« Beldar to guest-blog at HughHewitt.com until the election | Main | Ike: Calm before the storm »

Friday, September 12, 2008

In Gibson interview, Gov. Palin was right: There is no single clear meaning for "the Bush Doctrine"

So I argue in my first substantive post while guest-blogging at HughHewitt.com.


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]

[Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar]

If Charlie Gibson had asked me, "What do you think about the Bush Doctrine, Beldar?" I'd have said, "What exactly are you referring to, Charlie?" And that's pretty much what Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said Thursday in response to that same question:

GIBSON:  Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN:  In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON:  The Bush — well, 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 country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with us?

PALIN: Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligent and legitimate evidence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country.

Critics from the Left such as Josh Marshall have described as "painful" the "awkward moment when Charlie Gibson tries his best not to press the point that Sarah Palin doesn't know what he's referring to when he asks her about the 'Bush Doctrine'" — as if it should have been perfectly obvious, and as if Gov. Palin is a dimwit for not immediately knowing what Gibson meant. TPM ElectionCentral co-blogger Greg Sargent is more explicitly insulting: "The real news from Charlie Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin is this stretch, where she is clearly clueless about what the Bush Doctrine is." And predictably, Andrew Sullivan is neck-deep in disdain:

[A]ny serious person who has followed the debates about US foreign policy knows what the Bush doctrine is. But we do not have a serious pick for the vice-presidency in the GOP, do we? We have an absurdity. And a joke.

Beware top-of-the-head reactions from leftist pundits that depend on their knowledge of even recent history!  Even those with PhDs in American history like Josh Marshall frequently demonstrate themselves to be the clueless ones — and that's exactly what has happened here: In fact, there are at least two major but distinct concepts that have been labeled as "the Bush Doctrine," along with a bundle of other related themes too.

Based on the date reference, Gibson was probably referring — as ABC News confirms on its "Political Radar" blog — to a formal White House position paper from September 2002 entitled "The National Security Strategy." But as guest-blogger WLS at Patterico's points out, that document is

actually a 31-page policy paper that spells out how the United States intends to pursue and protect its national security interests in a post-9/11 world. It is both the justification for preemptive war, as well as a justification for including rogue nations in the same class as terrorist organizations. And it’s a lot more.

The National Security Strategy was updated in 2006, and that document is also extremely broad. So let's look together at the two major but distinct themes that, separately or together, have been described as "the Bush Doctrine," and also at some of the other less distinct themes that have been included as well.


Holding Rogue States Accountable for Non-State Actors' Actions: After 9/11/01, I clearly recall that people began talking about the new and still-evolving "Bush Doctrine" almost immediately. Contrary to Charlie Gibson's suggestion to Gov. Palin, however, that was when the nation was discussing whether to go after al Qaeda and its enabling hosts, the Taliban, in Afghanistan. The discussion then was not about preemptive operations, but rather about retaliatory operations against both non-state actors and the state actors who harbored or helped them.

In his address to a joint session of Congress and the American people on September 20, 2001, President Bush made demand upon the Taliban, as the effective government of Afghanistan, to cease its support of al Qaeda and to cooperate with us in apprehending its leaders. And he clearly and deliberately put all state actors on notice that the United States would thereafter hold them responsible for their harboring and support of non-state actor terrorist organizations:

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.  We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause.) From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

That was something new, and it certainly was being translated into dramatic, violent action on the ground a full year earlier than Gibson's question to Gov. Palin suggested. Indeed, without the clarification Gibson gave that he was referring to preemptive action, I'd have almost certainly have assumed that he was talking about the last sentence of the paragraph I've just quoted when he asked his question about the "Bush Doctrine."


Acting Preemptively to Stop Grave and Gathering Threats: By June 2002, however, after the Taliban was toppled (albeit not finally defeated) and the December 2001 Bonn Agreement had put underway the creation of a  democratic government in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration turned its attention again to continuing violations of U.N. resolutions by Iraq. Preemptive use of force began to be discussed more directly as an aspect of the "Bush Doctrine." In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush spoke memorably and powerfully of the need to confront "grave and gathering dangers" preemptively:

We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather.  I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.

Certainly President Bush's commencement address at West Point on June 1, 2002, marked an important further enunciation of that part of the overall policy:

For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence — the promise of massive retaliation against nations — means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.

We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.

And of course, in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, President Bush clearly signaled the imminence of preemptive action against Saddam Hussein's regime:

The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq's ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi's legal — Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.

So surely there are strong associations between President Bush on the one hand, and the concept of preemptive military action on the other. But at best for Gibson, or for anyone else who's been criticizing Gov. Palin for asking for clarification, a willingness to act preemptively is only one aspect of "the Bush Doctrine," and it wasn't even the earliest aspect.


Other Meanings of the "Bush Doctrine": Even the rogue nation and preemption policies aren't the totality of, or the only definitions for, the "Bush Doctrine." Norman Podhoretz, in trying to define the Bush Doctrine in 2006 for purposes of examining whether it was dead, famously wrote that it has "three pillars": a rejection of cultural relativism and a willingness to use terms like "good" and "evil" more assertively; a willingness to attribute non-state actors' terrorism to their rogue state sponsors; and the "determination to take preemptive action against an anticipated attack."  Does Podhoritz' "first pillar" — moral clarity — not count as an additional possible definition of the "Bush Doctrine"?

Moreover, from at least the beginning of the Iraq War and continuously thereafter, the promotion and maintenance of liberty and democracy — something closely related to the Truman Doctrine of the Cold War era — has also been described as part of the "Bush Doctrine." A large number of Bush speeches, including his second inaugural address, stressed the American intention to support "democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Some observers have characterized this as "the Bush Doctrine."

On January 31, 2003, Thomas Donnelly published an essay called "The Underpinnings of the Bush Doctrine" for the American Enterprise Institute which treated the term as a description broad enough to include almost all of American foreign policy:

If nothing else, the Bush Doctrine, articulated by the president over the past eighteen months in a series of speeches and encapsulated in the new National Security Strategy paper released in September, represents a reversal of course from Clinton-era policies in regard to the uses of U.S. power and, especially, military force. So perhaps it is no surprise that many Americans — and others in the rest of the world as well — are struggling to keep up with the changes. Indeed, it often appears that many in the administration cannot keep up with the president. But in fact the Bush Doctrine represents a return to the first principles of American security strategy. The Bush Doctrine also represents the realities of international politics in the post-cold-war, sole-superpower world. Further, the combination of these two factors — America's universal political principles and unprecedented global power and influence — make the Bush Doctrine a whole greater than the sum of its parts; it is likely to remain the basis for U.S. security strategy for decades to come....

... [L]et it be stipulated that Americans always have taken an expansive view of their security interests and been more than willing to exercise military power where the correlation of forces is favorable. Blessed now with a global balance heavily weighted in favor of the United States, the Bush administration has declared itself ready to remove the rogue regimes and terrorists it regards as uniquely dangerous. For Americans, normal power calculations of "threats" and "opportunities" have been colored by an abiding faith in a set of political principles believed to have universal application. Americans have come to regard the exercise of their power as not simply a force for national greatness but for human liberty.

And there are still more variations and permutations and formulations. Sometimes the "Bush Doctrine" has been characterized as being a willingness to act unilaterally, without permission or cooperation from the United Nations or other organizations. At other times, especially in the mouths of critics, the "Bush Doctrine" has been characterized as a willingness to turn to military force too soon, a willingness not just to act preemptively but to rush to war without necessarily exhausting all conceivable diplomatic efforts.

But by contrast, if we look at the 2006 National Security Strategy, we don't find much about unilateral or precipitous action, but instead we find an emphasis on even such things as promoting free trade and meeting the challenges of globalization.

By asking about the "Bush Doctrine," then, Gibson could legitimately have been understood to have been asking about any of these themes and topics — or all of them collectively, in which case Gov. Palin's first guess (that Gibson meant Bush's "world view") would have been exactly right. Given the lack of a single clear meaning for the term "Bush Doctrine," Gibson might as well just have asked, "What do you think about President George W. Bush's foreign policy?"


Anyone who criticizes Sarah Palin, then, for asking Charlie Gibson to be more specific about the "Bush Doctrine" is trying to mislead you in at least two ways:

  • They're pretending that the term "Bush Doctrine" has a single clear, unambiguous meaning that anyone who follows national affairs ought to have immediately recognized. It doesn't, as I think this post and the materials I've linked here more than adequately establish.

  • They're pretending that because Gov. Palin didn't immediately try to guess which of several plausible meanings Gibson meant to give that term, but instead asked for clarification, she therefore must have been unprepared to discuss any of them. Gov. Palin herself disproved that premise, because upon receiving the requested clarification, she immediately responded with clarity and self-assurance.

If they had bothered to look, even the Wikipedia could have cured Josh Marshall, Greg Sargent, or Andrew Sullivan of their illusion that there's a single, simple meaning to the term "Bush Doctrine." When it comes to any discussion of Gov. Sarah Palin, these folks have shown us yet again that they just can't be trusted to get their basic facts right.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 08:41 AM in 2008 Election, Global War on Terror, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to In Gibson interview, Gov. Palin was right: There is no single clear meaning for "the Bush Doctrine" and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) JS made the following comment | Sep 12, 2008 9:43:28 AM | Permalink

Exactly! I was screaming this very thing. HE was the one who appeared off balance-he was expecting Sarah to fall into a "gotcha" moment, and instead, she calmly asked for clarification. Another "MSM" moment...

(2) jmb made the following comment | Sep 12, 2008 12:10:28 PM | Permalink

AmericanThinker.com provided this link.

It's an excellent comparison of Obama & Palin on Pakistan/Russia/etc.

(3) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 12, 2008 12:49:04 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: It is another "MSM moment" but it underlines a weakness this conflict has had from the start: a simple, clear reason of why we are fighting. This is especially important because the anti-war gang is not at all hesitant about using bad faith to "win" its arguments. Hence Gibson with his idiotic "Does the US have the right to invade Pakistan with or without its consent?" The simple answer is: It depends, what are the circumstances? But the press sees that as evasion, being unwilling to put down some circumstances, and then stick to them. Note the lack of any similar questions to the Russian ambassador during the recent Russian invasion of that breakaway province of Georgia.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(4) JS made the following comment | Sep 13, 2008 12:08:35 AM | Permalink

Bottom line: Sarah has already undergone far more scrutiny than B Hussein has in 20 months. Joke...

(5) Kathy made the following comment | Sep 13, 2008 9:03:51 AM | Permalink

Wasn't Clinton's bombing of the factory in Sudan pre-emptive? How did this become a bad concept or a concept to deride President Bush when almot all the candidates for President for the preceeding and current campaign agreed that Iraq was a danger to the United States. I believe even Saddam concurred that his regime was a danger to the United States.

(6) Neo made the following comment | Sep 13, 2008 3:20:41 PM | Permalink

You've really got to go look at the unedited transcript of the Gibson/Palin interview.

ABC is trash. Charlie Gibson should go to Candy Mountain.

(7) Peggy McGilligan made the following comment | Sep 16, 2008 12:18:21 AM | Permalink

The “Bush Doctrine” question, among others was unprofessional. Mr. Gibson didn’t know enough about the “Bush Doctrine” to field a question. Mr. Gibson had to answer Governor Palin’s question about specifics, with yet another question. Either Charlie Gibson was unprepared to articulate the “Bush Doctrine,” or so intent on leading the interview or both was he, that when Ms. Palin asked for clarification Charlie blew it. By tossing the erroneous question back into her lap, Mr. Gibson appeared at least a lazy journalist. So, I’m not surprised Charlie Gibson misquoted the prayer either. Sarah Palin did an excellent job of articulating her take on the “Bush Doctrine.” Don’t do your homework, it’ll show. And, and I noticed the demeaning TV camera techniques. One might have expected a hint of impartiality; I instead had to do a double take to see whether they hadn’t in fact sawed the legs off Ms. Palin’s chair: http://theseedsof9-11.com

The comments to this entry are closed.