Friday, Jul. 7, 2006 The End of Cowboy Diplomacy Why the Bush Doctrine no longer guides the foreign policy of the Bush Administration By MIKE ALLEN AND ROMESH RATNESAR The dress code at George W. Bush's white house is cuff- linked and starch collared, reflecting the temper of a President with a reputation for no-nonsense, alpha-male decisiveness. That's why the 200 guests gathered at the White House on Independence Day were surprised to learn that Bush had decided to rip up protocol. It was an early 60th-birthday party for the President, attended by former classmates from first grade to Yale, and Bush was in high spirits. He waved to supporters on the South Lawn who had assembled to watch fire- works. They serenaded him with a hurried rendition of Happy Birthday. But instead of the usual starch, he wore a red-and-white Hawaiian shirt for the occasion. Six years into his presidency, Bush can't be blamed for wanting a change. All the good feeling at the White House on July 4 couldn't hide the fact that he finds himself in a world of hurt. A grinding and unpopular war in Iraq, a growing insurgency in Afghanistan, an impasse over Iran's nuclear ambitions, a brewing war between Israel and the Palestiniansâthe litany of global crises would test the fortitude of any President, let alone a second-termer with an approval rating mired in Warren Harding territory. And there's no relief in sight. On the very day that Bush celebrated 60, North Korea's regime, already believed to possess material for a clutch of nuclear weapons, test-launched seven missiles, including one designed to reach the U.S. Even more surprising than the test (it failed less than two minutes after launch) was Bush's response to it. Long gone were the zero-tolerance warnings that peppered his speeches four years ago, when he made North Korea a charter member of the "axis of evil" club and declared at West Point that "the only path of safety is the path of action." Instead, Bush pledged to "make sure we work with our friends and allies...to continue to send a unified message" to Pyongyang. In a press conference following the missile test, he referred to diplomacy half a dozen times. The shift under way in Bush's foreign policy is bigger and more seismic than a change of wardrobe or a modulation of tone. Bush came to office pledging to focus on domestic issues and pursue a "humble" foreign policy that would avoid the entanglements of the Bill Clinton years. After Sept. 11, however, the Bush team embarked on a different path, outlining a muscular, idealistic and unilateralist vision of American power and how to use it. He aimed to lay the foundation for a grand strategy to fight Islamic terrorists and rogue states by spreading democracy around the world and pre-empting gathering threats before they materialize. And the U.S. wasn't willing to wait for others to help. The approach fit with Bush's personal style, his self-professed proclivity to dispense with the nuances of geopolitics and go with his gut. "The Bush Doctrine is actually being defined by action, as opposed to by words," Bush told Tom Brokaw aboard Air Force One in 2003. 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. actionâor 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 noteâand in many cases, taking advantageâof 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." To much of the world, that's a relief. But having expended so much energy and so many resources on al-Qaeda and the war in Iraq, the Administration is finding that other global challengesâfrom the turmoil in the Middle East to the genocide in Sudan to the regional ambitions of Chinaâhave grown beyond its ability to do anything about them. "It's difficult to think of many other times and many other presidencies when so many dangerous events were happening at once," says Wendy Sherman, a State Department official under President Clinton. "But there's so much going on in every global hot spot because the Bush Administration really opened up Pandora's box with little-to-no plans to support their actions." At the same time, there is a danger that Bush's belated embrace of conventional diplomacy will turn out to be a cover for disengagement, at a time when U.S. leadership is still required to fend off civil war in Iraq and deter the ambitions of Iran and North Koreaâto say nothing of al-Qaeda. We are witnessing an overhaul of the old Bush Doctrine, but the question is, Can the U.S. find a new one to take its place? The Iraq Effect It may be too soon to say whether history will look kindly on the U.S.'s decision to invade Iraq, as Bush and his aides insist will happen. But the very fact that parts of Iraq remain on the edge of chaos after three years of fighting and the deaths of more than 2,500 Americans are incontrovertible evidence of how the Administration's miscalculations have come back to haunt it. Toppling Saddam was to be the singular demonstration of the Bush Doctrine, a quick and decisive strike against tyranny in the heart of the Middle East. It would also send a message to the rest of the world's malefactors, including Iran and North Korea, to think twice about testing the U.S.'s patience with regimes bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As it turns out, Iraq may prove to be not only the first but also the last laboratory for preventive war. Instead of deterring the rulers in Tehran and Pyongyang, the travails of the U.S. occupation may have emboldened those regimes in their quest to obtain nuclear weapons while constraining the U.S. military's ability to deter them. "We put three countries on noticeâIraq, Iran and North Koreaâand we attacked one of them pre-emptively," says retired Marine Corps General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the U.S. Central Command from 1991 to '94. "Now we find that was a put-up job. Meanwhile, North Korea and Iran have chosen different routes than what we wanted them to take."