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But in the span of four years, the Administration has been forced to rethink the doctrine with which it hoped to remake the world as the strategy's ineffectiveness is exposed by the very policies it prescribed. The swaggering Commander in Chief who embodied the doctrine's aspirations has modulated himself too. At a press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in May, Bush swore off the Wild West rhetoric of getting enemies "dead or alive," conceding that "in certain parts of the world, it was misinterpreted." Bush's response to the North Korean missile test was equally revealing. Under the old Bush Doctrine, defiance by a dictator like Kim Jong Il would have merited threats of punitive U.S. action--or at least a tongue lashing. Instead, the Administration has mainly been talking up multilateralism and downplaying Pyongyang's provocation. As much as anything, it's confirmation of what Princeton political scientist Gary J. Bass calls "doctrinal flameout." Put another way: cowboy diplomacy, RIP.
So what happened? The most obvious answer is that the Bush Doctrine foundered in the principal place the U.S. tried to apply it. Though no one in the White House openly questions Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, some aides now acknowledge that it has come at a steep cost in military resources, public support and credibility abroad. The Administration is paying the bill every day as it tries to cope with other crises. Pursuing the forward-leaning foreign policy envisioned in the Bush Doctrine is nearly impossible at a time when the U.S. is trying to figure out how to extricate itself from Iraq. Around the world, both the U.S.'s friends and its adversaries are taking note--and in many cases, taking advantage--of the strains on the superpower. If the toppling of Saddam Hussein marked the high-water mark of U.S. hegemony, the past three years have witnessed a steady erosion in Washington's ability to bend the world to its will.
Despite appearances, the White House insists that Bush's goals have not changed. "The President has always stressed that different circumstances warrant different responses," says White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "The impression that the doctrine of pre-emption was the only guiding foreign policy light is not true. Iraq was a unique circumstance in history, and the sense of urgency on certain decisions in the early part of the first term was reflective of a nation that had to take decisive action after being attacked."
Nonetheless, a strategic makeover is evident in the ascendancy of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has tried to repair the Administration's relations with allies and has persuaded Bush to join multilateral negotiations aimed at defusing the standoffs with North Korea and Iran. By training and temperament, Rice is a foreign policy realist, less inclined to the moralizing approach of the neoconservatives who dominated Bush's War Cabinet in the first term. Her push for pragmatism has rubbed off on hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney, the primary intellectual force behind Bush's post-9/11 policies. "There's a move, even by Cheney, toward the Kissingerian approach of focusing entirely on vital interests," says a presidential adviser. "It's a more focused foreign policy that is driven by realism and less by ideology."