Bush's Foreign Priority

After promoting freedom in many nations, President Bush finally has found his own.

He won a second term and freed himself of political pressures to be reelected. And having been the post-9/11 "war president," he's become schooled enough in the ways of the world that he can also free himself from following the advice of his more-seasoned foreign policy team. He's "cut his teeth," as he said after his election victory.

Now, will a new George W. Bush emerge?

Americans began to see a slightly different leader in the closing weeks of the campaign. Mr. Bush began to sound more multilateral, and friendlier to allies. Perhaps that was merely a tactic to reduce the appeal of John Kerry's "global test" of multilateralism and to ease voter worries about America's new unpopularity over Iraq.

But after his decisive win - one that forced Bush-wary nations to see his foreign policy endorsed by a majority of American voters - he did declare his intention "to reach out to our friends and allies, our partners [in Europe] to promote development and progress...."

Despite appearing magnanimous in victory, Bush could still feel an urgency to bypass the objections of many allies in order to take further actions aimed at preventing another 9/11-style attack. Any president retains that option.

But in Iraq, the US has learned the limits of alienating allies, especially with the loss of many US troops and Iraqi civilians, as well as the heavy drain on American military resources and taxpayers.

It's not that Bush is a serial unilateralist or a habitual preemptivist. In fact, unlike in Iraq, he's currently relying on many nations such as France and China to apply pressure on Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear ambitions.

And on such issues as expanding the world trade pact and the crisis in Sudan's Darfur, Bush has practiced classic internationalism and leadership.

As one test of a new, second-term Bush, the president can draw closer to European allies by working with them on a particular mutual goal: the creation of a nonaggressive Palestinian state.

Bush's closest ally, Britain's Tony Blair, made a plea last week for Bush to achieve that goal soon as one way to reduce anti-West Arab anger. The apparent end of Yasser Arafat's leadership of the Palestinians also creates an opening for bolder US action. And Bush is now largely free of the domestic pressures that have encouraged him to support blindly the hard-line policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Building wider international coalitions also should help Bush win over Democrats and begin to restore a tradition of bipartisanship in US foreign policy.

Both Democrats and Europe may feel a postelection realism to work closer with a victorious Bush on foreign tasks. The president, more confident after his win, says he will also reach out to them. Actions, more than words, will show if he means it.

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