Palin's Instant Foreign Policy Brain Trust Is Assembled

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 10:40 AM PDT

Republican presumptive vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is being prepped for her Republican convention debut tonight, and a team of policy advisors has descended on the Alaskan governor's Hilton hotel room to educate her on John McCain's national security positions, soon presumably to become her own. Among her new advisory brain trust, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff notes, Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign's top national security advisor and Steve Beigun, a former Jesse Helms and Condi Rice aide, as well as a striking number of Bushies:

Matt Scully, a former Bush White House speechwriter who helped draft some of the major foreign-policy addresses during the president's first term, is working on Palin's acceptance speech to the convention Wednesday night.
Mark Wallace, a former lawyer for the Bush 2000 campaign who served in a variety of administration jobs including chief counsel at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and deputy ambassador to the United Nations, has been put in charge of "prep" for the debate against Biden.

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Wallace's wife, Nicolle Wallace, the former White House communications director, has taken over the same job for Palin.

Tucker Eskew, another senior Bush White House communications aide, is serving as senior counselor to Palin's operation.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former chief economist at the Council of Economic Advisers who has been serving as top economics guru for the McCain campaign, has moved over to serve as Palin's chief domestic-policy adviser.

As Isikoff notes, "The proliferation of former Bush White House aides in the Palin team may strike some as ironic—and could even provide some fodder for the Democrats—given the McCain camp's efforts to distance itself from the unpopular president."

With Palin sucking so much oxygen out of the Republican convention, and so many of the contradictions of her positions (on earmarks, for instance) generating media coverage and controversy, I asked a pro-McCain Republican national security think tank expert if his circles were starting to have buyers' remorse about Palin, who is something of a tabula rasa on the issues they most care about. Yesterday, anyhow, he insisted they were not, and that Palin would possibly win McCain not just the enthusiastic support of evangelicals and pro-gun advocates, but possibly Reagan Democrats and more blue-collar and rural suport.

"Nobody can say this is Bush, that this is third term Bush," the Republican think tank hand said. "Sarah Palin is not the Bushies."

But Palin's newly assembled foreign policy brain trust would suggest it is starting to look more like Bush-world every hour.

With a few exceptions such as David Frum and Charles Krauthammer, many Republican hawks have shaken off the initial surprise of McCain's pick of Palin to rally themselves to express confidence in her as yet untested national security positions. ("Napoleon is said to have declared that 'Geography is destiny,'" the Center for Security Policy's Frank Gaffney sent out in an email blast. "That certainly is true of Gov. Palin. Her state is adjacent to Russia, a nation that has in recent years demonstrated a rising aggressiveness towards its neighbors. ...")

And McCain's close friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC), who reportedly wanted McCain to pick Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, told the Post that Palin's lack of experience on foreign policy matters wouldn't be a problem "so long as she relied on his staff" in the event of McCain's absence.

One senses these officials being not just good soldiers for the party, but thinking Palin naturally would turn for guidance to experienced foreign policy hands from the party's more hawkish wing should it ever come to it. But reading accounts of her rise to power in Alaska suggests Palin is not a person who has ever showed much loyalty to those who helped usher her to power. On the contrary, again and again, on an Alaskan oil and gas commission, with former Alaskan Governor Frank Murkowski, and with Sen. Ted Stevens, Palin has demonstrated a pattern of riding powerful coattails to ultimately turn on those who showed her the ropes or gave her a break and succeed them. (When Palin became mayor of Wasilla, for instance, she demanded the resignation of city employees who had signed an advertisement in support of her predecessor, in order to install aides who would be personally loyal to her, the New York Times reports. Palin tried to fire the city's librarian who pledged to resist Palin's expressed interest in banning books, and outright fired the city's police chief who refused her request that he resign). She seems quite capable of sticking it to the people whose loyalty she considers lacking, even some who lent her a hand. Interesting what that might mean to the new team of Washington Republican national security hands now advising and expressing support for her. They think perhaps should the ticket win, they will run her. Her history would suggest that is not a sure thing, that she demands perfect loyalty from others, but doesn't tend to return it. Part Shakespeare, part Machiavelli, two parts "Twin Peaks."

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