But something else has changed. In disavowing his so-called tough talk, Bush has dropped clues to a tactical shift. Once dedicated to a black-and-white fight for strategic victory in Iraq and elsewhere, Bush now seems more committed to an amorphous battle for the hearts and minds throughout Islam. Why else recant cowboy calls for capturing the utterly despicable Bin Laden -- a figure who remains popular in the Islamic world? And why else identify Abu Ghraib as the Iraq War's single worst mistake?
Abu Ghraib, after all, was not a military setback -- such as the failure to capture or kill Mahdi Militia leader Muqtada Al-Sadr. Nor was it a grievous security blunder -- such as the failure to put down post-invasion looting in Baghdad. Dissected from context and magnified beyond proportion in the kangaroo court of world opinion, Abu Ghraib was a public relations disaster. For Bush to call it Mistake Numero Uno after recanting his own colloquial war rhetoric is unwise, weak and, therefore, quite dangerous.
And it is here that American Superpowerdom becomes a risky enterprise. Fueling this policy shift is a profound misunderstanding of both Islam and its animating institution of jihad. Renouncing the tough talk and wallowing in Abu Ghraib become a tacit acceptance of some blame for the jihad terrorism now spilling blood around the globe. It also signals a flagging will to project power.
Maybe this is the Bush administration's idea of winning Muslim "hearts and minds." I can't help but think of what a National Guardsmen home from Iraq recently told The New York Times magazine: His officers, the guardsmen, said, "were always drumming into us: 'Hearts-and-minds, hearts-and-minds. We've got to win these people over.' He gave a laugh. 'These people just wanted us dead.'"
That is nothing for any American president to apologize for.