Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Doctrine According to Bush

Once in a blue moon I have to whale on Shmuley Boteach or Dennis Prager,
and this month, Dennis gets it.

He gets it because of this. Allow me, please to be cranky now.
Sarah Palin's reputation survived her interview
with ABC News' Charlie Gibson. The same cannot be said for Charlie

On my radio show last week, I twice defended Barack Obama. Once, against those conservatives who took a comment made by Obama in an interview with George Stephanopoulos out of context and suggested
that Obama had inadvertently admitted he was a Muslim. And again, when I contended that Obama did not imply that Palin was a pig in his now famous "lipstick on a pig" reference.

I mention this only because I want to assume that people of good will on both sides can still be honest about what transpires politically. And in this instance what transpired was that Gibson intended to humiliate Palin.

Oddly enough, I kind of agree with this last, although I am horrified that American politics has gotten so nasty that Prager can pat himself on the back for those two bits of clarity. I do think that Charlie Gibson may have been indulging himself in a bit of a 'gotcha' moment.

But it shouldn't have worked. And it did.

It wasn't even subtle. Virtually everything Gibson did and virtually every
question he posed was designed to trap, or trick, or demean Gov. Palin.
There are views of his face that so reek of contempt that anyone shown
photos of his look would immediately identify it as contemptuous. But one series of questions, in particular, blew any cover of impartiality and
revealed Gibson's aim to humiliate Palin.

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to

PALIN: His worldview?

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before
the Iraq war.

I realize that every wingnut in the free world has been trying to redefine those simple words for a few days now. I'm going to be blunt. I am not a politician. I am not even one of the better-informed wonks of my acquaintance. But if I had been asked that question, I would have been able to identify the Bush Doctrine as asserting that the United States will use preemptive force against nations it believes may be acting or will act in the future against the United States or the interests of the United States.

That is what it means. I'm sorry, but that it what it actually means, that's what people mean when they say "the Bush Doctrine". That, and not George Bush's 'worldview' is what kids will learn in school when the Bush Doctrine has joined the Monroe Doctrine on the shelves of history. This is neither arcane nor special knowledge.

As for what happened in September, 2002, let's check in with Frontline,
shall we?

Twenty months into his presidency, George W. Bush releases his administration's National Security Strategy (NSS). It is the first time the various elements of the Bush Doctrine have been formally articulated in
one place. The 33-page document presents a bold and comprehensive reformulation of U.S. foreign policy. It outlines a new and muscular American posture in the world -- a posture that will rely on preemption to deal with rogue states and terrorists harboring weapons of mass destruction. It states that America will exploit its military and economic power to encourage "free and open societies." It states for the first time that the U.S. will never allow its military supremacy to be challenged as it was during the Cold War. And the NSS insists that when America's vital interests are at stake, it will act alone, if necessary.

OK? Clear? Now, back to Dennis:

When he asked Palin whether she agreed with the Bush Doctrine
without defining it, he gave the game away. He lost any pretense of fairness. Asking the same nanswerable question three times had one purpose -- to humiliate the woman. That was not merely partisan. It was mean. I couldn't answer it -- and I have been steeped in international affairs since I was a Fellow at the Columbia University School of International Affairs in the 1970s. I have since been to 82 countries, and have lectured in Russian in Russia and in Hebrew in Israel. Most Americans would consider a candidate for national office who had
such a resume qualified as regards international relations. Yet I had no clue how to answer Gibson's question.

Oh COME ON Dennis. I knew exactly what he meant, despite having none of those qualification, and so did you, and Sarah Palin would have too, if she were in any way qualified for the office she is running for.

I had no clue because there is no right answer. There are at least four
doctrines that are called "Bush Doctrine," which means that there is no "Bush Doctrine." It is a term bereft of meaning, as became abundantly clear when Gibson finally explained what he was referring to:

GIBSON: The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of 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 -- the right to preemptive attack of a country that was planning an attack on America?

That's the Bush Doctrine? "The right to preemptive attack of a country that was planning an attack on America?"Isn't that just common sense? What country in history has thought it did not have the right to attack those planning to attack it? I learned the "Bush Doctrine" when I was a student at yeshiva in the fourth grade, when I was taught a famous Talmudic dictum from about 1,800 years ago: "If someone is coming to kill you, rise early and kill him."

Actually, Gibson's definition is lousy, because it does not emphasize that the BD applies in cases, such as Iraq say, where no present danger exists, but national safety interests can conceivably be at stake. This is a theory that emphasizes a preemptive response to rogue states, and states harboring terrorists. It is NOT a commonsense reaction to another
sovereign nation planning an attack.

And preemptive attack is exactly what happened in June 1967, when Israel attacked Egypt and Syria because those countries were planning to attack Israel. Would any American president before George W. Bush have acted differently than Israel did? Of course not. Did they all believe in the Bush Doctrine?

And, having dishonestly set up Gibson's definition as the right one, we now pretend that the 2002 NSS has nothing new in it, and certainly nothing controversial. Plus, we deftly manage to suggest that if you critique the Bush doctrine, you oppose Israel's right to self-defense. Slick.

That is how Gibson added foolishness to his meanness. All the interview did was reconfirm that Republicans running for office run against both their Democratic opponent and the mainstream news media. This year it is more obvious than ever. The press's beatification of Obama is so obvious, so constant (how many covers of Newsweek and Time has Obama been on?) that media credibility even among many non-conservatives has been hurt.

Let me put this another way. Charlie Gibson showed far greater hostility
toward the Republican vice-presidential candidate than Dan Rather did in his interview with Saddam Hussein or Mike Wallace did in his interview with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Which reminds me of another Talmudic dictum: "Those who are merciful to the cruel will be cruel to the merciful."

We might call it the media's Gibson Doctrine: Confront Republicans, act
obsequious toward tyrants.

Wail, whine, carry on. He asked her a question, Dennis, and she couldn't answer. Worse, she couldn't state "As you know, Charlie, there are various interpretations of exactly what the phrase "Bush Doctrine" covers. Can you ask me a more specific question?" which would have about handled it. Instead, she winged it, which allowed Gibson to be lazy and let her get away with only saying that she believed in national self-defense, quite different from the real question he meant to ask.

Sarah Palin, I guess, is the merciful in your little quote above? Don't tell a


Jack said...

This post is going to be included in the next edition of Haveil Havalim.

BBJ said...

OK. Can you clean up the formatting somehow? I botched it.