What IS the Bush Doctrine, Anyway?

by Joey deVilla on September 12, 2008

Do I Know What the Bush Doctrine Is?

Yesterday, I saw a number of articles on the ‘net saying that Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin seemed to have no idea what the Bush Doctrine was. I’ve been busy with work and other stuff, so I decided to bookmark them for later reading.

This morning, while thinking “It’s pretty sad that Palin, with her much-vaunted ‘foreign policy experience’ (remember: she deals with it every day — she lives close to Russia!) doesn’t know what the Bush Doctrine is” came up with a more interesting question: Do I know what the Bush Doctrine is?

So I decided to hold off until I spelled out what I thought the main points of the Bush Doctrine were before watching the Palin interview video and Googling for “Bush Doctrine”. It’s only fair, isn’t it?

If you feel like playing along, don’t scroll down until you’ve written down what you believe to be the main points of the Bush Doctrine. I’ll stick a big picture below so that you don’t peek at my answers until you’ve come up with yours…


McCain/Palin as Cotton Hill and Peggy Hill from "King of the Hill"


What I Thought the Bush Doctrine Was

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Pre-emptive strikes are now cool. The Cold War-era doctrine of deterrence does not apply when fighting terrorism, which isn’t like fighting another country. If someone poses a clear threat to the U.S., get in the first shot; don’t give them another 9/11.
  • If need be, go it alone. When possible, try to get the cooperation of other nations, but it’s not absolutely necessary. You see this sentiment reflected in a lot of the right-wing blogs and books like Mark “Lotion Boy of the Neocon Bathhouse” Steyn’s America Alone.
  • Ensure that the U.S. remains the #1 military power. The world is a better place when the U.S. is the superpower.
  • Regime change. Peace will abound when unfriendly dictatorships are converted into friendly democracies.
  • Free Markets. Peace also comes through prosperity, which in turn is created through free markets.

Well, that sounds like the Bush Doctrine to me, or at least like what I heard in the time between 9/11, which led to the Bush Doctrine, and the Iraq War, which is its first serious exercise and test.

What Does Sarah Palin Think the Bush Doctrine Is?

Here’s the part of the video in which ABC’s Charlie Gibson asks Sarah Palin about the Bush Doctrine. It gave me a sense of deja vu: it reminded me of all those times when a classmate (or hey, sometimes it was me) who didn’t do the assigned reading got called on to answer a question in front of the class.

Here’s the transcript of the video:

Charlie Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

Sarah Palin: In what respect, Charlie?

Gibson: The Bush — well, what do you — what do you interpret it to be?

Palin: His world view.

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

Palin: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that’s the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

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?

Palin: I agree that a president’s job, when they swear in their oath to uphold our Constitution, their top priority is to defend the United States of America.

I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people.

Gibson: Do we have a right to anticipatory self-defense? Do we have a right to make a preemptive strike again 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. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend.

Gibson: Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?

Palin: Now, as for our right to invade, we’re going to work with these countries, building new relationships, working with existing allies, but forging new, also, in order to, Charlie, get to a point in this world where war is not going to be a first option. In fact, war has got to be, a military strike, a last option.

Gibson: But, Governor, I’m asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government.

Palin: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.

Gibson: And let me finish with this. I got lost in a blizzard of words there. Is that a yes? That you think we have the right to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government, to go after terrorists who are in the Waziristan area?

Palin: I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell bent on destroying America and our allies. We have got to have all options out there on the table.


If you haven’t yet come up with your list of points describing what you think the Bush Doctrine is, you have one last chance to write them down! Don’t scroll down until you’ve come up with that list!


McCain/Palin as Abe Simpson and Maude Flanders


So What is the Bush Doctrine?

The National Security Strategy Report [PDF] published in September 2002 is the reference document for the Bush Doctrine. The chapter titles after the introductory chapter spell out the main points of the doctrine:

  1. Champion Aspirations for Human Dignity
  2. Strengthen Alliances to Defeat Global Terrorism and Work to Prevent Attacks Against Us and Our Friends
  3. Work with others to Defuse Regional Conflicts
  4. Prevent Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies, and Our Friends with Weapons of Mass Destruction
  5. Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth through Free Markets and Free Trade
  6. Expand the Circle of Development by Opening Societies and Building the Infrastructure of Democracy
  7. Develop Agendas for Cooperative Action with the Other Main Centers of Global Power
  8. Transform America’s National Security Institutions to Meet the Challenges and Opportunities of the Twenty-First Century

A shorter and oft-cited description of the Bush Doctrine is The Bush National Security Strategy, a paper by Keir A. Lieber (Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame) and Robert J. Lieber (Professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University). It distills the Bush Doctrine to these four key points:

  1. Preemption
  2. American Military Primacy
  3. A New Multilateralism
  4. The Spread of Democracy

Over at the blog Winds of Change, Joe Katzman summarizes the key points of the Bush Doctrine as:

  1. We reject moral relativism, and we will fight for and actively promote freedom and liberty in the Islamic world.
  2. The friends of our enemies are also our enemies. If your regime is supporting terrorists, you’re making yourself our enemy.
  3. We reserve the right to hit our enemies before they can strike us.
  4. We will not support, and may not even deal with, those who continue to support terrorism.

Here’s Wikipedia’s entry for “Bush Doctrine”. Strangely enough, Conservapedia, the conservative answer to Wikipedia, has no entry for “Bush Doctrine” as of this writing.

So How’d I Do?

My points sound more like Lieber and Lieber’s summary of the NSS Report than the actual NSS report, but I think I did a decent job considering everything I know about the Doctrine comes from poking around political blogs, watching the news, reading some magazines and some casual perusing at Chapters and Barnes and Noble. I’m not so much a political junkie as I am a person who is interested in systems of all kinds and especially systems of people. It might also be the by-product of having emigrated from a country that was a kleptocracy at the time, and is now just a half-assed corrupt banana republic-style democracy.

What’s Sarah Palin’s excuse?

(If you went through the exercise of listing the points of the Bush Doctrine, feel free to let us know how you did in the comments!)

On that note, let me leave you with one more image (and yes, the second image is Photoshopped):

1963: Swearing in LBJ / 2010?: Swearing in Sarah Palin

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

David Janes September 12, 2008 at 1:01 pm

The lack a definition in “Conservapedia” and you’re inability to actually find an articulated “Bush doctrine” principle somewhere … just people trying to define it post-facto beyond the harboring enemies thing … is probably indicative that pop quizs on Wikipedia articles is probably not so important to conservatives as it is to you. Other than that, which part of the answer did you find lacking? That’s she promising to invade too many countries or too few? Fundamentally, she said the right thing: (one of) the primary jobs of the president is to do what it takes to defend the country [noting on my part that there’s other duties, such as upholding the constitution, etc.]

I’m also curious to see how this line of questioning fits into the “Bush-clone” line. Time will tell I’m sure.

Bret Fuller September 12, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Wow. Great post. I’m trying to send all my traffic your way, man. Just awesome!

Mark Jaquith September 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Let me answer the question in the form of two book recommendations:

Ron Suskind – The One Percent Doctrine

Glenn Greenwald – A Tragic Legacy

They go into it in depth.

Joey deVilla September 12, 2008 at 2:08 pm

@David Janes: I dunno, the term “Bush Doctrine” seems to be one familiar to conservatives, and it was only in April when McCain was asked in a Town Hall meeting if he would reject the “Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war”.

But I’ll be kind and in the great tradition of politics left and right and ignore the evidence I just presented. Palin’s supposed to be a foreign policy expert because we’ve been told that she’s an expert. Surely she should’ve been able to do a better job of punting for the answer before Gibson spoon-fed it to her.

Trust me — as experienced programmers, we’d both be able to spit out a reasonable answer to the question “What is Web 2.0?” in spite of the fact that it’s a pretty meaningless term. Why wouldn’t a person ready to lead the country be able to do the equivalent? Her answer is as lame as the one given by the hippie in response to “But what does the Clean Air Act do?”: “It’s an act. It cleans the air.”

As for “defending the country”, that formal responsibility predates the Bush Doctrine by about 10,000 years, when we started forming settlements. You’re just clawing for part-marks here, and this isn’t the after-school debate club.

David Janes September 12, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Who said told you she was an expert? Let’s start with that.

And trust me, there’s lots of people very much confused about what it means … that is, how far one should go … when it comes to defending the United States or any other country. In fact, that’s probably one of the defining foreign policy issues of the 1970s onward period.

People read into this stuff whatever they want, and I expect there may be more traction in your argument than the “she’s a hick c-nt” line that others have been following for the last week. However, the Bush Doctrine aint no Monroe Doctrine and if one thinks “who’s the vice president of Mexico”-type questions are about fitness for office, well so be it.

Nigel September 12, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Yeah – James Fallow had a similar theory (http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/09/the_palin_interview.php) and your analogy strikes me as about the same – her reaction illustrated a cross between unpreparedness and uninterestedness in US foreign policy.

Joey deVilla September 12, 2008 at 4:53 pm

@David Janes: “Expert” may be a stretch, but it’s considerably less stretching than the contortions these folks went through to say that she has foreign policy cred:

As far as the “hick” thing goes, using that as a reason that someone’s unqualified may fly with some people, but not yours truly. As I like to remind people, the best astronauts have Texas drawls.

I do have some stories about “Palin Moments” like the one in the Charlie Gibson interview, and they all point to the lack of interest that James Fallows wrote about in his Atlantic piece. One of them is even about me and I’ll have to blog it sometime soon.

David Janes September 12, 2008 at 5:34 pm

I certainly wasn’t accusing you of calling her a hick, to be sure & clear. However, I’ve heard things in the last week that make even me blanch a little.

Negotiating with other states and provinces certain leads to a little foreign policy cred. A little. Note that I’m not saying the word “expert”. Speaking as a Newfoundlander (i.e. isolated, resource based), I’m certainly aware that at the region level you’re doing a lot of wheeling and dealing with outsiders. Would you reject Danny Millions as a candidate for PM for similar reasons that you’d reject Palin?

As I think about this further, I think you’re missing or downplaying some important underlying political points:

– character & culture are huge to the Americans, and rightfully so IMHO. It’s getting the big questions right that are important (Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall) not the little ones (who gets to play tennis at what time in the White House courts). Democrats continually fall for this trap, believing super brianiac types are what are needed for the job, rather than people with good judgement.
– the “are you still beating you wife” nature of this particular question, re: are you still Bush’s lapdog?
– the fact that there’s an infinite set of questions of this nature that Palin won’t be able to answer, see early points. Also as a subpoint, that one knows no legacy media reporter would ask a question like “does Marxism have anything to offer Americans and if so (etc. etc.)”
– the purely deliciously poltical point that if you’re going to attack a VP nominee’s experience one may reflect likewise on a certain autobiographists’ non-accomplishments.

Not trying to run this on, but clicking on, for example, the John Bolton link leads to some fairly restrained quotes. Cindy McCain though – I think a little boosterism on the part of spouses is expected and encouraged in politics!

David Janes September 12, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Actually, I like one point in my previous comment I’m going to restate it a different way for rhetorical purposes: if Danny Williams was American, would we consider him unfit or unqualified to be VP?

Claudine September 14, 2008 at 11:28 am

The so called “Bush Doctrine” would have been “So Let It Be Written, So Let It Be Done” I have not seen that, have you? To Charlie Gibson there is no Bush Doctrine, you ignorant condescending Democratic Donkey, you just made a fool out of yourself.

Maria September 14, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Yeah, Mexico has no vice-president. By law. Since 1857, actually.

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