Two years ago in a speech at the West Point commencement, President Bush enunciated his doctrine of preemption. He said, "We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge."
Having shot its "preemption" bolt against Iraq and its highly speculative weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration is now treading carefully against Iran with its more evident nuclear program.
In Sea Island, Ga., last week the G-8 industrial powers recommended a one-year moratorium on the export of fissile materials to countries that don't officially have any. Mr. Bush went along, although this fell short of his demand for a permanent ban on such exports.
In Vienna this week, the 35 nations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) worked on a resolution demanding that Iran comply more fully with its commitment for complete disclosure of its atomic program, backed by international inspections.
Iran made that commitment not to the US, but to Britain, France, and Germany, a group called the "EU-3." The US is not, for the time being, pressing its case for referring the issue to the United Nations Security Council, with possible imposition of sanctions.
In a speech in February, Bush proposed that control over uranium enrichment be placed with a nuclear suppliers' group composed of the 40 countries operating nuclear programs. Other members of the IAEA have not shown great enthusiasm for the idea. Meanwhile, the Tehran government shows no signs of acceding to demands to allow more sweeping inspections to test the Iranian assertion that its nuclear program is aimed only at adding to its energy resources. Why a country sitting on a sea of oil needs additional energy resources is an unanswered question.
But noteworthy is how the US, which once proclaimed the virtue of preventative war against members of the "axis of evil," has apparently put preemption on the shelf and seems content to work through international organizations. That is the newer and gentler superpower.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.