Sarah Palin proposed NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, at risk of putting the U.S. in conflict with Russia, and declared her readiness for high office Thursday as she took a cautious step out of the protective bubble she’s been in since joining John McCain’s ticket.
“You can’t blink,” said the first-term Alaska governor, asserting in an ABC News interview that she is prepared to be vice president and take on the weight of the presidency should it ever come to that.
It was her first extended interview and followed days of preparation by McCain’s campaign for the foreign policy neophyte, who was scarcely known outside her state and political circles until McCain selected her.
Now a figure of intense national interest who has helped McCain pull even or ahead of Democrat Barack Obama in polls, the 44-year-old Palin has been limited to stages and stump speeches, with little spontaneous interaction with voters — a star on camera who has been sheltered from questioning to the point of appearing cosseted.
Her interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson is the only one scheduled for her to date.
“We will not repeat a Cold War,” she said. But she said she favored including Georgia and Ukraine, former Soviet republics, in NATO despite opposition by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Asked whether the United States would have to go to war with Russia if it invaded Georgia, and the tiny country was part of NATO, Palin said: “Perhaps so.”
“I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help,” she said.
McCain also has talked a tough line in defense of Georgia, while speaking of a role for NATO in less explicit terms. He said last month that NATO should “begin anew the discussions about a membership track for both Georgia and Ukraine.”
Palin said she didn’t hesitate when McCain asked her to be his running mate.
“I answered him ‘yes’ because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink,” she said. “So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”
In the interview, Palin said she’s never met a foreign head of state.
Afterward, she spoke at a deployment ceremony for her son Track’s Army brigade, soon going to Iraq, and described the mission as “defense of America, in America’s cause. And it’s a righteous cause.”
She did not single out her son and was restricted by the Pentagon from making political remarks on the military base. She appeared in her capacity as governor.
The ceremony honored Fort Wainwright’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The brigade, a 4,000-soldier unit that includes Private First Class Track Palin, is heading to northern Iraq at the end of the month for a yearlong assignment. Track, 19, is Palin’s oldest son.
He will provide security for his brigade’s top officers, an assignment that is expected to take his unit to Diyala, the fourth most violent of Iraq’s provinces.
Maj. Chris Hyde, brigade spokesman, said: “He doesn’t want to be known as the governor’s son. He wants to pave his own route in life. I have to say, I admire him for it.”
In her speech to the Republican National Convention, Palin drew huge cheers when she announced that her son’s brigade was readying for Iraq, and she’s talked about his deployment many times since.
Palin had not done interviews since the first and only one she gave to People magazine on the day McCain introduced her as his vice presidential choice.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said earlier this week that Palin will do more interviews “when we think it’s time and when she feels comfortable doing it,” and asserted: “She’s not scared to answer questions.”
In the ABC interview, Palin was asked about a comment she made in her former church that “our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God” and whether she thought the United States was fighting a holy war.
Palin said “I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak God’s words.”
And she said she did not know whether her Iraq-bound son was on a mission from God.
“What I know is that my son has made a decision,” she said. “I am so proud of his independent and strong decision he has made, what he decided to do and serving for the right reasons and serving something greater than himself and not choosing a real easy path where he could be more comfortable and certainly safer.”
Palin arrived in Alaska on Wednesday to a warm homecoming from a crowd of more than 2,000. It was her first stop without McCain.
She’s expected to rejoin him next week and spend much of the fall campaign at his side, even as Democratic running mate Joe Biden campaigns independently of Obama. Palin has proved a powerful draw at McCain’s rallies, and keeping them together limits media access to her.