ABC News' Teddy Davis and Hope Ditto Report: Appearing Friday on NBC's "Today," Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich described Sarah Palin's lack of clarity on whether she subscribes to the Bush Doctrine as reflecting lessons learned in the last seven years, adding that President Bush would have had a "much harder case to make" in the run up to the Iraq war if he were trying to meet the imminent threat standard articulated by Palin during her Thursday interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson.
"I think it depends on what you mean by the word 'imminent,'" said Gingrich. "I suspect that if you went back and said to her, 'All right, if we find somebody is preparing a biological or nuclear weapon to use against us, would you wait until the last second?' 'Would you move as early as you were sure they were against you?' I think you get into sort of judgment calls there. But I also think she reflects lessons we've learned in the last seven years and you've got to be cautious and you've got to make sure that you have a case beyond reasonable doubt and that you're not just acting at sort of first...notice."
Asked by NBC's Matt Lauer if President Bush would have had a "very difficult case" to make before the American people if he were trying to meet Palin's "imminent threat" standard, Gingrich said, "I think he would have had a much harder case to make."
Gingrich then quickly added that "although at the time, we tend to forget this looking backwards, at the time people thought the Iraqis were explicitly, and that Saddam Hussein was explicitly, trying to get weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass murder, and I think if you think that someone is actively trying to get a nuclear or biological weapon you probably don't wait until they finish the weapon and are prepared to put it in a rocket."
During her Thursday interview with ABC News, Palin said she supports using U.S. military force when a strike is "imminent" against the American people but she stopped short of saying whether she supports "anticipatory self-defense," leaving open the question of whether she subscribes to the Bush Doctrine.
"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," Palin told ABC News' Charles Gibson. "In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend, and that's what a McCain-Palin administration would do."
Asked if Palin's bar for the use of force is higher than the one contained in the Bush Doctrine, the McCain-Palin campaign said that it was a highly conceptual question that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself may have never answered and that it was going to let Palin's interview with Gibson stand on its own.
The McCain campaign also explained Palin's unclear stance on the Bush Doctrine by telling ABCNEWS.com that Gibson's question was asked in the abstract and not in the context of an Iraq war which the Republican presidential nominee has consistently supported.
McCain not only voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq but reaffirmed in an interview earlier this year that he thinks the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not a mistake.
"The war, 'the invasion,' was not a mistake. The handling of the war was a terrible mistake," McCain told the late Tim Russert of NBC News in January.
President Bush's September 2002 "National Security Strategy of the United States" declares that the U.S. "must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries."
The security strategy reads: "The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction -- and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack."
While calling for the U.S. to revise its policy on the use of force, the 2002 strategy document describes an imminent threat as "most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack."
In her interview with ABC News, Palin was initially unsure of what Gibson was referring to when he asked about the Bush Doctrine. The McCain campaign says that this is because the Bush Doctrine has been used to refer to multiple concepts beyond anticipatory self-defense including "are you with us or are you against us" and the concept that the United States will hold a nation-state that harbors terrorists responsible. Before Gibson explained that he was referring to anticipatory self-defense, Palin suggested that she thought that it referred to the president's commitment to ridding the world of Islamic extremism.