By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, September 12, 2008 11:32 AM
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's evident cluelessness when asked in an interview yesterday if she agreed with the Bush Doctrine is appropriately being seen as emblematic of her ignorance of foreign policy.
But as it happens, I'm not sure anyone is entirely clear on what the Bush Doctrine is at this particular moment.
When Palin asked ABC anchor Charlie Gibson what he meant by the Bush Doctrine, Gibson clarifed: "The Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war." That should have helped. After it was obvious Palin still didn't know what he was talking about, Gibson ventured further: "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's reply: "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."
But Gibson was making a common error, and what Palin said in her response did not actually address what was so radical about Bush's contribution to American foreign policy. Preemption has in fact been a staple of our foreign policy for ages -- and other countries' as well. The twist Bush put on it was embracing "preventive" war: Taking action well before an attack was imminent -- invading a country that was simply perceived as threatening.
And to be completely accurate, there have been several Bush Doctrines over the years. Another dramatic announcement, you may recall, was his declaration on Sept. 20, 2001: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." (Or, as he put it on Feb. 11, 2002: "You're either with us or against us; you're either evil or you're good."
And then there was Bush's second inaugural address, when he pledged himself to spreading freedom and ending tyranny in the world.
The one thing all these Bush Doctrines have in common is that they are, at this point, utterly inoperative.
As I suggested in my August 18 column, the current Bush Doctrine could perhaps best be described as "Incompetence and Internal Warfare."
Back in March 2006, when Bush officially reasserted his doctrine of preventive war in a reissued National Security Strategy document, it was a bit surreal. The Bush administration had by then, of course, lost any credibility in making the case to attack another country with anything short of incontrovertible evidence of an imminent threat.
And Bush's vaunted democracy initiative was never anything but a farce, as he cozied up to one dictator after another as long as they helped us with other strategic goals, including fighting terrorism and providing us with energy.
Jacob Weisberg, in his book "The Bush Tragedy," actually identified six Bush Doctrines: Bush Doctrine 1.0 was Unipolar Realism (3/7/99--9/10/01); Bush Doctrine 2.0 was With Us or Against Us (9/11/01--5/31/02); Bush Doctrine 3.0 was Preemption (6/1/02--11/5/03); Bush Doctrine 4.0 was Democracy in the Middle East (11/6/03--1/19/05); Bush Doctrine 5.0 was Freedom Everywhere (1/20/05-- 11/7/06); and Bush Doctrine 6.0 (11/8/06 to date) is the "absence of any functioning doctrine at all."Iraq Watch
Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway write in an opinion column for Time that what is being billed as a leaked draft of the agreement between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, recently published in Iraq by the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, would clearly contravene the U.S. Constitution:
"The breadth of the President's powers as Commander in Chief is one of the most controversial issues in constitutional law. Nevertheless, there is one point on which everybody agrees: The President can't unilaterally surrender his command over the military to somebody else and tell the troops to treat this outsider as Commander in Chief. The authority he has as Commander in Chief is not his to transfer.
"The published draft agreement violates this bedrock principle by creating a joint U.S.-Iraq committee and giving it, not the President, the authority to coordinate military operations, resolve operational disputes and even 'determine the tasks and level of the troops that will focus on training and supporting Iraqi security forces.' The agreement creates only one exception: American troops can act unilaterally in self-defense without obtaining the committee's permission.
"The constitutional violation is plain: the agreement would cede the President's authority over U.S. forces in the field to a committee, on which the Iraqis would have veto power."
They continue: "There have been occasions when foreigners have been given some control over American troops in connection with NATO and U.N. peacekeeping operations. But these delegations of command authority occurred under treaties ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, not by presidential fiat. Worse still, the agreement would govern military relationships well into the next Administration. President Bush is proposing to give away not only his own powers as Commander in Chief but also those of his successor.
"The published draft agreement also usurps congressional power over the Treasury. It obligates the United States to pay for the construction and modification of military installations that will revert to Iraqi ownership when U.S. troops leave. This is an open-ended commitment that goes beyond the funds already appropriated by Congress. By taking this step, the President seeks to remove the most fundamental check on the abuse of executive power -- the power of the purse."
So why haven't we heard any of this before?
"The media discussion of the negotiations between the Iraqi and U.S. governments, fueled only by leaks, has focused on more sensational topics such as a timetable for withdrawal of American troops and the al-Maliki government's efforts to prosecute American contractors for crimes committed on Iraqi soil."
They conclude: "It is past time for the President to provide Congress with a copy of the draft agreement and ask for its consent."Al-Qaeda Watch
Michael Hirsh wrote in his Newsweek column yesterday: "Seven years ago today, on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri -- two men who have dedicated their lives to killing as many Americans as they can -- were living in Afghanistan. Their hosts, the Taliban, possessed only primitive weapons and rode around in Toyota pickup trucks.
"Today, bin Laden and Zawahiri are almost certainly living in Pakistan. Their hosts, the Pakistanis, have an arsenal of nuclear bombs and missiles with which to fire them. And the Pakistanis, including many in the military and ISI (its intel service) are becoming more anti-American as the Bush administration embraces their mortal enemy, India, with a technology-rich new strategic partnership. Under this deal, Washington will forgive India's decision to go nuclear and not even require that it abandon nuclear testing. And we will inadvertently send a message to every other major would-be nuclear power in the world (like Iran): You too can rejoin the international community if you wait long enough! So keep at it.
"After 9/11, Democrats and Republicans alike agreed that the nation's No. 1 strategic challenge was to prevent Al Qaeda suicidists from getting hold of a nuclear bomb. Now the Al Qaeda suicidists live closer to a bomb. And our policies are creating enough angry Pakistanis to increase the likelihood that Al Qaeda-linked groups will gain access to the knowhow, material and technology that could deliver to our shores, some years hence, our worst national nightmare -- far worse than anything we saw on September 11."Pakistan Watch
Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "New rules of engagement authorizing U.S. ground attacks inside Pakistan, signed by President Bush in July, were not agreed to by that country's civilian government or its military, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. . . .
"News of Bush's order, following a strike last week by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos on a village about 20 miles inside Pakistan, brought denunciation yesterday from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. . . .
"[A] senior European official called the implementation of the new strategy 'peculiar,' since its timing coincided with this week's inauguration of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
"'If you're going to invade another country . . . without their permission, after you've just spent eight years trying to get a democratic government in place, it strikes me as kind of confused politics,' the official said."
And could this be the "groundbreaking" new covert technique that Bob Woodward obliquely alludes to in his new book?
Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes write in the Los Angeles Times: "As part of an escalating offensive against extremist targets in Pakistan, the United States is deploying Predator aircraft equipped with sophisticated new surveillance systems that were instrumental in crippling the insurgency in Iraq, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials. . . .
"The new system now being deployed was first used on aircraft in Afghanistan, then was installed on Predators in Iraq starting about a year ago. Officials said introduction of the devices coincided with the 2007 U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, and was an important, but hitherto unknown, factor in the subsequent drop in violence in that country.
"The technology allows suspects to be identified quickly. 'All I have to do is point the sensor at him,' said a military officer familiar with the system, 'and a missile can be off the rail in seconds.'"Afghanistan Watch
Jason Straziuso writes for the Associated Press: "Insurgents killed two U.S. troops in Afghanistan on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Thursday, making 2008 the deadliest year for American forces since U.S. troops invaded the country in 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
"The deaths brought the number of troops who have died in Afghanistan this year to 113, according to an Associated Press tally, surpassing last year's record toll of 111."
Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "This week, as we remember the nearly 3,000 American citizens who died in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or in a remote field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, we also should think about the civilians who are still dying in Afghanistan. . . .
"Civilians in Afghanistan have been caught in the crossfire for too long. Over-reliance on airstrikes is counterproductive in the battle for Afghan hearts and minds. President Bush's announcement this week that he will send nearly 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan is a good way to start ameliorating this situation, but it is not enough."India Watch
Bush is apparently pretty confident that Congress will pass his controversial nuclear deal with India. He's invited the Indian Prime Minister to town, one day before the congressional recess -- presumably on the assumption that there will be a signing ceremony to attend.
AFP reports: "The nuclear agreement, signed by President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005, offers India access to Western technology and cheap atomic energy as long as it allows UN nuclear inspections of some of its nuclear facilities.
"If Congress endorses the agreement it would lift a three decade-old ban on nuclear trade with India. . . .
"The White House said Thursday that Bush would welcome Singh on September 25 for talks on bilateral relations, including the nuclear deal. . . .
"A US administration official said he was not aware of any agreement to be signed by the two leaders on the nuclear deal.
"'The fact that they agreed to meet at this particular time is a strong indication that both sides really are satisfied with the level of effort that they put into it,' he said, speaking on condition of anonymity."
Congress is due to adjourn Sept. 26.The A-word
As for what Bush privately thinks of the Iranians, Amanda Terkel of Thinkprogress.org calls attention to Bob Woodward's depiction of a telling White House meeting on Iran in spring 2007.Latin America Watch
Matthew Lee writes for the Associated Press: "The Bush administration is facing a new headache, this time in Latin America, as two leftist governments it can't ignore booted the U.S. ambassadors this week.
"Simmering ideological tensions between President Bush and the populist presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela boiled over on Wednesday and Thursday in twin diplomatic spats that threaten U.S. counternarcotics operations in the region and possibly American energy supplies."U-Turn Watch
Jim Abrams writes for the Associated Press: "Two months after the White House called a highway trust fund rescue plan a 'gimmick' and threatened a presidential veto, President Bush is expected to sign legislation infusing $8 billion into the financially teetering fund that supports road and bridge projects around the country.
"That change of heart came after the administration acknowledged last week that the trust fund, which derives its revenues from the federal gas tax, was going broke much faster than anticipated and that Washington would have to begin delaying payments to states for construction work as early as this month.
"That could have meant the loss of thousands of high-paying construction jobs just weeks before the election."Campaign Watch
Jeremy Pelofsky blogs for Reuters: "President George W. Bush will make a rare appearance on the campaign trail on Friday, attending a closed-door fundraiser in Oklahoma City to benefit Republican hopeful John McCain and the Republican National Committee -- but the candidate will not be there.
"Despite being a prolific fundraiser during his first seven years in office, Bush has only attended a handful of events this year and almost all of them have been closed to the press, which experts have attributed to his low job approval ratings."
Michael McNutt writes in the Oklahoman: "Ticket prices range from $1,000 for lunch to $25,000 for the chance to briefly talk with Bush. Getting a picture taken with the president costs $5,000."Woodward Watch
Michiko Kakutani reviews Woodward's new Bush book in the New York Times: "Much of 'The War Within' simply ratifies the picture that has already emerged from newspaper and magazine articles and dozens of books by journalists and former administration insiders. It's a picture of an administration riven by internal conflicts (between the Pentagon and State Department, between defense department civilians and the uniformed military, between hard-line neoconservatives and more pragmatic realists), an administration in which the advice of experts was frequently ignored or dismissed, traditional policy-making channels were routinely circumvented, policy often took a backseat to electoral politics, accountability was repeatedly evaded, and few advisers dared speak truth to power.
"Mr. Woodward tells us that [Condoleezza] Rice never took her complaints about unduly rosy military reports to Mr. Bush because 'the president almost demanded optimism' and because she 'claimed that as secretary of state, she didn't feel it was appropriate to criticize' Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or military commanders. In another chapter, Mr. Woodward tells us that [national security adviser Stephen] Hadley, put in charge of a secret 2006 review of the war (reportedly kept under close guard because of White House fears that news coverage might hurt Republican chances in the mid-term elections), so 'hero-worshipped' the president that he often sidelined his own analytic methods to embrace Mr. Bush's certainties. . . .
"Mr. Bush -- who is described here as having aged, with grayer hair and 'a noticeable paunch' -- often sounds defensive and unfocused in his talks with Mr. Woodward, seemingly uttering his explanations on automatic pilot. It is his advisers -- or enablers, as they emerge in this book -- who are more energetic in spinning the administration's decisions."Froomkin Watch
I'm taking a few days off. The column will resume on Thursday, Sept. 18.Cartoon Watch