Monday, September 15, 2008

The Palin Doctrine

Sarah Palin's ignorance of foreign policy is remarkable not just in itself, but also for the way, along with her candidacy, it continues to expose the naked hypocrisy that characterizes so much of what the Republican party has allowed itself to become.

If you've watched the single interview the McCain team has dared to let her give in the two weeks since she was nominated, you've seen the following exchange:

Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?
Palin: In what respect, Charlie?
Gibson: What do you interpret it to be?
Palin: His worldview?

Palin has been justifiably slammed for not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is, and the unprincipled right has rallied to her defense by claiming there's so much ambiguity in the Bush Doctrine, so many versions, so many interpretations and elements and addenda and visions and revisions, that obviously Palin was just giving a careful, thoughtful response. It's all bullshit, of course, and Glenn Greenwald has a great series of videos and transcripts of the people who just before being blinded by the impenetrable opaqueness of the Bush Doctrine all agreed on exactly what it meant.

(By the way, what could be said about a doctrine so ambiguous that even its cheerleaders profess not to understand what it means? You'd think a latent sense of personal dignity would prevent Republicans from advancing excuses as lame as their latest, but you would be mistaken.)

Now, admittedly, doctrines are simply policies. But if you call it a policy, it won't get named after you or your political heroes (who would remember The Monroe Policy?), so self-important presidents and their sycophantic cheerleaders in the press like to puff ordinary policies up into heroically grand Doctrines. Okay, fine. But this is what makes Palin's interview the more appalling: it's clear that not only does she not know what the Bush Doctrine is, she doesn't know what a presidential doctrine is, period.

Think about it. Yes, if it were true that Palin were an expert on the Bush Doctrine who was just giving a careful, nuanced response, she would have asked something like, "Which aspect, Charlie?" (with a few specifics thrown in to alleviate any suspicions that she's a foreign policy neophyte, alleviating such ridiculous suspicions being one of the key objectives of the interview). But even if she didn't know diddly about the Bush Doctrine, a nodding acquaintance with the concept of presidential concepts generally would have steered her away from her non-sequitur of a fishing expedition. After all, no one with even a clue about what a presidential doctrine is would respond to a question like Gibson's with a query about the worldview of the president in question.

Imagine this exchange:

Gibson: Do you agree with the Monroe Doctrine?
Palin: In what respect, Charlie?
Gibson: What do you interpret it to be?
Palin: His worldview?

Right, Palin's question makes no sense there, either. Nor would it have made sense had Gibson asked her about the Carter Doctrine, the Reagan Doctrine, or about whether she thought it was silly and self-important for presidents to have "doctrines" named after them in the first place. It wouldn't have made sense because Palin doesn't know anything about the entire subject.

So maybe instead of being tutored by Joe Lieberman and company, Palin should be watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Of course, none of this will matter to the people who are packaging Palin as a foreign policy expert because Alaska is near Russia, and it won't matter to the people who want to believe in the "Sarah is Experienced" myth. We used to call this kind of attitude willful ignorance. I think we can now just call it the Palin Doctrine.

P.S. I've received several emails from people complaining about my use of the word "bullshit" because they find it offensive. I understand your point and appreciate the feedback, but I think on this issue reasonable people can differ. It's true there are many other words that also describe the McCain/Palin campaign: lies, deception, distortion, dishonesty, untruth, etc., but nothing quite captures the heart of their campaign like bullshit, so I'll go on using the term. And while I commend these commenters for caring enough to share their thoughts with me, I can't help but wonder: have you expressed some outrage too at the purveyors of the bullshit, and not just at the people who are reporting it?


Anonymous said...

The fact that this critter is being allowed to speak and preen before the public is making me crazy. Ugh.

Lori A. Basiewicz said...

I always enjoy reading your straight-forward, no bullshit take on politics.

Joshua James said...

When campaigning in Alaska, Palin made sure not to mention her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere, mainly because everyone in Alaska knows she didn't oppose it and the local press would have roasted her.

Once back in the lower 48, however, she again trotted out the Bridge to Nowhere bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Wait. Is the argument truly being made that she knows foreign policy because she can see Russia on a clear day? I thought that was put forward playfully. After all, didn't Obama actually live in Indonesia for a time as a child? Wouldn't that give him a leg up?

Anonymous said...

The GOP backers have a LOT to think about today:

Hrm...I'm just going to go out on a limb here and say that those who've been supporting the Bush/McCain Machine might be bailing ship about now. I got a phone call this morning from a staunch Bushie, crying about the mortgage he just took out last week. I'd like to see McCain/Palin spin this business. Oh, right, they're "different" than Bush. lol

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is probably a good deal of bullshit coming out of the mccain camp. But i've gotta believe there is some coming from Obama as well.
What about his saying he would accept public financing, then declining it. Or his opposition to warrantless wiretapping in the primaries and then voting for it. I think Obama is just a politician, so i'm not blaming him, but i get tired of hearing him claim to be post partisan and all that crap. He's said to be the most liberal senator in the senate.
But as far as your criticism of Palin, you make some fair points. I wouldn't try to make the case that she is a foreign policy expert by any means, and mccain and his supporters are dumb to say that. But i think her executive experience is important. She has more than obama, biden, and mccain combined. And Alaska is a huge state, albeit not the most popular one. It is a rich state, with lots of resources to manage. And i think that shouldn't be overlooked as part of her qualification for vice president.
I believe the reason mccain picked her might have something to do with being Pro-Life. But i think it has more to do with making it harder for Obama and the Democrats to call their ticket a repeat of bush. It's hard to say that about Palin, who is a washington outsider. She helps mccain fit into the overall theme of change that this campaign has going for it.

Anonymous said...

The overall theme of change whose campaign has going for it?

Glad to see the Obama campaign finally took Barry's advice - word for word. 'What has happened to John McCain?'

Natalie Hatch said...

Um, I've a confession to make, I don't know what the Bush or Monroe Doctrine is, sorry, does that mean that I get to run for VP? Oh but I'm Australian so I guess that cancels that out, darn, I had one glimpse of glory there.
As for the bullshit word, it doesn't mean the same over here, so speak away, just don't use the word 'fanny' or 'rooting' and we'll be fine.

Anonymous said...

Palin goes on to say: "what president bush has tried to do is rid the world of islamic extremism." That is as good of a summation as Stephanopolis saying the Bush Doctrine is anticipatory self defense.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is, though. The Bush Doctrine is not about Islamic extremism, although of course it arose from the events of an attack by Islamic extremists. The Bush Doctrine, as it has been widely understood by most people who read newspapers in the last few years, is the idea that the US will now consider the use of military force against any country it feels has encouraged terrorists, harboured terrorists, failed to join the 'War on Terror' sufficiently to its satisfaction or who in any other way appears to be a threat to the US, in the administration's view.

Palin did seem to broadly agree with Bush's frightening 'you're with us or against us', 'let's smoke 'em out' attitude, but from the way she prevaricated I got the impression that she wasn't aware she had been caught out not knowing the definition of the Bush Doctrine, but that she hadn't even heard the expression before. I think she might have felt that the phrase was snarky on Gibson's part. 'Doctrine' can be used negatively, and I think she felt he had stepped over the line and was asking if she was a Bush disciple, if she was indoctrinated in his way of thinking - there is, of course, also a religious connotation to the word, and Bush and she are both on the religious right. Watch the way she says 'In what respect, Charlie?' I think she felt he was asking something about whether she was a follower of Bush, and had no idea he was talking about a Doctrine with a capital D - because she'd never heard of it.

Anonymous said...

I'm just saying that Charlie Gibson really comes off looking like he's trying to humiliate or play 'gotcha' with Mrs. Palin. And then his definition of the Bush Doctrine isn't any better than hers is.

Ayo Onatade said...

The possibility of having Palin as US Vice-President is frightening.

Natalie Hatch said...

'is the idea that the US will now consider the use of military force against any country it feels has encouraged terrorists, harboured terrorists, failed to join the 'War on Terror' sufficiently to its satisfaction or who in any other way appears to be a threat to the US,'

Oh dear, I didn't realise this is how the US government sees itself. I must say that the rest of the world doesn't agree with the US on this. It's not your right to go in and attack other countries because you suspect them of terrorist activities. And the use of this term 'sovereign right' is just ridiculous. If you wanted to attack anyone because they might harbour terrorists then you'd better look to home first. The Una bomber, Oklahoma etc etc.
I would like to know whether Obama or McCain is going to continue this outlook. I'd hope that they didn't, because rhetoric like that will turn the rest of the world against the US in a heartbeat.

Spy Scribbler said...

Stephen, in the interview Barry posted in his last post, McCain brought up the Russia argument with a straight face. In response to a question concerning her international experience, McCain mentioned Alaska's proximity to Russia and said, "She understands Russia and their newly aggressive behavior in the world."

David Terrenoire said...

I don't think this was a gotcha question. The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war was a huge departure fom US historical precedent. To not know what it was reveals poor understanding of our current foreign policy and our nation's history in its most important extension of power - war.

My wife could have answered that question. I could have answered that question. Neither of us are qualified to be VP, although we both are apparently better informed on this important precedent than is Sarah Palin.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that there are four or five different versions of the bush doctrine. You should read an article that was recently in the financial times. I'll have to look it up. It's written by an expert in international affairs and a diplomat, and he says that he can't define the bush doctrine.
The overall point is, the democrats are letting Palin get into their head. Their attacks on her are not helping things. It makes them look aloof, because people perceive her as a small town woman, who they can identify with. I'm not scared of her being VP.

Barry Eisler said...

Anonymous, it's probably a good idea to read the post first and respond afterward (a pause for consideration in between wouldn't hurt, either). Among the other benefits of perusing posts to which you purport to respond: you wouldn't have to trouble yourself trying to remember the cites you can't offer, and could instead just use the ones already included in the post you didn't read.

-- Barry

Anonymous said...

"Of course, none of this will matter to the people who are packaging Palin as a foreign policy expert because Alaska is near Russia, and it won't matter to the people who want to believe in the 'Sarah is Experienced' myth."

That's REALLY the heart of this whole depressing mess: there is no truth so obvious, no hypocrisy so naked, that pointing it out makes any difference. It's all politics by cant, with departures from the received point of view deemed at best a moral failing but really more akin to heresy. Both sides are guilty of this, but the Republicans have raised it to an art that would make Torquemada blush.

Barry, you deserve a better politics to commentate on.

Anonymous said...

Charlie Gibson wasn't being unfair to Palin with the Bush Doctrine question, Anonymous. If you watched the Democratic Party and Republican Party primary debates where Gibson was a moderator, you would know that he asked that question of all the candidates; McCain, Obama and Biden included. And they all understood what he was talking about and were able to answer.

McCain supports the Bush Doctrine. The only Republican in the debate who did not was Ron Paul (rep. TX). Both Obama and Biden and the other Democrats in the debate do not.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for stirring things up in here. I did read the post, barry. Maybe i just didn't agree with it. I can remember the cite, i just didn't take the trouble to offer the link so you guys could read it. I made some points in my post. I would rather have them refuted than have a vague lecture on how to read posts.

I actually do agree that Palin is not at all experienced in foreign policy. I think that cannot be questioned. But i don't believe she was picked for VP to be a foreign policy expert. She's not going to be the one going toe to toe with Vladimir Putin. Mccain is the one that is known to have an expertise in foreign affairs, however questionable some might think that is. Some of her main attributes are: she allows the republicans to avoid the whole 'third bush term' smear, to a degree. And she has executive experience, unlike the other three candidates.

I'm not trying to be disrespectful here barry. I just like to debate and argue politics, i guess.

Barry Eisler said...

Anonymous, I certainly don't mind people stirring things up, as long as it's done in a thoughtful way that's calculated to achieve something productive. In this case, I wouldn't say you stirred things up at all. Your point -- that there are arguably various versions of the Bush Doctrine -- was already acknowledged in my post. And your mention of a cite you couldn't remember indicated that you hadn't read the cite to Glenn Greenwald in my post, because Glenn links to several of the "there are many versions" defenders. So your points weren't provocative. They were just extraneous and irrelevant.

Read my post again. You'll find this argument: "Even if Palin didn't give Gibson a direct response because she knew there were multiple versions of the Bush Doctrine, she wouldn't have responded as she did." Your response is, "There are multiple versions of the Bush Doctrine." Do you see how your response is in fact non-responsive? Do you see why I might conclude from your response that you hadn't even read my post?

It's fine if you didn't agree with me or the other commenters here, but you have to express that disagreement is a way that moves the discussion forward. Otherwise, why bother posting at all?

Forgive me if I sound harsh. I spend more time than I'd like having to instruct people who I think ought to know better on the fundamentals of conversation, and sometimes my frustration leaks through.


Anonymous said...

Sorry. I read your post. But i didn't follow the links you posted. I'll go and read that.

I guess i'm just trying to say that Palin isn't being picked for her foreign policy expertise, that's all. There are other reasons she's been picked, because Mccain is perceived as the foreign policy heavyweight.

Anonymous said...

Posting a pro-Palin thought at Barry's blog is informed by the same rules that a liberal is constrained by when calling in to disagree with Rush Limbaugh: you can't win, and you can't break even.

Barry Eisler said...

Anonymous, it's interesting to see how a faith-based, "it's always someone else's fault and never my responsibility" worldview manifests itself in symmetry both in politics and in personal grievances.

To the extent I understand your vague complaint, I can see where the view you expressed would comfort you. It absolves you from responsibility for thought, evidence, argument, and tone. But it has nothing to do with reality. I've come across a few pro-Palin arguments out there that I find respectable even though I disagree with them. So far I've seen only one such posted here. That one comment was refreshing precisely because the poster knew the difference between an opinion and a fact, and made the effort to connect the two by argument and logic. His tone also made clear that he was serious about persuading people. Obviously, that post didn't come from you.

Stop pretending (I hope you're pretending) that you don't understand the difference between substance and tone. Take some responsibility. Make real arguments, backed by real evidence. Use some self-discipline when you feel an urge to get sarcastic or vituperative. It'll all take more effort than an off-the-top of your head excrescence, but you might find it more rewarding and ultimately a better investment of your time.

Or exercise your free-market prerogative to frequent someone else's blog, or even to start your own.

-- Barry

PBI said...

OMG, Barry! You're asking for people to be informed enough to make an argument that's supported by verifiable facts! What are you? Some kind of elitist? ; )

Sensen No Sen

Anonymous said...

Support your argument being a misnomer in this case, because its an argument that is hard to back up with facts. There is no 'fact' about whether Palin is knowledgeable about foreign policy. If Chris Berman can't answer who won the Super Bowl in 1982, that doesn't make him not an expert on football.

Barry Eisler said...

James, what if Chris Berman (not sure who this is) couldn't name a single NFL team? Couldn't name a single player? Couldn't tell you the difference between a quarterback and a halfback? Didn't know how many points you get for a touchdown or a field goal? At what point would you feel confident concluding that Chris is not an expert on football? Or do you continue to maintain that such a point doesn't exist -- that Berman's inability to answer any of these questions wouldn't constitute a set of facts by which we could conclude that Berman isn't an expert on football?

This isn't a case of Palin demonstrating a history of foreign policy interest and expertise, and then flubbing a single question like "What's the capital of Nigeria?" That's the kind of fact set for which your analogy would have been apposite. Instead, what we have here -- the correct analogy -- is someone who's never played football, never exhibited any interest in the sport, has no record of ever having said anything about the sport, has never been to a game, and now wants to be NFL Commissioner -- and refuses to take questions from the press on the subject except for twice in a month in the most carefully controlled circumstances.

Still no factual basis for concluding that this person doesn't know anything about the game and is manifestly unqualified for the position?

-- Barry

Anonymous said...

I get what your saying barry, but my understanding was that she demonstrated a lack of understanding about the bush doctrine. Nothing else. That's why i made that comparison. If she has made other foreign policy blunders or screwups, then the comparison isn't valid anymore.