Friday, September 12, 2008

Charlie Gibson Flunks the Bush Doctrine

Charlie Gibson's Gaffe

By Charles Krauthammer
Saturday, September 13, 2008; A17

"At times visibly nervous . . . Ms. Palin most visibly stumbled when she was asked by Mr. Gibson if she agreed with the Bush doctrine. Ms. Palin did not seem to know what he was talking about. Mr. Gibson, sounding like an impatient teacher, informed her that it meant the right of 'anticipatory self-defense.' "

-- New York Times, Sept. 12

Informed her? Rubbish.

The New York Times got it wrong. And Charlie Gibson got it wrong.

There is no single meaning of the Bush doctrine. In fact, there have been four distinct meanings, each one succeeding another over the eight years of this administration -- and the one Charlie Gibson cited is not the one in common usage today. It is utterly different.

He asked Palin, "Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?"

She responded, quite sensibly to a question that is ambiguous, "In what respect, Charlie?"

Sensing his "gotcha" moment, Gibson refused to tell her. After making her fish for the answer, Gibson grudgingly explained to the moose-hunting rube that the Bush doctrine "is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense."


I know something about the subject because, as the Wikipedia entry on the Bush doctrine notes, I was the first to use the term. In the cover essay of the June 4, 2001, issue of the Weekly Standard entitled, "The Bush Doctrine: ABM, Kyoto, and the New American Unilateralism," I suggested that the Bush administration policies of unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM treaty and rejecting the Kyoto protocol, together with others, amounted to a radical change in foreign policy that should be called the Bush doctrine.

Then came 9/11, and that notion was immediately superseded by the advent of the war on terror. In his address to the joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11, President Bush declared: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." This "with us or against us" policy regarding terror -- first deployed against Pakistan when Secretary of State Colin Powell gave President Musharraf that seven-point ultimatum to end support for the Taliban and support our attack on Afghanistan -- became the essence of the Bush doctrine.

Until Iraq. A year later, when the Iraq war was looming, Bush offered his major justification by enunciating a doctrine of preemptive war. This is the one Charlie Gibson thinks is the Bush doctrine.

It's not. It's the third in a series and was superseded by the fourth and current definition of the Bush doctrine, the most sweeping formulation of the Bush approach to foreign policy and the one that most clearly and distinctively defines the Bush years: the idea that the fundamental mission of American foreign policy is to spread democracy throughout the world. It was most dramatically enunciated in Bush's second inaugural address: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."

This declaration of a sweeping, universal American freedom agenda was consciously meant to echo John Kennedy's pledge in his inaugural address that the United States "shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." It draws also from the Truman doctrine of March 1947 and from Wilson's 14 points.

If I were in any public foreign policy debate today, and my adversary were to raise the Bush doctrine, both I and the audience would assume -- unless my interlocutor annotated the reference otherwise -- that he was speaking about the grandly proclaimed (and widely attacked) freedom agenda of the Bush administration.

Not the Gibson doctrine of preemption.

Not the "with us or against us" no-neutrality-is-permitted policy of the immediate post-9/11 days.

Not the unilateralism that characterized the pre-9/11 first year of the Bush administration.

Presidential doctrines are inherently malleable and difficult to define. The only fixed "doctrines" in American history are the Monroe and the Truman doctrines which come out of single presidential statements during administrations where there were few other contradictory or conflicting foreign policy crosscurrents.

Such is not the case with the Bush doctrine.

Yes, Sarah Palin didn't know what it is. But neither does Charlie Gibson. And at least she didn't pretend to know -- while he looked down his nose and over his glasses with weary disdain, sighing and "sounding like an impatient teacher," as the Times noted. In doing so, he captured perfectly the establishment snobbery and intellectual condescension that has characterized the chattering classes' reaction to the mother of five who presumes to play on their stage.


GregoryT said...

We can critique the media handling of the interview soon enough. It is much more important that Sarah Palin know the meaning of our last 6 years of new foriegn poilicy or Bush Doctrine, than it is Charlie Gibson know it, after all... She is the one person potentially a heartbeat away from the most powerful position in the world.... She is a great person...So is my mom...I think neither should be the vice-president.
This isnt a Disney movie where a Hockey mom suddenly get to be VP...This is our country for christs sake, We've seen what incompetence looks like in the oval office the last 7 years, not a pretty sight.

terrance said...

You're right, GregoryT, it isn't a Disney movie. That's why we need some one with really good judgment to lead the nation.

Barack Obama is a nice guy, but he stutters and reverses himself again and again--even in the last two months. He's unsure about what direction to go.

On foreign policy he ended up after a couple of bad tries at it echoing John McCain's position on Georgia. Sen. Obama apparently didn't think of the impact of Russia having a veto in the Security Council. This lack of understanding is something even some hockey moms could have caught.

Then Sen. Obama has admitted that the surge was a wild success. A plan backed by Sen. McCain when it was very unpopular politically and which neither Sen. Obama nor Sen. Biden had the good judgment to support.

And it looks like Sen. Obama is moving toward McCain's position on not raising taxes too.

Even on key personnel picks, we have Sen. Biden admitting that maybe Sen. Obama didn't make the best choice for his vice-presidential pick.

Poor judgment by the one with the presidential heartbeat is an even more key issue that not being able to figure out Charlie Gibson's view of the Bush Doctrine.

Not knowing which of the definitions of the Bush policy that Gibson was referring to, and asking for clarification, seems to me utterly sensible.

You note that Gov. Palin is a hockey mom, but unlike your mother and mine, she is also state governor (one of only 50) and the governor with the highest approval rating in the country. She has taken down corrupt political figures in her own party. Neither Sen. Obama nor Sen. Biden have done that.

I'll take a VP who knows how to confront domestic corruption and a President who not only makes the right foreign policy calls the first time out, but figures out the winning strategy in Iraq when no one else has a clue.

If elected President, Sen. Obama's quagmire may well be Afghanistan--unless he enlists Sen. McCain's expertise on how to win a war.

The rabid critics of Abraham Lincoln didn't know about his greatness. History will judge George W. Bush as one of the great presidents of the 21st century because of the obstacles he has overcome--even though, like Lincoln, the war part took a lot longer than anyone expected.

Pres. Bush has turned an economy that should have slid into depression after the crash and 9/11 into the best decade in the last 40 years in terms of low unemployment. We've had almost no inflation as well.

Further, we have had no terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11, and Iraq (the quagmire, remember?) has a better life now than it has had for decades.

I'm not surprised that those who differ politically with Pres. Bush would think him incompetent because of that. There are still lots of political enemies of Pres. Reagan who cannot believe what the historians clearly say–that Reagan and FDR are the two greatest presidents of the 20th century.

Politics puts blinders on rational judgment. Historians a hundred years from now will have no personal animosity toward any living figure, and so will judge objectively based on the crisis faced and the progress made on the crisis.

Note: My apologies to you, GregoryT because my first response had some satire in it. This is an edited response that I hope lays out my position in reference to yours in a reasonable and civil way.