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September 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Palin on the Bush Doctrine

As expected, the mainstream media couldn't wait to pounce on Gov. Sarah Palin for her lack of experience in national policy matters. ABC's Charles Gibson scooped his rivals in getting the first lengthy interview with the governor, in her scenic home town of Wasilla, Alaska. He used the opportunity to ask her a classic "Gotcha!" question, soliciting her opinion of the Bush Doctrine -- without saying what it was until it was clear that she didn't know. Gov. Palin was caught off guard but handled herself fairly well, nonetheless, showing poise in a tense situation during her first real "test" in national politics. My only complaint about Gov. Palin's performance in the interview was her over-use of Gibson's informal first name, "Charlie."

As today's Washington Post noted, however, the "Bush Doctrine" has no clear, specific meaning, citing various foreign policy experts who contradicted the premise of Gibson's question. That term is often used to mean, among other things, 1) reserving the right to unilateral action, withdrawing from treaties if need be, 2) declaring states that harbor terrorists to be hostile ("You're either with us or with the terrorists"), 3) reserving the right to preemptive strikes to prevent terrorist attacks, or 4) promoting freedom and democracy as an instrument of peace, etc. Furthermore, WaPo columnist Charles Krauthammer said it was Charlie Gibson who made the gaffe, not Palin. Krauthammer was the first to coin the term Bush Doctrine (referring to unilateralism) in 2001, even before the 9/11 attacks. After Gibson clarified what his understanding of that term was (preemption), Gov. Palin asserted our nation's right to defend itself if intelligence reports indicate that we face an imminent attack, but that is hardly a controversial stand. After all, who in the post-9/11 era would openly say that we should wait until we are hit before acting? The only question is what degree of certainty in intelligence we should expect.

Obama on the Bush Doctrine

Indeed, both parties' candidates agree on this issue more than most people would imagine. On August 1, Obama said that if he were elected president, he would consider sending U.S. troops into Pakistan unilaterally if the Pakistani government fails to contain the Islamic extremists within its borders. See Washington Post. In other words, it would appear that Obama himself agrees with the Bush Doctrine, or at least at least one variant thereof.

A vet speaks to Obama

Hat tip to Craig Shrewsbury.

Pakistan's democracy

Speaking of Pakistan, the election of Asif Ali Zardari to replace Pervez Musharraf last weekend (see Washington Post) is a rare hopeful sign in a country that has been teetering on the brink of anarchy for many months. Islamic extremists are growing in strength, while the armed forces of Pakistan seem unwilling to confront Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Zardari is the widower of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He pledges cooperation with the United States, but has yet to prove that he is a strong leader.

One of the ironies of that election by the Pakistani parliament is that it turned the function of the presidency on its head, rendering the office moot. In a normal parliamentary system, the president is ordinarily a ceremonial figure who only exercises discretionary power when the governing coalition collapses and the parties can't agree on who should be the new prime minister. When Musharraf resigned under threat of impeachment, however, there was no person to fill such an emergency role, creating a dangerous power vacuum. For the time being, the situation is calmer, but it probably won't last for long.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 13 Sep 2008, 8: 55 PM

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