In her first major interview as the Republican vice presidential nominee, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was stumped when asked about the so-called "Bush Doctrine," unable to answer whether she agreed with the six-year-old U.S. policy of military preemption.
Asked by ABC News' Charlie Gibson whether she supported the Bush Doctrine, Palin stared blankly for a moment before turning the question back on Gibson. "In what respect?"
The ABC anchor responded, "Well, what do you interpret it to be?" clearly testing her knowledge of the policy that has been in place since September 2002, before the Iraq war.
Palin couldn't say, offering an answer that didn't even mention preemption. "I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell-bent in 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, who clearly felt he had not received a sufficient answer to the question he had asked, proceeded to define the Bush Doctrine for the governor. According to Bush's National Security Strategy from September 2002: "While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country."
Thus, Gibson pressed Palin. "The Bush Doctrine is we have the right to self-defense, pre-emptive strike against any country we think is going to attack us," he noted. "Do you agree with it?"
Finally, Palin came close to offering an opinion on preemption. "Charlie, if there is enough intelligent and legitimate evidence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country," she said.
Later in the interview, Palin was asked why exactly being the governor of Alaska made her an expert on Russia -- a claim that the McCain campaign has used to justify her national security bonafides. Her response was to cite geographic proximity, claiming that from some points in her home state, one could actually see the increasingly confrontational nation.
PALIN: We have to keep our eyes on Russia. Under the leadership there.
GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions does the proximity of the state give you?
PALIN: They're our next door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.
There were times during her appearance on ABC that Palin seemingly did not have a full grasp of McCain's own foreign policy positions. For example, when pressed by Gibson whether, in efforts to combat terrorism, the United States should target al Qaeda figures in Pakistan without that country's permission, Palin tried to circumvent the question. The ABC host attempted to pin her down with a yes or no answer, to which Palin seemed to suggest that it would be an American imperative to make such an un-sanctioned attack.
"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 the tough decisions of where we go, and even who we target. she said.
The response, though hardly definitive, seemed to put her at odds with McCain, who has harshly criticized Obama for saying he would target terrorist leaders that are replenishing their ranks in northwest Pakistan.