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Palin's Foreign Policy Embraces Instinct, Shuns Doctrine

By Scott Conroy - May 6, 2011

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When the Republicans' then-vice-presidential nominee sat down for her first network television interview on the 2008 campaign trail, her relatively smooth performance was briefly jeopardized during the awkward silence that followed ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson's curt question, "Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?"

After Palin offered an indirect response that suggested she didn't know what "Bush Doctrine" meant, a visibly disdainful Gibson clarified his original query and asked if she believed in the use of preemptive force. And that was when Palin leaned forward in her chair.

"Charlie, 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," she said, shaking her fist authoritatively.

A couple of weeks later, a moment caught on camera at a cheesesteak joint in Philadelphia encapsulated even more thoroughly Palin's instinct-driven foreign policy. When a customer confronted her over whether the U.S. should launch raids from Afghanistan into Pakistan to capture or kill high-level terrorists, Palin responded, "If that's what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should."

Just days earlier, Palin's running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, had criticized the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, for publicly declaring that he would unilaterally send forces into Pakistan to hunt down terrorist leaders -- a declaration that McCain suggested was naïve for a leader to make publicly.

Palin's blunt reply at the Philadelphia restaurant was regarded as a gaffe at the time, which McCain later complained was instigated by "gotcha journalism." But with the recent killing of Osama bin Laden in just such a raid, Palin has plausible grounds to tout the episode as an example of how her instincts can trump intellectual deliberation and decades of experience.

"I know what I know what I know": Former advisers say that Palin is fond of repeating that phrase aloud at times when her intuition is called into question. The mantra is her way of reaffirming the validity of her core convictions, which have guided her more than any academic treatise or policy book.

Until they exited Palin World earlier this month, Goldfarb and Scheunemann had been the final remaining strings that Palin had not yet severed from her two-month whirlwind candidacy on the vice-presidential campaign trail. Now she has broken free from all of the advisers she was assigned and has surrounded herself with the ones she sought out herself.

Unlike some previous staff departures, her parting of ways with Goldfarb and Scheunemann was by all accounts amicable and due to the advisers no longer having enough time to devote to Palin. It was not due to the realization of ideological incompatibility -- which would suggest she has made a significant conceptual shift in how she views the world.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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