We're all doctrinally impure

I think Fallows is one of the smartest and wisest guys out there (I didn’t always think this, but he has worn me down by being so damn right all the time), but I think he sounds a little overwrought on the Palin-“Bush Doctrine” dust-up. I follow foreign policy things pretty closely, and as a former political theory student and teacher I have a special fetish for all things doctrinal, and I wouldn’t have matched “Bush Doctrine” to preemptive or preventive or anticipatory war. And I thought about this stuff a lot at the time. I remember thinking that cooking up a doctrinal justification for invading Iraq was stupid, but I remember the doctrine I thought was so gratuitous as “the Doctrine of Preventive War,” not “the Bush Doctrine.” It seemed dumb to turn what was in all likelihood sui generis into a declared precedent, a matter of principle. (And the administration’s love of the language of principle in geopolitics, of never shutting up about it, was already seeming like a bad indulgence – foreign policy as culture war. I thought that was the Bush Doctrine: never shutting up about it.) Also, it seemed needlessly goading. It picked a fight that wasn’t important enough to pick. But now Charles Krauthammer has spoken, and it appears that Sarah Palin’s interrogator Charlie Gibson was wrong, too. Of the many doctrines Bush has delivered himself of over the last seven years, he identified the wrong one as The Bush Doctrine. Krauthammer enunciated the first Bush Doctrine in 2001. It was a sort of meta-doctrine, encompassing all subsequent Bush Doctrines. And the meta-principle established in this this ur-Doctrine of Bush – as Krauthammer reminds us – is that we should, in all things, be needlessly goading.

I joke. I think there are massive substantive problems with Krauthammer’s principle of unilateralism, which have nothing to do with the moral imperatives of multilateralism. And I think that Sarah Palin’s answer to Gibson was disturbing for the intellectual void it revealed. And, Palin’s tendency, when pushed into areas of obvious ignorance, to recur to a language of pugnacious moralism, is, as Ross points out, depressingly familiar. In fact, she and Charlie Gibson make a similar mistake, projecting a specious categorical clarity onto what is actually a huge mess.