The Incredible Shrinking Superpower

Bush is a lame duck, and foreigners know it. But his successor, Republican or Democrat, will find that America's influence in the world is also at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Bush's trip to Saudi Arabia [to unsuccessfully request the Saudi rulers to drop oil prices] offered a sobering answer [No!]. Unsaid was the fact that even if the Saudis could reduce gas and oil prices, why would they? They're making a lot of money and the U.S. doesn't have much leverage to convince them they ought to make less.

The Arab-Israeli peace process is no one's idea of an easy fix, but it's failing now, in part, because of American weakness. The U.S. has tried to rally Arab pressure on Hamas, only to see it grow stronger.

The most important of the tough issues Bush's successor will inherit in the region is the confrontation with Iran. Iran is shrugging off U.N. sanctions that Russia and China are ensuring remain half-hearted.

And with the U.S. pinned down in Iraq and Afghanistan there's little Washington can do to scare Iran into changing its ambitions. On Sunday, on the flight back to Washington, when Condoleezza Rice was asked if there was any progress on pressuring Iran, she said, "The important thing is that the President significantly advanced the discussion about really using the strengths that this community of states [in the region] has." Translation: No.

Americans tend to think of the presidency as all-powerful, but much of its authority comes from the ability to convince the public to follow, and the same is sometimes true in diplomacy. The time when George W. Bush could perform that trick has long passed.

But if Americans are adjusting to the idea of a weak Bush, an even tougher mental leap awaits them once he leaves office: accepting that the U.S. isn't the force abroad it was just a few years ago. The next President's hardest job may be getting the country used to that.

[Excerpt of a Time article by Massimo Calbesi and Al Janadriyah]

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