In tonight’s interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC, Sarah Palin seemed alarmingly ignorant of what the Bush doctrine is, much less capable of defending it. Gibson asks her: "Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?"
After an uncomfortably long moment of silence, which should have viewers conjuring Dan Quayle’s potatoe, Palin asks, "In what respect Charlie?"
Gibson responds, "The Bush–well, what do you interpret it to be?"
Palin answers, "His world view."
Gibson presses the point, "No, the Bush Doctrine, enunciated in September 2002, before the Iraq war," after which Palin talks about Bush’s quest to rid the world of Islamic extremism before pivoting to the virtues of democracy and the need for change.
Sensing a weak moment, Gibson proceeds to describe the Bush doctrine as "that we have the right to 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?"
Palin’s response: "I agree that a President’s job, when they swear in their oath to uphold the Constitution, their top priority is to defend the United States of America…"
Gibson keeps at it: "Do we have a right to anticipatory self defense? Do we have a right to make a preemptive strike against another country if we feel that country might strike us?"
Palin: "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."
Palin’s response has much of the liberal blogosphere and even the mainstream media on high alert, and perhaps rightly so. It certainly demonstrates her non-existent command of national security lingo, and indeed, as blogger Hilzoydocuments, Palin confused preventive and preemptive war, stating in fact the doctrine of preemptive war (which is not the neo-con doctrine that prevents war through preemption; confusing I know!)
That said, I worry the peanut gallery is misreading the Bush doctrine and Palin’signorant response to Gibson. The central fact is that coherence,clarity and rationality were not, in fact, what sold the Bush doctrinein the first place. I don’t mean to the PNAC crowd or the national securityestablishment that included Condi, Colin and most of Congress. I meanto the press and public. They were won by lies, dissemblance and theentirely emotional appeal to USA FIRST at all costs–that and thecosts of treading against it.
So, even if Palin looked like a moose in headlights, even if sheeventually confused preventive and preemptive war–itmight not matter. Palin ultimately hit the right emotional notes–thesame rah-rah points that secured the Bush doctrine in the first place.1) Islam=evil; 2) Defend the country at all costs. Duty before actual security; 3)the President is right and has to be trusted and supported.
I’m not suggesting that Palin’s blinking response was some kind ofcanny, planned strategery–but on a gut level, when pressed andvulnerable, she intuitively echoed the Bush doctrine’s originalappeal–even if she could not articulate it’s rationale much lessdefend it. Put another way, I’m not sure Bush could have succinctly definedthe Bush doctrine–it didn’t matter; that’s not what was crucial toits success.
Whether Palin’s response matters NOW is not dependent on her ignorance ofit, her ability to state or defend it, but rather if enough of thecountry has moved past the enabling myths it told. I am just not surewe are there yet, or if Obama has enough of a compelling story to getus there.