996
presidential primary when you sported the flair of the leading pro-life
candidate. (Your minders would prefer that we not mention his name. It
triggers their Tourette’s.) As you surely know, even beyond social
issues, he represents a strain of conservatism that offers a consistent
ethic of life and philosophy of limited government. It was not a
coincidence that the most pro-life candidate in ’96 was also
It’s also no coincidence that those who want you to heed the siren
call of global democratization care little for traditionalist causes.
Recall that second night of the Republican Convention when you were
told to blow off a reception in your honor hosted by Phyllis Schlafly
so Joe Lieberman could chaperone your debut before the directors of
AIPAC. Neoconservatives pay lip service to life, but, as their
enthusiasm for Lieberman shows, they have higher priorities. Now they
plan to make them yours.
You’ll find the new friends conducting your foreign-policy crash
course pleasant enough, if a little dogmatic and a lot condescending.
They call you “Project Sarah.” We saw that one staffer at AEI—that
mystery monogram on all your briefing books—said you’re “a blank
slate.” He added, “She’s going places, and it’s worth going there with
her.” That’s how they operate. They don’t implement their agenda
themselves. Rather, they impose it on rising star. If things don’t work
out, it’s because the Project wasn’t sufficiently committed. (Just ask
Now you’re the latest object of their attention, and you’re probably
finding the program a bit confusing. They tell you that the U.S. is
fighting “World War IV,” a struggle against “Islamofascism.” We can
win, they say, as long as we’re prepared to bomb Iran and build up the
national-security establishment at home, just like Reagan did.
Trouble is, your tutors also believe we’re still engaged in “World
War III,” the Cold War with Russia. So maybe the Gipper didn’t win that
one after all. In fact, neoconservatives like Norman Podhoretz chided
Reagan for appeasing Moscow. And when terrorists struck the Marine
barracks in Lebanon in 1983, Reagan, instead of “staying the course,”
withdrew our troops. Your Beltway suitors prescribe the opposite of
And as they would have it, we’re not only waging World Wars III and
IV, we’re still fighting World War II. At least, that’s the way it
sounds when Robert Kagan opens a Washington Post op-ed by likening
Russia’s conflict with Georgia to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
But Russia is not Germany, Georgia is no innocent Czechoslovakia,
and Vladimir Putin is not Adolf Hitler—no matter what your guru Randy
Scheunemann says. (He probably forgot to tell you that he used to lobby
for the government of Georgia.)
Here’s a hint: don’t believe everything you read in the papers,
especially if the byline is Kristol or Krauthammer. Russia is not an
expansionist, ideological empire. It’s a traditional,
semi-authoritarian great power intent on preserving its influence in
its own backyard and its prestige on the world stage. That’s why Russia
intercedes in the domestic disputes of unruly states on its periphery.
Putin balks at Poland hosting our antimissile systems for the same
reason we would bristle at Cuba or Mexico receiving Chinese antitank
With more validity, some of the people whispering in your ear tell
you that Moscow wants to corner the European markets for oil and
natural gas. And what nefarious end does Putin have in mind? Raising
prices and reinforcing Moscow’s political clout, not with nuclear
blackmail but with good, old-fashioned economic power. We have plenty
of that ourselves (or at least we used to). Putin, far from being a
totalitarian ideologue, is an economic nationalist, as the leaders of
great powers traditionally have been.
Then there’s the Middle East, where only American arms (and lives)
can prevent little Israel from being swept into the sea by Muslim
hordes. Surely that’s what AIPAC told you that night you left Phyllis
cooling her heels. But again, it isn’t true. Israel has nuclear
weapons, for one thing, and can outfight her neighbors even without
resort to atom bombs. Israel’s problem isn’t external threat so much as
internal security and demographics. When the Jewish state was founded,
tens of thousands of Palestinians—Christians as well as Muslims—lost
their homes. Palestine was no wide-open Alaskan frontier: when the
newcomers moved in, Arabs were moved out, often by force. Terrorism
didn’t come to the region with Hamas or Hezbollah; decades earlier
groups like the Stern Gang and Irgun used violence to clear the way for
Israel’s creation. Nor was Palestinian Authority leader Yassar Arafat
the first terrorist to lead a state in the Holy Land. Israeli Prime
Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir had unclean hands as well.
While your minders probably don’t put much stock in his work,
University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape has shown that
suicide terrorism develops almost always among occupied peoples. The
task before the Israelis is not to defend themselves against aggressive
neighbors but to give justice to the Palestinians already in their
midst—to suppress terrorism without suppressing civil liberties and
human rights, which only leads to more bloodshed. The most helpful role
the United States can play is that of impartial mediator in the
conflict. There is injustice and suffering on both sides.
No doubt you’ve been told (again and again) that Iran wants to “wipe
Israel off the map.” Here’s something to keep in mind: Iran does not
have nuclear weapons and is far from attaining them. Ironically, the
Bush Doctrine’s pledge that “America is committed to keeping the
world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous
regimes” makes rogue states like Iran more likely to seek nuclear
devices, as a deterrent against pre-emptive U.S. strikes. This is a
vicious circle. Instead of boxing Iran into a corner, we should engage
with Ahmadinejad, unsavory fellow though he is. Even with nuclear
weapons, Iran would not pose an existential threat to Israel, let alone
Since you had some difficulties in your oral exam with Charlie
Gibson, your new friends will no doubt ramp up their lessons. (For the
record, you can scarcely be blamed for fumbling the answer about the
Bush Doctrine. Your tutors were clearly reluctant to bring it up, even
though the whole scheme was theirs, not Project George’s.)
They may even start assigning you book reports. It will feel like
the third grade, except the subjects won’t be charming orphans. Now
it’s rogue states against America the Benevolent. Near the top of the
list will be An End to Evil by Richard Perle and David Frum. They’d
have you think that Muslims will impose Islamic law on America if we
don’t go to war with 18 different countries. But you know that a bunch
of Muslims can’t make red-blooded, moose-hunting Americans wear burqas.
Think what happens if you try to get a book pulled out of the library.
That’s only the beginning of the curriculum. You’ll be handed titles
like Present Dangers and The Return of History. Thankfully, just like
third grade, you don’t really have to read them. If they ask, just say,
“The enemies of freedom won’t be appeased. We must stand firm, like
Meanwhile, we suggest sneaking a look at The Limits of Power by
Andrew Bacevich. It’s stern stuff, but he gets to the point: America
can’t spend money it doesn’t have, beat everyone up, and expect to stay
healthy, wealthy, and wise. If you want a good book on how America
screwed up in Iraq, there is Fiasco by Thomas Ricks. You said some nice
things about Ron Paul during the primary. He gave Giuliani a list of
books that might be worth your time.
You’ll have to keep your extracurriculars quiet. We know how these
things work. Since he helped you break into the big leagues, you have
to toe McCain’s line. But the outgoing administration has shown us how
powerful a veep can be. If you go all the way, President McCain will be
in your debt. (If he forgets, ask him how many rallies he held while
you were home in Alaska. He wisely opted not to deliver speeches in
phone booths.) Don’t leave your maverick spirit on the campaign trail.
Despite all the briefing books being thrown at you, you know your
own mind—and you realize that the neoconservative agenda doesn’t square
with your worldview. You prize localism, their vision is grandiose. You
value fiscal discipline, neocons will ruin the country to finance
endless war. You honor life, and they think nothing of killing hundreds
of thousands in the service of ideology. But they’ll tell you this
alien vision—imported from the Left—is coherent and conservative.
It is neither, but your supporters are both. They’ve turned against
this war and definitely don’t want another. Yet your running mate does.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that his interest in domestic policy pales
alongside his foreign-policy ambitions. Or maybe you caught his
virtuoso performance of “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”
You surely see that the Bush policies have come to a dead end. If
the millions poised to vote for you wanted four more years, the
president’s approval rating wouldn’t be 25 percent. This isn’t because
Republicans dislike Bush personally or disagree with his positions on
energy and taxes. It’s because they know that his main legacy—the Iraq
War—is a disaster.
Thankfully, they don’t think you’re like him. They see in you
someone like themselves—a patriot and a mother. The Middle Americans
waiting hours to hear you speak don’t want the United States to be
defeated, and they don’t want Iraq to be a haven for al-Qaeda—something
it never was before the invasion. They are pleased that the surge has
made it more possible to leave because they don’t want to send their
boys back for a third or fourth tour. They want America to come
home—not because she’s weak but because she’s wise. They hope that you
SOURCE: The American Conservative Magazine