The Monitor's View

The Palin Doctrine

She would go beyond various Bush 'doctrines' and 'do whatever it takes' against terrorists.

By

Sarah Palin may be excused for not knowing "the Bush doctrine." The term was thrown at her like a curve ball during an interview last week by ABC's Charles Gibson, whose own description was incomplete. But her assertion of a potential new "doctrine" – one she might bring to the White House – is far less pardonable.

She said during that interview that the United States "must do whatever it takes" to fight terrorism. This implies the same amoral existentialism that terrorists use. It goes against the very principles of Western civilization that the jihadists seek to destroy.

Ever since these Islamic radicals began attacking US citizens and others, some in the American security establishment have practiced this unprincipled "doctrine." Just think of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or the use of torture against top Al Qaeda figures.

But her do-anything approach appears to go beyond the set of foreign policies put forth by President Bush and that have been dubbed by the media and others as "the Bush doctrine."

When first in office, Mr. Bush set his mark as president by unilaterally withdrawing US support for a few international agreements, such as the Kyoto accords on global warming. Then after 9/11, he warned countries backing terrorists that they are vulnerable to attack. This led to the ousting of the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan.

Later, in the run up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, Bush justified preemptive strikes on countries that might give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. That was one Bush "doctrine" that Mr. Gibson was obliquely referring to, later calling it "anticipatory self-defense." The policy is similar to the action of a homeowner who shoots a masked gunman standing outside a bedroom window.

Finally, Bush asserted a "doctrine" that promotion of democracy in Islamic countries is a necessary defense against the spread of jihadist terrorism.

All these policies have been pieced together ad hoc by Bush. In evoking one Bush "doctrine," Gibson was trying to be very timely, perhaps hoping to test the Republican vice presidential nominee. He wanted to know if she, as John McCain and Barack Obama do, supports the recent US attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban hideouts in Pakistan without that country's approval.

Here, Ms. Palin was less the hawk as she offered a nuanced answer that Gibson apparently didn't like. She said she would work with US-friendly countries like Pakistan so military strikes would be a last option.

The problem is that Pakistan is not as committed as the US to ousting militants on its border. It may prefer to keep some Taliban in reserve for Pakistan's historic struggle with India for influence in Afghanistan. That's a problem for the US and may have led Palin to say she would "do whatever it takes."

Her statement may also simply reflect the campaign competition to appear tough on national security, especially to biased voters who wonder if a woman can be an able commander in chief.

Candidates must be more careful with what they say during the heat of a campaign. Once in office, they may regret having taken a position as extreme as those of a US enemy.

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