Running thoughts on the “Bush Doctrine” question Posted by: Bryan Pick
on Saturday, September 13, 2008
Considering how much reading I do, I surprise even myself to see how often I return to one author for wisdom: Philip Bobbitt. As soon as Charlie Gibson posed the “Bush Doctrine” question to Gov. Palin, my mind immediately turned to Bobbitt’s most recent book, Terror and Consent, in which Bobbitt lends some much-needed clarity to the subject. I wish I could excerpt all seven pages that discuss the Bush Doctrine specifically, but I’m going to have to get by just quoting four paragraphs.
First, what are the constituent elements of the Bush Doctrine? Bobbitt separates them into prescriptive and proscriptive elements:
Proscriptively, it claims that certain states, owing to their unlawful character, do not have the sovereign right to arm themselves (or their terrorist surrogates) with weapons of mass destruction or to support terrorists; that the U.S. has the lawful right to act preemptively to prevent such threatening proliferation and to destroy terrorists wherever they may be found; and that if international organizations do not act to prevent such threats from coming into being, the U.S. will do so unilaterally. [...] Prescriptively, the Bush Doctrine asserts the need to reform the political societies of the world by introducing democracy and the recognition of human rights where these are currently suppressed, especially in the Middle East. (p. 433)
And does this make for a presidential doctrine?
Doctrines like the Monroe Doctrine are supposed to establish neutral, general principles. By “doctrine” I mean a statement of official government policy in foreign affairs and military strategy. “Neutral” describes a proposition that will guide behavior in the future, regardless of who is president or what party is in power. “General” denotes a rule that applies to more than one situation and is conceived to govern a whole class of cases. [...] Because the Bush Doctrine—to be fair, it should be noted that President Bush has never called it such—fails to provide neutral, general principles for action, it is not a doctrine at all. (pp. 438-439)
Instead, what is often called the Bush Doctrine is a mix of often incompatible goals and tactics: pursuing one part of the so-called Bush Doctrine will often undermine another part, and the Doctrine offers no basis on which to decide whether to pursue one goal or the other. If I may use a pointed example, do we promote democracy even where the current nondemocratic government is more likely than a popularly elected government to support our counter-terrorism or counter-proliferation efforts?
So “Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine” is an incoherent question. There is no Bush Doctrine to be applied generally. It operates on no central principle, despite Bush's assertion that our sacred values and our strategic interests are now one, a claim that at best could be applied to a small number of specific cases. Charles Krauthammer sketches out the ad hoc manner in which the doctrine was created, although I think his original use of “Bush doctrine” was weak—transitioning to unilateralism, even rapidly, isn’t a doctrine—and also that we should not accept the proposition that preemption requires a doctrine. As Bobbitt attests, law has long reflected that “any right of self-defense implies a right to act while action is still possible” (p. 435). We have sought to preempt the acquisition of WMD because we wish to prevent anticipated and possibly non-deterrable threats from materializing. (In that sense, my post a month ago was incorrect: in the case of Iraq, our goals were initially preventative with a preclusive follow-up in mind.)
That said, Sarah Palin was very obviously not prepared to answer Gibson’s question. She wasn’t caught off guard because the Bush Doctrine is ill-defined or even ambiguous, but rather because she wasn’t familiar enough with the concepts involved to discuss them. In general, she allowed Gibson’s little exam to put her on the defensive and her answers were often meandering and even off-topic. Several times, when she answered a question, I had (what I think was) a better and more succinct answer in mind. I say this as someone who has been optimistic about Palin: she must improve her performance and display greater poise in the coming weeks. The sharks are circling, and they smell blood. They are prepared to be rankly biased and unfair — to misquote her to her face and to draw patently ridiculous conclusions from her statements. She will be held to a standard no one can meet, so to prevent the press from making her a liability, she must be better than good; she must be great.
While I agree that there is no exact definition of the Bush Doctrine, I think that you’re overanalyzing when you argue fine points such as "it isn’t a doctrine at all". I think it would be reasonable to say that, to the extent that there is a Bush Doctrine, it can briefly be defined as "get them before they get us".
Bryan Pick - [Palin] must improve her performance and display greater poise in the coming weeks. The sharks are circling, and they smell blood. They are prepared to be rankly biased and unfair — to misquote her to her face and to draw patently ridiculous conclusions from her statements. She will be held to a standard no one can meet, so to prevent the press from making her a liability, she must be better than good; she must be great.
Unfortunately, you’re right. This underscores the blatant bias and unfairness of the MSM toward Republicans in general and Sarah Palin in particular: they aren’t allowed any errors or weaknesses. Joe Biden can ask a crippled man to stand up from his wheelchair, and nobody notices. George Bush can mispronounce the word "nuclear", and it’s a national joke. The Annointed One can hem and haw for five minutes about when life begins and end with a ridiculous, "That’s above my pay grade" and still be consistently portrayed as a genius. Sarah Palin can be unsure about a hazy concept like the Bush Doctrine, and it’s unshakable evidence that she’s not qualified to be the vice president.
I’m at least glad that Gibson is being called out for his hatchet job. As I’ve written elsewhere, I wonder just how far the MSM will go to get The Annointed One elected. And I also wonder what their increasingly obvious bias - nay, their increasingly brazen displays of it - mean for the future of democracy in America.
It’s usually thought of as a subconscious effort to place one’s own negative attributes with another, the better to have them anywhere but on one’s self.
In this case, however, it might just be a self-conscious act, a pre-emptive (hey, look, it’s the Obama Doctrine) effort to effectively protect one’s self against something that you own. It was Obama who spoke to the curious but mostly bored crowd in Berlin and declared himself a citizen of the world.
Perhaps he’s pre-emptively (or would it actually be post-emptively, if that’s possible)reacting to the poll that showed him the favorite in every country but this one.
There’s nothing like the smell of desperation in the morning.
On the Bush Doctrine: John Lewis Gaddis calls it a grand strategy, and in fact the most significant reformulation of American grand strategy since FDR. From Gaddis’s article for Foreign Policy as cribbed at Free Republic:
The Bush NSS, echoing the president’s speech at West Point on June 1, 2002, sets three tasks: "We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. We will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent."
I don’t agree with Gaddis’s critcism of Bush’s rejection of Kyoto and the ICC (I didn’t see any mention of the abrogation of the ABM treaty, but he probably didn’t like that either), because I don’t think that there is anything more important to American participation in the sovereign state system than the full and independent sovereignty of the United States.
But Gaddis pretty much defines the Bush Doctrine (grand strategy) and puts it in its proper historical context.
She will be held to a standard no one can meet, so to prevent the press from making her a liability, she must be better than good; she must be great.
I’m all for Palin improving her performance and perfecting her poise as she campaigns, and I expect that she will. What I don’t expect is that the press will either recognize or reward greatness on her part.
Like you say, they’re sharks, "rankly biased and unfair," and the standards they set for her no one can meet. They’ve been putting 110% into making her a liability since the morning McCain blindsided them with her selection. All they’re going to do, no matter much more poised and polished Palin becomes, is turn up the heat between now and November 4th — and no doubt beyond, since McCain and Palin have this thing in the bag.
But just to kill time, let’s see Biden sit down with Mr. Gibson (like ABC News could take a ratings destroyer like that). If you could hold your eyes open long enough, Bryan, I bet that you’d find you had many a "better and more succinct answer in mind" than whatever that albatross around Obama’s neck might manage offer. Gibson would eat it all with a spoon, of course, but that’s not going to get Biden to Number One Observatory Circle.
In the end Palin doesn’t have to be great. She just has to be better than the competition in the eyes of the voters — access to which is no longer the privileged province of the MSM.
While I generally liked her answers, I agree with you that there were better, more serious answers. I also agree with some commenters that it is rare for a politician to provide those better, more serious answers.
I say that because whenever you give a serious answer, it is likely to be involved, and include some statements in opposition with each other — kind of a but-else format.
However, in the last two months of a campaign, any candidate who says anything that is a complete sentence risks that sentence being used out of context against them.
For example, in the non-partisan 9/11 forum, McCain made the obvious point that people who go off to washington can become disconnected from the needs of the common folk. The Obama campaign took that and used it to claim McCain admitted he was out of touch. Obama meanwhile had said that being in the Senate was just a lot of yakking, and McCain’s group shot back with that.
So you pretty much have to answer every question with your well-worn stump speeches, because those words have already been vetted.
Anyway, all that said, — are there ANY politicians that you have listened to in any long-form interview where you didn’t have better answers than they did? I rarely find myself impressed by a politicians detailed knowledge of anything. I figure if they had such knowledge, they would be working on the problem rather than voting on it.