Palin on the Bush Doctrine
Sarah Palin, who has largely been kept away from the press in the week following the Republican convention, finally gave a major interview last night to ABC’s Charlie Gibson, mostly focusing on foreign policy. It’s been the big topic of discussion in the blogosphere overnight and this morning.
The Bush Doctrine
Palin was asked a rather straightforward question: “Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?” You can judge her answer for yourself:
Foreign Policy‘s Blake Hounshell pays her a lefthanded compliment:
Setting aside Palin’s obvious lack of knowledge here, her answer was interesting, because she inadvertently reverted to longstanding U.S. policy, pre-Bush Doctrine: “Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country,” she said. “In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend.” An eminently sensible answer.
Ezra Klein of the left-of-center American Prospect is similarly mixed:
Should this disqualify her? Of course. Will it? Of course not. She basically handles herself fine. Indeed, the segment is testament to nothing so much as to the cookbook approach Republicans are now allowed to take on foreign policy questions. Faced with a concept she doesn’t know, and a question she doesn’t understand, she quickly and confidently segues into an impassioned denunciation of “Islamic extremism” and its associated maladies. It may be that the media sells this clip as proof of her unfitness for office — they do control how these things will be understood, contrary to their protestations — but viewers watching this on their lonesome wouldn’t notice anything particularly awry, and that’s because we demand exactly nothing in the way of intellectual heft or analytical precision from our presidential candidates.
The Atlantic‘s James Fallows, though, is less forgiving:
What Sarah Palin revealed is that she has not been interested enough in world affairs to become minimally conversant with the issues. Many people in our great land might have difficulty defining the “Bush Doctrine” exactly. But not to recognize the name, as obviously was the case for Palin, indicates not a failure of last-minute cramming but a lack of attention to any foreign-policy discussion whatsoever in the last seven years.
Rather clearly, Palin was “coached up” during the last week so that she could give rehearsed answers to foreign policy questions and Gibson caught her with a phrase that wasn’t on her vocabulary list. Should she have known what “the Bush Doctrine” was without hesitation? I suppose. Then again, I’m not sure why it matters.
What does matter is whether she has an informed view about the substance of the doctrine, namely, preemptive use of force and, especially, a general philosophy of when it’s appropriate to go to war. Whether she passed the test on that score is debatable. But, clearly, she’s got an answer for these questions.
The Experience Question
Dan Drezner is right to be credulous of Republican foreign policy operatives like Bob Kagan railing against an elite foreign policy class claiming they’re better judges of foreign policy experience than neophytes like Palin. Of course experience matters and, rather obviously, Palin has next to no experience in foreign policy or national security policy, Alaska’s proximity to Russia and Canada notwithstanding.
It’s also a rather strange position for Republicans, and Team McCain in particular, to take after spending months building their campaign around the argument that the country could not afford to elect a man with so little foreign policy experience as Barack Obama as commander-in-chief during these perilous times.
Conversely, it’s rather awkward for Team Obama to now be arguing that Palin is too inexperienced to be vice president. After all, the main reason that he’s more prepared for foreign policy quizzes than Palin is because he’s had two years’ advance notice about the exam.
Fallows makes the interesting analogy with sports fans:
Mention a name or theme — Brett Favre, the Patriots under Belichick, Lance Armstrong’s comeback, Venus and Serena — and anyone who cares about sports can have a very sophisticated discussion about the ins and outs and myth and realities and arguments and rebuttals.
People who don’t like sports can’t do that. It’s not so much that they can’t identify the names — they’ve heard of Armstrong — but they’ve never bothered to follow the flow of debate. I like sports — and politics and tech and other topics — so I like joining these debates. On a wide range of other topics — fashion, antique furniture, the world of restaurants and fine dining, or (blush) opera — I have not been interested enough to learn anything I can add to the discussion.
That’s a fair point and, like Fallows, I follow sports and not so much furniture and opera. Then again, neither Fallows nor I know much about moose hunting. Arguably, at least, the latter is more useful than the former.
Palin is a state governor who was previously a small town mayor and city councilman. There’s no evidence that she had serious aspirations to national office prior to being tabbed as McCain’s VP nominee. So, really, it’s not all that surprising that she kept up with the foreign affairs debate only at the margins up until now. Even if she eagerly awaited every issue of The National Interest with a yellow highlighter in hand, nobody would have known.
Obama grew up overseas. Presumably, he had some natural interest in international affairs even growing up. Nonetheless, his focus until beginning his campaign for the United States Senate was squarely on local issues.
Ultimately, few presidents have significant foreign policy experience when they take the job. McCain has far more than Obama — but neither have had executive responsibility in that milieu. If the tickets were flipped, Joe Biden would have the clear advantage over Palin on IR knowledge but Palin would have the advantage on executive experience.
My strong preference, as those who’ve been reading the last couple of weeks have gathered, would have been for a more seasoned choice than Palin. Indeed, Palin was near the bottom of my favorites among those on McCain’s short list. Conversely, I thought Biden was a slam dunk good pick by Obama.
Ironically, at least thus far, the general public has had the opposite reaction. Biden created no buzz for Obama and little enthusiasm even from his own base, since he went against the youthful change dynamic Obama has been selling. Palin, while seemingly undermining McCain’s “experience” message has, by contrast, been a huge hit not only with the base but with undecideds. The pick not only killed the Democrats’ convention bounce but gave the Republicans a much larger one.
It’s not over yet, of course, and Palin’s still going to have to make her way through the media gauntlet and a vice presidential debate. Her lack of preparation could still cause her bubble to burst. But not having a wonkish knowledge of the terms of art in the debate are probably an advantage rather than a liability with undecided voters.
UPDATE: It appears that there have in fact been Four Bush Doctrines.