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Mideast outrage: How can Palin dismiss the power of 'obscurity' and 'fate'?

Craig Medred
Aaron Jansen illustration

The strangest story in the news today might be a once-obscure governor from Alaska claiming it impossible that an obscure, anti-Muslim film trailer could spark riots in the Middle East.

Has half-term, former 49th state Gov. Sarah Palin been so overwhelmed by her new-found status as national talking head and celebrity politician that she's forgotten where from she came? Has her brain been wiped of the years, not all that long ago, when she served in the almost inconsequential job of mayor of Wasilla before the unsuccessful bid for Alaska lieutenant governor? Has she lost sight of how little time she actually spent as Alaska governor before the earth shifted?

If so, maybe she should Google the phrase, "plucked Palin from obscurity."

Palin is a testimonial to the strange ways in which the world works. Fate is an unavoidable phenomenon. It often plays a far greater role in life than most like to believe. Gen. George S. Patton, arguably this country's greatest warrior, was a big believer.

"A man must know his destiny," Patton observed "If he does not recognize it, then he is lost. By this I mean, once, twice, or at the very most three times, fate will reach out and tap a man on shoulder … if he has the imagination, he will turn around and fate will point out to him what fork in the road he should take, if he has the guts, he will take it."

Credit Palin with the guts. Fate reached out to her in the form of a call from Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, and there is no doubt she has made the most of the opportunity. It is only sad she somehow missed the parallels between her own story and that of President Barrack Obama, who was a relatively obscure Senator from Illinois before delivering a speech to the 2004 Democrat presidential convention. In it he said, "The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states."

Then fate intervened for Obama. The speech was inspiring when Obama delivered it, but it became even more so over time as his words, like a later statement from Palin on being able to see Russia from far corners of Alaska, whirled in the media blender. By 2006, NBC News reporter Norah O'Donnell was on "The Chris Matthews Show," talking about a possible Obama presidential bid in 2008 and saying this:

Go back and read his speech before the (2004) Democratic National Convention. Of course there is that line: there is no red America, there is no blue America, there is only the United States of America ... it kind of tracks with the language we have heard from President Bill Clinton lately about the common good.

That meme -- "there is no red America, no blue America, there is a United States of America” -- would help propel Obama to the Democratic Party nomination in 2008, despite the fact Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton, the former First Lady, looked to have the nomination sewed up before the primary campaign began. The meme would eventually help propel Obama to the White House over McCain and sidekick Palin.

Fate.

How could Palin have missed the role fate played in the 2008 election on both sides of the aisle? And yet here she is dismissing the probable role of fate in the latest explosion in the Mideast:

Now, as for this film, as you mentioned in your intro there, that is a red herring and the media is going along with some in the Obama administration, pretending like this is a protest against some phantom video on YouTube? No. It's because the Obama administration dropped the ball. And they have not taken head-on this war on terror, and they have adopted a foreign policy of appeasement where our enemies no longer fear us and our friends can no longer trust us.

First off, the video is real. It's not a phantom. And there appears little doubt it was the match that lit the latest Mideast crisis.

As to the rest of her statement, it would be interesting if Palin -- who might not recognize how fate has intervened to complicate the rise of democracy after the so-called "Arab spring" -- would explain what exactly this country might have done to stop what is happening now. Should the U.S. have supported the dictators who wanted to crush democratic uprisings? Hosni Mubarak kept things pretty much under control in Egypt for two decades. Muammar Gaddafi kept Libya under his thumb for more than three decades.

A legitimate argument can be made that the U.S. interest in Mideast stability could have best been served by helping their heirs or supporters maintain control as Mubarak and Gaddafi aged out of power. Is that the argument Palin wants to make? Who knows? American abandonment of that position goes way back to a bunch of presidents before Obama. It was Republican President George W. Bush who ordered the invasion of Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction that, as it turned out, didn't exist and "free" the Iraqi people from the mother of all dictators, just as his father President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Kuwait to "free" the Kuwaitis from the same dictator.

"Freedom" is an idea the U.S. has been pushing on a global scale for a long time. The downside dangers of the freedom agenda are on display in the Mideast now as they have been in Afghanistan for years. There are those who would contend some people on the planet aren't yet ready to deal with freedom. It's hard to tell whether Palin is one of those people, although she sounds a little like it when she says the Obama administration has "not taken head-on this war on terror."

It hasn't? This country has been ruthlessly killing people with drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and who knows where else. Is the argument that we should have been killing more?

On the other hand, Palin did warn against the dangers of chaos in a fledgling democracy after Gaddafi fell a little more than a year ago, adding that "we should work through diplomatic means to help those who want democracy to come out on top. That said, we should not commit U.S. troops or military assets to serve as peacekeepers or perform humanitarian missions or nation-building in Libya. Our military is already over-committed and strained, and a vaguely designed mission can be the first step toward a quagmire."

It would appear Palin's recommended policy then was the policy the Obama administration largely pursued. It would be really interesting to know what her position is now? But it could be she doesn't understand it anymore than she understands the role of fate in all of this. There are many things the U.S. cannot control. This is largely one of them, unless of course she is arguing the video in question should have been suppressed. If it truly were made a "phantom," the latest outbreak of violence and destruction might have been postponed until some other match lit the fire.

The real problem in that region of the world was simply stated by the Middle East Institute months ago:

After emergency laws are lifted, constitutions are drafted, and elections are held, policymakers in the Middle East will be faced with a tough practical challenge: how to create economic opportunities for the region’s teeming millions? Arab revolutions had a clear economic underpinning: they were fueled by poverty, unemployment, and lack of economic opportunity....It is clear that the Middle East’s political dilemma cannot be properly understood without its economic underpinnings.

Palin ought to grasp this situation well. The social problems of rural Alaska are similarly fueled by poverty, unemployment and lack of economic opportunity." It is a historic problem that when people are out of work, especially young people, social problems erupt. More than 65 percent of working-age people are unemployed in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia -- the Mideast countries that bother to maintain employment data. That sort of unemployment is problematic no matter where it exists. And the problems of the Mideast, like the problems of rural Alaska, aren't going to be fixed until someone figures out a way to get the economy going.

Until then, no matter what Sarah Palin believes, we can't do enough to make people "fear us.”

Contact Craig Medred at craig@alaskadispatch.com