Defining the "Bush Doctrine."

This piece originally appeared at joshuatrevino.com.

Much ink has been spilled in the past 24 hours over a segment from ABC’s Charlie Gibson’s interview with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. The clip reveals Palin momentarily confused when confronted with a query about “the Bush Doctrine,” by which Gibson refers to the present Administration’s practice of preemptive war (or, to be euphemistic, “anticipatory self-defense”). You may view the excerpt here, or simply read the relevant transcript:

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?

The consequence of this exchange has been the predictable and familiar litany of hand-wringing over Palin’s purported ignorance of basic foreign policy principles, and her concurrent fitness (or lack thereof) to lead the country. See Andrew Sullivan for a succinct demonstration of the shrieking; the rest may be found via the usual suspects.

Sullivan writes: “[A]ny serious person who has followed the debates about US foreign policy knows what the Bush doctrine is.” Charlie Gibson apparently agrees. They’re both wrong. The fact is that the “Bush Doctrine” is a term which has had an evolving definition over this decade. Though it’s obvious Palin was momentarily baffled by the query, she was far closer to the truth when she interpreted the phrase as signifying the President’s “world view.” What we know as the “Bush Doctrine” has many meanings. A brief survey reveals the following:

In March 2002, the New York Times’s Frank Rich described the “Bush Doctrine” as the proposition, enunciated by the President, that “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

In March 2002, UK Guardian’s Tony Dodge declared that the “Bush Doctrine” was a set of American-imposed principles for the conduct of small states, “concern[ing] the suppression of all terrorist activity on their territory, the transparency of banking and trade arrangements, and the disavowal of weapons of mass destruction.”

In January 2003, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute defined the “Bush Doctrine” as a principle of American global hegemony, with “anticipatory self-defense” as one of its enforcement mechanisms.

In February 2003, PBS’s Frontline’s “The War Behind Closed Doors” described the “Bush Doctrine” as the whole set of premises undergirding the 2002 National Security Strategy — of which “anticipatory self-defense” is merely one facet.

In March 2003, Slate’s Michael Kinsley put a unique spin on the “Bush Doctrine,” by asserting it signified the President’s claimed right to go to war without permission from international or domestic institutions.

In June 2004, the Washington Post’s Robin Wright wrote that the “Bush Doctrine” was comprised of “four broad principles,” of which “anticipatory self-defense” was only one.

In March 2005, Charles Krauthammer, in Time, described the “Bush Doctrine” as encompassing the policy of democracy-promotion in the Middle East.

In December 2006, Philips H. Gordon of the Brookings Institution defined the “Bush Doctrine” as encompassing a set of four basic assumptions, of which “anticipatory self-defense” was half of one.

In June 2007, Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada referred to the “Bush Doctrine” as the principle of democratization in the Middle East.

In July 2007, Senator Barack Obama described the “Bush Doctrine” as, as reported by ABC News, “only speaking to leaders of rogue nations if they first meet conditions laid out by the United States.”

In January 2008 and in May 2008, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe described the “Bush Doctrine” as the President’s warning to “the sponsors of violent jihad: ‘You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists.'”

Two things to note: first, that “any serious person who has followed the debates about US foreign policy” should know that describing the “Bush Doctrine” as the President’s “world view” is actually rather apt; second, that even the Democratic nominee for president botches the definition by the Gibson standard. Logically, those denouncing Palin for unfitness to be vice president now, in these grounds, ought to be doubly concerned that Barack Obama is unfit to be president. This won’t happen, of course, because this entire affair is a passing tactical “gotcha” rather than a serious critique.

There’s a lot more where this came from — see Ricard Starr’s epic catalogue of ABC’s own variations on the term’s definition — but this is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Charlie Gibson and Palin’s critics got it wrong. Sarah Palin got it right.