Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palin And The Bush Doctrine

No portion of Sarah Palin's interview with ABC News' Charlie Gibson has received as much attention as the exchange on the "Bush Doctrine" which took place in the first of the interview's three segments. Here are the transcript and the YouTube video:

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view.

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that's the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

GIBSON: The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?

PALIN: Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend.

In light of all the debate about whether Governor Earmark should have known what the "Bush Doctrine" is, I figured I would hunt down the doctrine as it was first enunciated. Apparently, the National Security Strategy was released by the White House on 9/20/02. In an article written in December, 2002, Keir A. Lieber, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and Robert J. Lieber, Professor of Government & foreign Service at Georgetown University, argued that it contained four elements:

1. preemption, "use of military force against terrorists or state sponsors of terrorism that attempt to gain or use WMD." (This is inaccurate on three counts: a)not premptive war, but preventive war; b) the state does not need to be a sponsor of terrorism or attempt to gain or use destructive weapons; c)not "WMD," chemical and biological weapons- which, unlike nuclear weapons, are not of mass destruction- also qualify);

2. military primacy, apparently intent to build up military force sufficiently to deter any potential rival from attempting to compete with us;

3. a new multilateralism, in which "the Bush administration appears to reject the single-minded pursuit of multilateralism for its own sake; that is, as something inherently necessary for international legitimacy or morality;"

4. the spread of democracy, which "commits the United States to spread democracy worldwide and promote the development of "free and open societies on every continent." (This really is the core of "neoconservatism.")

Obviously, the Liebers write favorably about the Bush Doctrine- but then this was late, 2002, when it looked like Iraq and Afghanistan were going to turn out fairly well. And they make the philosophy look fairly complicated.

Nevertheless, the core of the Bush Doctrine has come to be known as principle #1, the euphemistically-termed "preemption." Here is George F. Will, in a column entitled "The Bush Doctrine at Risk," on June 22, 2003 (after it began to appear that our Iraq policy had sprung a leak) writing

And overshadowing the military achievement is the failure -- so far -- to find, or explain the absence of, weapons of mass destruction that were the necessary and sufficient justification for preemptive war. The doctrine of preemption -- the core of the president's foreign policy -- is in jeopardy.

And here and here is a YouTube video of President Bush arguing "we must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and contront the worst threats before they emerge"- and Senator McCain agreeing with him.

Unless Governor Earmark is a foreign policy intellectual on par with academics holding a Ph.D. in international relations (and maybe not even then), she, like Bush, McCain, Will, and most of us, would understand the Bush Doctrine to be about preemptive/preventive war.

She didn't. But I don't find that the most disturbing aspect of her answer, or rather, her process of fishing around for an answer. James Fallows, writing in atlantic.com on 9/12/08, captures the concern effectively:

What Sarah Palin revealed is that she has not been interested enough in world affairs to become minimally conversant with the issues. Many people in our great land might have difficulty defining the "Bush Doctrine" exactly. But not to recognize the name, as obviously was the case for Palin, indicates not a failure of last-minute cramming but a lack of attention to any foreign-policy discussion whatsoever in the last seven years.

She didn't know and, at least up till now, didn't care. And that is in an individual who hopes to be the first in succession to the presidency of the United States. And an individual who was chosen by an erratic 72-year-old who has put politics above country while cynically claiming "Country First."

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