September 11, 2008

Palin's Doctrine

I missed the broadcast-- had my weekly interview show to do. And would have probably missed it anyway, because the format and the process of selecting ABC didn't seem like journalism to me. But  even in that friendly setting, it looks like she couldn't walk the very narrow "Georgia and Ukraine in NATO" line. TPM  has the detail  and the key commentary.  I.e. it is a very stupid idea to have Georgia and the Ukraine join NATO unless there is a fundamental change in what "NATO" is and what NATO membership means.

Palin seems to be dimly aware of the problem with putting a hair trigger inside what  nuclear- armed Russia regards as its sphere of influence. But she is in a bind, one which is ironically largely  of McCain's and the media's making. Because nobody has pressed him for what his "League of Democracy" means and what NATO membership would entail, she didn't have an answer to the obvious "An attack on one is an attack on all, right?" question.

Or at least  she didn't have an answer that either made sense, or reflected a standard formula, as with, say China and Taiwan. She was forced to freelance, and despite help from Charlie, just dug herself in deeper.

This is actually good news; the biggest problem we have had over the last 8 years is the combination of Republican lies and Republican chest pounding has prevented any public discussion of any substantive foreign policy or national security question. From the invasion and occupation of Iraq to the placement of provocative, but useless, anti-missile missiles in Europe, there has been no policy discussion.

Palin's inability to answer this question is not a result of her not remembering her talking points. There ARE no talking points that make sense in response to the question, "But doesn't that mean we risk a nuclear war if we add Georgia under the current NATO doctrine?"  So she had to make some up. And, since all she has is McCain's "Fight" and "Victory" and "Democracy" bluster to draw on,  she was in deep trouble.

Not her fault. 


Steve Benen discusses her rejection (apparently unknowingly) of the Bush Doctrine of preventative war.

One the of the inside the beltway rules McCain has broken with this selection is that you can't really pick a complete incompetent to be VP.   Just as a basic requirement of governance, you have to pick somebody who could at least plausibly take on the role. Agnew may be a counter-example to that, but even Quayle had spent 12 years in the Senate and, if he didn't know stuff like what the equivalent of Bush's sea change in American foreign policy consisted of, he had by then acquired staff who did. 

Palin is coming with nothing. No personal knowledge. No trusted adviser. No national security staffer she can rely on. No intelligence staffer. Just her, and her moose-gutting knife.  That's not the kind of VP we can believe in.


A TPM reader provides MAP detail. It is very like the EC admission process, as posited in comments, and includes the proviso that the incoming country be free of border or territorial disputes.


stuart_zechman said...


What's Obama's position on NATO membership for Georgia?

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...

He has said that he supports NATO membership. But he says it in a more nuanced way.

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...


Going forward, the United States and Europe must support the people of Georgia. Beyond immediate humanitarian assistance, we must provide economic assistance, and help rebuild what has been destroyed. I have consistently called for deepening relations between Georgia and transatlantic institutions, including a Membership Action Plan for NATO, and we must continue to press for that deeper relationship.
The relationship between Russia and the West is long and complicated. There have been many turning points, for good and ill. This is another turning point.

Let me be clear: we seek a future of cooperative engagement with the Russian government, and friendship with the Russian people. We want Russia to play its rightful role as a great nation - but with that role comes the responsibility to act as a force for progress in this new century, not regression to the conflicts of the past. That is why the United States and the international community must speak out strongly against this aggression, and for peace and security.

Rose said...

jay ackroyd, great post. I keep finding the threads here too late to comment on them...

It was interesting to see Palin stumble on the weak points of Republican foreign policy logic. Everyone is talking about her confused response to the Bush Doctrine question, but actually when I googled the term I saw that Republicans, especially neocons, have a lot of complicated and inconsistent views about it. Palin was right to ask Gibson to specify exactly what he meant. The Bush Doctrine is not solidly defined; those of us who are not neocons have imposed a kind of coherence on it by painting it as simply being about preemptive strikes. But we're doing Bush a favor when we pretend he was able to come up with a clear doctrine.

stuart_zechman said...

Hey Rose, you're not too late!

Great to see your commentary here...

stuart_zechman said...

Okay, Jay, Obama says it in a more nuanced way.

I'm still not clear on whether or not his answer would be substantively different than Palin's (and therefore McCain's).

Are you understanding other than a semantic or rhetorical distinction here?

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...


I disagree with Obama's position, net. But what he is saying is much more like what the US says when talking about other sensitive issues--that a process needs to begin--rather than saying when or what the result of that process should be. I think he's waffling, because if he were to say "No, it's a bad idea to have countries on Russia's borders as NATO members because it is both needlessly provocative and runs the risk of destroying the most essential element of NATO, that an attack on one nation will result in a counter-attack by all>"

Then he would be buried in 30 second sound bites accusing him of treason and cowardice.

So he waffles. I'd prefer the environment be such that he need not. But there it is.

The worst result of all this is that on this issue, as on many others, I don't really know what Obama's position is.

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...

Rose, I disagree.

The invasion of Iraq, unilaterally, was based on an entirely new doctrine that Gibson summarized very accurately--that the US has the right to invade even before there is an actual threat to the US.


The point of the Bush Doctrine was to change that: to say, as Bush said at West Point: "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long." It was, basically, the acceptance of preventive war: war waged not in response to evidence of an imminent attack, but in response to the possibility that a country that was not attacking us now might attack us at some point in the future.

This was a new and different idea, essentially an assertion that the US has the right to engage on wars of choice in the absence of threat or provocation, and can act unilaterally. Foreign policy types were upset at the time, but all got buried under propaganda, and media support for same.

ArtPepper said...

"Membership Action Plan for NATO"

Wouldn't that be similar to the EU negotiations on Turkey? In other words, you go through a long process of negotiating conditions for entry, which is different than committing to entry. (But I may be reading more into that excerpt than is there.)

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...


Yeah, that's my point. Obama has worked out a line where he can't be charged with denying Georgia membership, but also creating a process that will, ultimately, deny Georgia membership.

In one sense this is waffling. But in another sense it simply shows a mature understanding of how foreign policy works. Formulas are worked out that offend nobody and preserve the status quo, as with China and Taiwan. Obama messed up one of these formulas wrt Israel earlier this year.

When I say it's not her fault, I'm saying that McCain (and Bush) have not worked out a formula justifying a NATO presence in Georgia that is not provocative. And that she was hung out to dry on that.

On the Bush doctrine, there's no way to justify it, and McCain's foreign policy people need to find a way to retain McCain's bellicosity without claiming a US right to invade unilaterally, on its own say-so, which is what the Bush Doctrine amounts to.

Rose said...

About the Bush Doctrine, right-wingers - especially neocons - see it differently: What really changed in the Middle East? The Iraqi elections vindicated the two central propositions of the Bush doctrine. First, that the will to freedom is indeed universal and not the private preserve of Westerners. And second, that American intentions were sincere.,9565,1035052,00.html

I also originally thought the meaning of the term was clear. But I'm not a neocon. (BTW, I'm in agreement with Chris Matthews on this) It actually makes sense that the people who defend the Bush Doctrine would see it as more encompassing. Without pairing it to this idea that all nations want an American Idol-style democracy, the philosophy of preemptive strikes not based on imminent threats seems completely crazy. Which it is of course, but from Palin's perspective it was reasonable to ask precisely what Gibson meant by the term.

Paul Dirks said...

Then he would be buried in 30 second sound bites accusing him of treason and cowardice. So he waffles. I'd prefer the environment be such that he need not. But there it is.

So come November, once the election is done and over, what can be done about the 'environment' to make it more amenable to rational discussion about foreign policy. As it is, we've allowed ourselves to be fenced in to the point where sanity is not an option.

stuart_zechman said...

what can be done

The short answer is create our own media --a press corps with high standards.

Todd and in Charge said...

I agree the nuance adopted by Obama there is diplomatically necessary and the proper language to formulate a "soft" response on the issue.

I guess I just wish he moved that nuance two shades over on this particular issue, as I think even as framed it accords Georgia too much in a manner that is not especially constructive right now.

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...


I think you are confusing the justification (post-hoc, to boot) for the Bush Doctrine's implementation with the Doctrine itself. At the time, the invasion was expressly justified by the threat that could ("was certain") to arise sometime in the future from Iraq. Bush's innovation was to assert the right of a country to act militarily against a country that did not pose and immediate or imminent threat.

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...


I think the president has a great deal of opportunity to influence public policy debate. If Obama brings the Kagans to the White House, to get their points of view, has has Secretary of State or Defense present those views accurately, and then state why the administration disagrees, the nature of public policy debate could easily be changed.

Nixon's administration was characterized by the presentation, to the President, of opposing views. That made its way into the public debate, particularly over domestic issues.

Rose said...


I completely agree about the reality of the Bush Doctrine. Preemptive invasion without justification on the basis of an imminent threat was the innovative element of the Doctrine. My point is just that neocons have a more complex definition of the Doctrine. Like many other neocon views, it's not a reality-based definition. They're adding on these other things as justifications in a failed attempt to make it all sound less crazy. But again from Palin's perspective, it was quite reasonable to ask what exactly Gibson meant: our version of the Doctrine, or the more ornate neocon version of the Doctrine. There are some real differences between the two.

stuart_zechman said...


Didn't it kinda sound more like she really had no idea what Charlie Gibson was talking about?

You know, like she doesn't really follow the debate about the morality and desirability of the doctrine in which the US is advised to take preventive military action against states who may pose a threat in the future, but are currently harmless, i.e. the Bush Doctrine?

It seemed as if she was only prepared to repeat mindless phrases like "Islamic Extremist Terrorists". I'm not even saying that this is terribly uncommon --Obama does it, too, only he provides thoughtful intonation and pauses for "serious" effect-- but it seemed as if she didn't even understand the topic, and that she had to fall back on sloganeering.

Of course, I'm not in her head, so I don't know.

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...


I guess that would make sense if you actually think that Palin is aware of such nuances. But her replies made it pretty clear--especially the one where she tried to get Charlie to tell her the answer--that this is not a question of nuance.

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...

And do read the Fallows post that Joe linked to. I think it hits the nail squarely and so forth.

And give Joe credit for putting Joke in a headline, given his blogospheric nickname.

Off topic, wrote to Deborah Howell of the Post complaining about Gerson's WaPo op-ed today, where he attributed derision of Palin's religious beliefs to "Democrats and their liberal allies" without providing a quote, other than a blind quote from, it turned out to be, Christopher Hitchens.

Her response:

Official Democrats may not have said anything, but I've seen a lot of stuff
out there about her beliefs.

That's our level of discourse, baby.

stuart_zechman said...

Serious Foreign Policy Analyst Michael O'Hanlon disagrees with Joe Klein's derision.

Michael O'Hanlon has no problem at all with Governor Palin's astute analysis of the Bush Doctrine.

That's comforting.

Rose said...

Maybe she hadn't heard of the Bush Doctrine. But the fact that she mentioned "worldview" makes me think that she does have a basic knowledge of the right-wing version of the Bush Doctrine, since the right-wing additions to the Bush Doctrine are in the area of "worldview." It would be a very weird coincidence if she just happened to mention the word.

Anyway, viewing everything through a neocon prism is arguably more worrying that just making a gaffe.

stuart_zechman said...

Deborah Howell isn't an ombudsman, she's an apologist.

stuart_zechman said...


Did you find Charlie Gibson to be as much of a (replacing profane term here:) jerk as I did?

I've been speaking to female feminist friends of mine, and there's a consensus that "Palin sux, but she's got my sympathy after that horrible treatment by Gibson".

These are Democrats, too.

Rose said...

stuart, I think Gibson treated her with the condescension the MSM usually reserves for Democrats. It's quite possible he would have treated Gore in the same way. Maybe even Kaine, if he had been chosen by Obama. But there is no way he would have treated Romney or Pawlenty like that; This is not because Gibson has seen the light on media bias: It's because of sexism. And yes, I don't want sexism to be responsible for lessening the media bias towards Republicans.