When President Bush flew to Canada in his first international trip following his reelection, the White House portrayed it as the beginning of a fence-mending tour to bring allies back into the fold after a tense first term. But after Bush left, the Canadians were more furious than before.
They were stunned when Bush leaned across a table in a private meeting and lectured Prime Minister Paul Martin about opposing the U.S. missile defense system. And they were later taken aback by a speech filled with what they considered the same "old Bush" foreign policy pronouncements that opened the divide with the allies in the first place.
"If he's going to take that speech to Europe," said a top Canadian official who attended the meeting between Bush and Martin, "he's not going to get a good reception."
For all the talk of fresh diplomacy and rebuilding frayed alliances, Bush heads into his second term still demanding that the rest of the world meet him on his terms -- and now he has redefined those terms to an even more provocative degree with an inaugural address articulating a grand vision for spreading democracy and "ending tyranny" in "every nation." With his eye on history, Bush wants to change the world. The rest of the world is not necessarily so eager to be changed.
While administration officials have since tried to tamp down expectations of a radical shift in policy, the inaugural speech reflected a worldview dramatically at odds with that in many parts of Europe and the Middle East, where it has only confirmed the image of Bush as an American unilateralist pursuing his own agenda with messianic fervor.
To the neoconservative thinkers who have long sought a leader in the White House willing to champion American ideals abroad, Bush has the chance to be a transformative figure. The first-term efforts to build democratic institutions in Afghanistan and Iraq, they hope, will expand in the second term, though not necessarily through armed force.
"His importance as a world leader will turn out to be far larger than the sort of tactical issues that are widely debated and for which he is sometimes reviled," said Richard Perle, an influential former adviser to the Pentagon. "Put this in a historic perspective: He's already created profound change. All around the Middle East, they're talking about the issue of democracy. They're talking about his agenda. It's an extraordinary thing."
Yet many Democrats, as well as Republicans from the traditional school of U.S. foreign policy, see Bush heading down a treacherous road that will further unravel a half-century of international relationships. The rupture over Iraq, they fear, may presage a widening divide with the rest of the world over the next four years.
"The proposition is being tested, and the proposition is we can reorganize the world from the base of American power and exceptionalism and that, like it or not, history will comply and other powers will back down," said Leon Fuerth, who was national security adviser to Vice President Al Gore in the Clinton administration. "It seems to me this is a formula for dispersing American power and influence rather than building it."
The inspiration for Bush's thinking lately has been Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet political prisoner turned conservative Israeli politician. Bush read Sharansky's book "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror" and invited him to the White House in November to talk about its ideas. Since then, Bush has been recommending the book to nearly everyone he sees, from friends to journalists to foreign leaders, telling CNN last week that "this is a book that . . . summarizes how I feel."
In the book, Sharansky outlines what he calls the "town square test," meaning that a country is not free if its citizens cannot go to a public place and express dissent from the ruling power without fear of reprisal -- a test Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice embraced during Senate testimony last week.
The book takes on conservative "realists" who focus on preserving stability and national interests rather than advancing noble causes such as democracy -- the approach espoused by Rice before Bush's 2000 election in a Foreign Affairs magazine article called "Promoting the National Interest." In that article, she defined U.S. national interests as rebuilding military power, expanding free trade agreements, confronting "rogue regimes," renewing relationships with allies and building ties with "great powers" such as Russia and China.
Rice's thinking has since evolved along with that of her president. The most striking personification of the thinking Sharansky rejects is none other than President George H.W. Bush, whose approach to foreign policy emphasized alliances and order over romantic crusades. At one point during his administration, the elder Bush resisted independence for Ukraine out of fear of destabilizing the Soviet Union, even as his defense secretary, Dick Cheney, advocated quick recognition of a free Kiev.
Like Sharansky, the current president's philosophical statement effectively repudiates the former president. "It's the opposite of his father, not a departure but the opposite," said Kenneth Adelman, a former Reagan administration official and Cheney confidant. The current president wants "to be a transformational leader rather than a transactional leader. I can't imagine how much further it could be from the views of his father. He's just a different kind of leader."