Meet and greet, global edition
In a carefully choreographed series of events that were part academic cram session and part coming-out party, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin completed her first day of meetings here with world leaders without making any major missteps.
Palin met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, among others. Meetings with Mikheil Saakashvili, Jalal Talabani and Asif Ali Zadari—the presidents of Georgia, Iraq and Pakistan, respectively—were still to come. Palin also received a foreign-policy tutorial from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
“He really knew a lot,” said Palin in brief remarks to reporters. “And that accent of his is totally amazing. I didn’t blink the whole time he was talking.”
The various heads of state were in New York to attend this year’s opening ceremony for the United Nations General Assembly. But they quickly found themselves drawn into the American presidential race, as John McCain’s campaign strategists sought a way to buttress their No. 2’s rather skimpy international resume.
The 44-year-old Palin received her first passport only last year and has rarely traveled outside the United States. The opportunity to add more than a dozen encounters—and accompanying photographs—with leaders from around the globe was too tempting to pass up, even as critics derided the effort as “Take Your Running Mate to Work Day.”
It will be several days before the impact, if any, of this “one-stop shopping” will be reflected in public-opinion polls. Meanwhile, McCain and his opponent, Barack Obama, remain locked in a tight battle for the White House.
Late this evening, McCain issued a statement praising Palin, and hitting back at those who questioned the wisdom of his choice.
“Sarah Palin has shown once again that she has what it takes to be a great vice president. Whether feeling the pain of working moms or supporting the fight against terrorists who threaten our very existence, Sarah Palin proves that you don’t need a lot of frequent-flyer miles to look a foreign leader right in the eye.”
Palin was accompanied to her meetings by two senior McCain campaign aides, an indication of the delicacy of the mission. While her strong, upbeat personality has proven to be a great asset for rallying the Republican faithful on the campaign trail, these diplomatic meetings can call for a somewhat different, more informed, approach. Still, the initial reviews were promising.
“She gives a very pleasant appearance,” said an aide to one of the leaders Palin met today. “And she is an excellent listener, with much determination.”
The aide, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly, provided only one moment of possible tension; this occurred when Palin, apparently trying to demonstrate her familiarity with the wider world, mentioned that she had once come down with the Asian flu. (The aide also wondered about Palin’s repeated references to Belgian waffles.)
An aide to another leader was equally positive and was particularly struck by Palin’s eagerness to name all the continents, and her excitement at the end of the meeting when she was given a new sticker for her souvenir book.
“This enthusiasm was quite genuine,” said the aide.
Asked about Palin’s grasp of the complexities of international relations, the aide declined to comment.
Up next for Palin: lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and a visit to Disney World.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.