The era of "Cowboy Diplomacy" is over, writes Time magazine.
The Bush Doctrine -- "The world's worst regimes will not be allowed to acquire the world's worst weapons" -- is being defied by Iran's Ahmadinejad and North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, with impunity.
The White House seems to have lost interest in its democracy crusade, after free elections advanced the prospects of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas on the West Bank. In Ukraine, the victors of the Orange Revolution have made a mess of things, and the pro-Putin forces are making a comeback
Neither the Afghan war, in its fifth year, nor the Iraq war, in its fourth, goes well. U.S. casualties are not falling, while the death toll among Afghans and Iraqis mounts toward levels where they may have to be described as not simply insurgencies, but civil wars.
America is a spectator in the Palestinian conflict, wringing its hands, but backing Israel as she seeks to starve to death a Hamas that came to power in elections Bush himself sponsored.
What has happened? What has rendered impotent the robust cowboy diplomacy of George W. Bush, a policy of pre-emptive strikes and preventive wars, of crusades for global democracy and ridding the world of tyrants, a policy declared in his "axis-of-evil" address and Second Inaugural?
Answer: Bush has run up against the limits of power. Strong as our military may be, it is but one-tenth of the size of the U.S forces that conquered Germany and Japan. U.S. air and missile power, and U.S. special forces guiding warlord armies, can knock over a Taliban regime, with few losses. U.S. armored divisions, backed by unrivaled air and missile power, can roll over an Iraqi army and unhorse an Iraqi regime.
But building a nation is another matter. As the French learned in the Ruhr in 1923, "you cannot dig coal with bayonets," Americans are discovering you cannot build a democratic nation on Islamic soil in Texas-sized nations like Iraq and Afghanistan without a massive, long-term occupation, if a slice of the population looks upon the regime you support as a sock puppet of American imperialism.
Why has Bush decided diplomacy is the better part of valor in dealing with Iran and North Korea? Consider the alternative.
Pyongyang is a formidable power with a million-man army and 11,000 artillery pieces on the DMZ. Iran is three times as populous and four times the size of Iraq. Should Bush attack either, he could end his term with U.S. forces fighting three major wars.