Bush is not a man who likes complexities. He has marked his foreign policy with a good versus evil rhetoric that has angered some world leaders, amused others and put off a few.
In the beginning, Osama bin Laden was evil and the good nations had to rally to fight him. If you weren't with the U.S. on this, you were against it.
China with its own problems of radical Muslim terrorists politely bought into that notion when Bush visited there last spring. The U.S. had whipped the Taliban and OBL as the White House likes call bin Laden, seemed out the picture anyway.
Admittedly in January, Bush had unexpectedly decided to identify three states, all of which had good relations and commerce (including weapons) with China, as an "axis of evil," North Korea, Iraq and Iran.
China's leaders were not pleased, but by the time Bush arrived in Beijing a few weeks later, he found an atmosphere of good fellowship. Jiang even promised to use his good offices with North Korea strongman Kim Jong Il to speed the idea of peaceful rapprochement between North and South Korea.
Fast forward to October. Bush has transferred his good and evil rhetoric to Iraq and Saddam Hussein claiming that the world must disarm him and topple his regime.
If the world doesn't rally around the administration, Bush warned the United Nations on Sept. 12, the U.S. would do the job itself. In preparation for an attack, the U.S. military has moved forces and supplies into areas around Iraq, to strengthen his point. Bush wants a tough, no nonsense resolution from the U.N. Security Council to underwrite military action if he needs it.
This was not good news for Beijing. It has supplied arms to Iraq, including reportedly fiber optics to rebuild an air defense system, and like Russia is unlikely to want to give the U.S. the right to wage war against Iraq. China and a whole raft of nations argue that disarming Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction are an arms control problem, not a military problem. China has a veto in the Security Council, where any resolution must pass.
Last week, the United States appeared to be making a deal on a U.N. resolution. The U.N. would vote for a resolution that demands that Iraq submit to U.N. inspections and give up its weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. agreed that the resolution would only warn Iraq of "severe consequences" should Saddam fail to comply. It sidestepped the debate of whether the United Nations needs to first authorize military action.
It looked like Bush was backing off of evil, but U.S. officials quickly maintained that if they decided to launch a war, they didn't need a resolution anyway.
Meanwhile, al Qaida, virtually dormant for a year, appeared to launch a wide-ranging terrorist campaign. A French super tanker was hit and set afire by an explosive laden small boat off of Yemen. U.S. Marines were attacked and one killed in Kuwait and a nightclub in the Indonesian resort of Bali was bombed killing more than 180 people, many of them Australians.
Bush is trying to persuade the Indonesian government to crack down on Muslim radicals.
On Thursday, the world learned that North Korea, once a major client state of China, had secretly been developing nuclear weapons, lying to the U.S. and several other nations and carrying it out with large numbers of Chinese and Russians in the country on various projects. Though no one accused Russia or China of complicity in the nuclear arms, it was hard to believe their intelligence services didn't know. Indeed many people in American intelligence services suspected North Korea was cheating.
The Bush administration quickly claimed this wasn't the same thing as Iraq and signaled that there would be no military action there. He's had a hard time with that position for several days because Kim Jung Il is certainly as bizarre as Saddam and has certainly mistreated a goodly number of his own people.
On Friday, The New York Times quoted American officials as saying that North Korea got the makings for the weapons from Pakistan, the U.S.'s key ally in the war in Afghanistan, in exchange for providing them with missiles. And North Korean missiles are another problem for Bush. The Asian arms merchant has developed far better delivery systems for its weapons than has Saddam Hussein. They can hit Japan, Taiwan and came pretty close to Alaska last year.
Until this month, Bush has relied in his foreign policy on the overwhelming military and economic might of the U.S. He has set out a position, from dropping Kyoto to the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, on a take it or leave it basis, relying on Secretary of State Colin Powell to make this as palatable as possible.
But now, U.S. changing its position in the U.N., may signal a new style: negotiation not ultimatums.