NEW YORK - Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska met her first foreign head of state yesterday as she crisscrossed New York City receiving foreign policy tutorials in advance of her vice presidential debate next week with Sen. Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Palin - who scheduled a series of meetings with world leaders who were in town for the U.N. General Assembly - sat down first with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who told her of the need for more troops in his country and bonded with her over his baby son, Mirwais. Then she was whisked up to the Colombian Mission to talk free trade and renewable energy with President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. She ended her day meeting with the eminence grise of Republican foreign policy, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who spoke with her about Georgia, Russia and NATO.
It was Palin's introduction to motorcade diplomacy, a round of meetings and photo opportunities designed to produce pictures to portray Palin - who lacks much in the way of foreign policy experience, has traveled abroad little and had never met a foreign head of state before yesterday - at ease with world leaders.
Democrats - and some Republicans - have tried to make Palin's lack of foreign policy experience a campaign issue.
Sen. John McCain's campaign officials have made three main points so far when asked about Palin's foreign policy credentials.
They invoke geography, noting Alaska's proximity to Russia, as Palin did when she told ABC News that "you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska." Other times they cite her resume, noting that as governor she has been commander of the Alaska National Guard for nearly two years. And they often pivot to her work on energy policy, as McCain did last week, when he said, "I'm proud of her obvious knowledge of this nation's energy needs, because that's a national security issue."
But with next week's debate looming, the McCain-Palin campaign has put her on an accelerated course in foreign policy, and scheduled a series of meetings with world leaders and foreign policy mandarins in New York yesterday and today.
The point of the meetings was not so much to cram Palin full of information, according to a McCain campaign adviser who has worked with Palin, but to introduce her to people like Kissinger so that she will feel comfortable calling on them for advice and counsel as the campaign continues.
Palin was accompanied on her rounds by Randy Scheunemann, a senior foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign, and Steve Biegun, a former staff member of President Bush's National Security Council.
"Her primary purpose was to develop a relationship and to listen," said Biegun, who quickly added, "I think she's already fully prepared to be vice president."
At her first meeting, Karzai spoke with Palin about the contributions of the Alaska National Guard, and said he had flown in a C-150 with some of its members, Biegun said.
The next stop was with Uribe of Colombia, who has a warm relationship with McCain. The candidate visited Uribe during an unusual campaign trip to Colombia over the summer to express support for a free-trade agreement.
Palin wrapped up the day with Kissinger. Biegun said they discussed Russia, China and Iran, among other things. As photographers were led in to take pictures of them, Kissinger could be heard saying that he gave someone - just who was unintelligible - "a lot of credit for what he did in Georgia," according to the reporter who was allowed to watch.