There is no single meaning of the Bush doctrine. In fact, there have been four distinct meanings, each one succeeding another over the eight years of this administration -- and the one Charlie Gibson cited is not the one in common usage today. It is utterly different.
So, is Sarah Palin's indecision and apparent cluelessness to be condoned, and is Charles Gibson to be condemned for posing the question? Not so fast!
First of all, the meaning of Bush doctrine today may be different, but to say it is "utterly different" is at least a stretch. It still includes the concept of unilateral, pre-emptive war, which remains a salient aspect of the overall doctrine.
As for Gibson's question, I will not go into whether he meant it as a "gotcha" moment: only Gibson knows it and I cannot assume to know the answer for him.
But I offer you this rebuttal from a blog I found. It says that Palin's request for clarification was technically correct because the Bush doctrine has shifted over time (what a surprise!), but here's the problem:
in common parlance the Bush doctrine clearly refers to the doctrine of preventive war that was used to justify the Iraq War. That much is obvious to anyone who has followed the issue. None of the elements of President's Bush' foreign policy philosophy ever got the same level of attention as that doctrine, which was really seen as a massive shift when it was announced in 2002.
To think of this in another way, if I were to ask someone, "Do you think that Barry Bonds' record should have an asterisk on it?", I would expect them to know which record I was talking about. If they were to answer, "Which record?", my assumption would be that they didn't know all that much about baseball. I obviously would not be referring to Barry Bonds the all time leader in base on balls or record holder for most league MVPs. No. I'd be talking about his 762 Home runs. Because that is the record that is so controversial. The one that has elicited so much debate and the one that is the main source of controversy. To assume anything else would be technically correct, but also incredibly stupid.
People can make all the excuses they want. But the reality is that if Sarah Palin had been paying attention to the huge foreign policy debate going on in this country over the past few years she would have known exactly what Charlie Gibson was talking about." (The whole post is here.)
I believe that Krauthammer is himself putting a good deal of spin on this issue. First of all, Gov. Palin seemed to have a genuine "deer in the headlight" moment when confronted with Gibson's question. Gibson caught on and gave her enough rope to hang herself, which she certainly did with her indecision and fumbling attempts at an answr. Secondly, if her doubt had been about genuine confusion on which one of the aspects of the Bush doctrine Gibson had intended, she could have said "Charlie, as you know there are many elements to the Bush doctrine. Which one are you specifically referring to?" Instead this is the full exchange between Palin and Gibson:
GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?
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?
As you see from the transcript, Palin equated the Bush doctrine with "his world view." Gibson did subsequently clarify that he meant the doctrine as expressed by the White House in 2002. Even then, the best Palin could muster was a fudgy answer about international terrorism, blunders and the beauty of American elections. Still no word on Bush's policy of unilateral, preventive intervention (some may call it aggression.)
Perhaps Charles Gibson really intended to put Gov. Palin on the spot. Perhaps he did so knowing that the Bush doctrine has evolved. But even then, he gave Palin the chance to recover from her initial impasse and she failed to articulate a pertinent answer.
In spite of Krauthammer's intellectual somersaults, Palin's inability to answer seems indefensible for a VP candidate.