I talked to Steve Biegun, the former Bush NSC aid who briefed Sarah Palin on foreign policy, and he considers the leaks against her on the international stuff “absurd.”
He says there’s no way she didn’t know Africa was a continent, and whoever is saying she didn’t must be distorting “a fumble of words.” He talked to her about all manner of issues relating to Africa, from failed states to the Sudan. She was aware from the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, which is followed closely in evangelical churches, and was aware of Clinton’s AIDS initiative. That basically makes it impossible that she thought all of Africa was a country.
On not knowing what countries are in NAFTA, Biegun was part of the conversation that led to that accusation and it convinces him “somebody is acting with a high degree of maliciousness.” He was briefing Palin before a Univision interview, and talking to her about trade issues. He rolled through NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Colombia FTA. As he talked, people were coming in and out of the room, handing Palin things, etc. She was distracted from what Biegun was saying, and said, roughly, “Ok, who’s in NAFTA, what’s the deal with CAFTA, what’s up the FTA?”–her way, Biegun says, of saying “rack them and stack them,” begin again from the start. “Somebody is taking a conversation and twisting it maliciously,” he says.
In general, according to Beigun, Palin had a steep learning curve on foreign issues, about what you would expect from a governor. But she has “great instincts and great core values,” and is “an instinctive internationalist.” The stories against her are being “fed by an unnamed source who is allowed by the press to make ad hominem attacks on background.” Biegun, who spent dozens and dozens of hours briefing Palin on these issues, is happy to defend her, on the record, under his own name.
UPDATE: J-Mart has more here.