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Governor Palin and the Return of Jacksonian Foreign Policy





In May, Governor Palin gave a speech at a “Tribute to the Troops” event at Colorado Christian University. As part of this speech, Governor Palin outlined a clear vision of American military policy, which has now become known as the Palin doctrine by many:

There’s a lesson here then for the effective use of force, as opposed to sending our troops on missions that are ill-defined. And it can be argued that our involvement elsewhere, say in Libya, is an example of a lack of clarity. See, these are deadly serious questions that we must ask ourselves when we contemplate sending Americans into harm’s way. Our men and women in uniform deserve a clear understanding of U.S. positions on such a crucial decision. I believe our criteria before we send our young men and women—America’s finest—into harm’s way should be spelled out clearly when it comes to the use of our military force. I can tell you what I believe that criteria should be in five points.

First, we should only commit our forces when clear and vital American interests are at stake. Period.

Second, if we have to fight, we fight to win. To do that, we use overwhelming force. We only send our troops into war with the objective to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. We do not stretch out our military with open-ended and ill-defined missions. Nation building is a nice idea in theory, but it is not the main purpose of our armed forces. We use our military to win wars.

Third, we must have clearly defined goals and objectives before sending troops into harm’s way. If you can’t explain the mission to the American people clearly and concisely, then our sons and daughters should not be sent into battle. Period.

Fourth, American soldiers must never be put under foreign command. We will fight side by side with our allies, but American soldiers must remain under the care and the command of American officers.

Fifth, sending in our armed forces should be the last resort. We don’t go looking for dragons to slay. However, we will encourage the forces of freedom around the world who are sincerely fighting for the empowerment of the individual. When it makes sense, when it’s appropriate, we will provide them with material support to help them win their own freedom.

Today, in her Facebook post, Governor Palin offered her thoughts on the recent activity in Libya, evaluating the situation realistically and cautiously and highlighting how the “Palin Doctrine” would be applied in practice. She cautioned against “triumphalism” and warned of co-opting of Libyan liberation and the future Libyan government by radical Muslim groups like the Islamic Libyan Fighting Group and al Qaeda, as is being done in Syria. Much in the same way, she had warned against the takeover of Egyptian government by the Muslim Brotherhood after the ousting of President Mubarak in February. She also warned against committing troops to being involved in missions in Libya that would not be in America’s best interest, much in the same way that she blasted President Obama in April when she questioned President Obama’s lack of clarity on Libya and his decision to place US troops under foreign command.  Her statement today was a weaving of multiple points of her military doctrine into a clear vision of what America’s role should be in Libya following the defeat of Gaddafi.

This once again allows Governor Palin to create a contrast between herself and the declared presidential candidates. Governor Romney made a short statement  calling for the new Libyan government to allow extradition of the Lockerbie bomber to the US to bring about justice for the Pan Am terrorism from 1986.  To be sure, justice is a worthy and necessary goal, but Romney’s vision is myopic. He does not offer any solutions for the larger problem of the instability in Libya. Governors Perry and Huntsman recognized the need for cautious celebration, but do not seem to grasp the gravity of the threats of who may occupy the new Libyan government. Congresswoman Bachmann continued to express her non-support for Libyan involvement and hoped for a speedy removal of US troops, but did not offer solutions for how this should be done. Leadership, though, is not about vague statements or solutions with no game plan. Governor Palin clearly outlined the problems and warnings while providing specificity, not lip service to foreign policy solutions.

This post allowed for further expansion of Governor Palin’s Jacksonian approach to foreign policy. Too often, pundits create a false dichotomy between neoconservatism and isolationism, but Governor Palin espouses neither. Her foreign policy vision is along the lines of Presidents Jackson and Reagan—“robust internationalism” as Caroline Glick characterized it in a piece at Real Clear Politics last week.  Glick’s piece provides concise and clear distinctions between neoconservatism, isolationism and robust internationalism. Neoconservatives,as Glick notes, have too often (and wrongly) lumped those who take a more Jacksonian view of foreign policy with isolationists:

Neoconservative writers have castigated opponents of US military involvement in Libya as isolationists. In so doing, they placed Republican politicians like presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in the same pile as presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan.

The very notion that robust internationalists like Bachmann and Palin could be thrown in with ardent isolationists like Paul and Buchanan is appalling. But it is of a piece with the prevailing, false notion being argued by dominant voices in neoconservative circles that, "You’re either with us or you’re with the Buchanaites."

Glick later notes that the foreign policy approach is like that first espoused by President Jackson and later by President Reagan, as seen by the way Reagan dealt with the Soviet Union. He did so with great strength—because America’ s interests were at stake.  Glick provides a good description of this foreign policy platform, and it is right in line with the “Palin doctrine”:

According to Mead, the Jacksonian foreign policy model involves a few basic ideas. The US is different from the rest of the world and therefore the US should not try to remake the world in its own image by claiming that everyone is basically the same. The US must ensure its honor abroad by abiding by its commitments and standing with its allies. The US must take action to defend its interests. The US must fight to win or not fight at all. The US should only respect those foes that fight by the same rules as the US does.

Glick later notes that America needs a President who espouses this Jacksonian approach to foreign policy and rejects the false choice between isolationism and neoconservatism:

Still, it would be a real tragedy if at the end of the primary season, due to neoconservative intellectual bullying the Republican presidential nominee was forced to choose between neoconservativism and isolationism. A rich, successful and popular American foreign policy tradition of Jacksonianism awaits the right candidate.

Governor Palin is one who best captures this approach to foreign policy. Although Glick characterizes Congresswoman Bachmann as Jacksonian, Governor Palin offers more specificity and fewer platitudes. She also provides more pointed solutions and a more detailed understanding of the situation in Libya than the responses of Governors Perry and Romney, thus displaying yet again the difference between responsive leadership of Governor Palin and reactionary politics of the rest.



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