In her interview with Katie Couric, Sarah Palin gave two specific examples of her foreign policy experience with respect to Alaska's proximity to Russia. The second - defending the nation from a Putin aerial attack - has been widely discussed.
But the first example, an almost throwaway line about "trade negotiations with Russia," has gone pretty much unnoticed. The problem is, just as with many other things coming from the McCain/Palin campaign, instead of being a justification for her experience, it actually exposes her dangerous unfamiliarity with foreign policy issues.
It's actually easy to examine Palin's record on trade with Russia. The Alaska Office of International Trade compiles annual trade reports that list Alaska's top trade partners and outline examples of trade and cooperation with each of the countries.
In 2007, guess who Alaska's top three trading partners were? If you guessed Russia in any one of those spots, you're wrong. In fact, if you thought Russia was even a top 20 trading partner, you'd be wrong again. It didn't even make the list [PDF]. With imports from Alaska worth $14 million in 2007, Russia would presumably be right behind #20 Ukraine, with $15,751,233 worth of imports. Out of $3.9 billion in Alaska's 2007 exports, Russia accounted for 0.36%.
If trade negotiations are an important qualifier for foreign policy experience, why single out Russia when it's not a major trading partner? There are some big names in the top 20 Palin could have used to bolster her resume.
In fact, there appears to be a big trade story in Palin's first year as Governor. From 2006 to 2007, exports to China increased dramatically - from roughly $474 million to $715.5 million - about a 50% increase (and a dollar amount increase about 17 times the total value of Russia's imports). China, like Russia, is a major superpower - and an annual export increase of 50% is a huge deal, especially when the value is hundreds of millions of dollars. Why isn't Palin talking about this?
It might be because Governor Palin doesn't really deal with trade issues. One other notable aspect of the annual trade reports is the glaring difference in trade negotiation strategy between Palin and her predecessor, Frank Murkowski. In 2006, Murkowski hosted Russian government officials three times, all outlined in the 2006 export report [PDF]. These meetings, held in February, May and later in the summer, included a Russian Governor, the Representative of the President to the Far Eastern Federal District, representatives from the Council of Federation's committee for Northern issues and "an extremely high-ranking delegation of more than 50 officials, including nine governors of the Russian Far East and the elected heads of most of the RFE provincial legislatures."
That was 2006, when Murkowski was still Governor. In 2007, Palin recounted no meetings with Russian officials in the annual trade report. Actually, that's not true - she recounted the meetings that happened in 2006 and other years before she was governor. But not a single one during her first year in office.
So what did Palin mean when she offered "trade missions to Russia" as a qualification for her foreign policy experience? After looking at the evidence, I still don't have a clue. That leaves us back at square one trying to answer, specifically, how "proximity" equals "experience." And with less than 40 days to go, we're running out of opportunities and patience to clarify the vague and illogical statements about Palin's qualifications.