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But the unleashing never happened. Instead, U.S. forces began an assault and then withdrew. A senior White House official explained the reversal a week later. "We've demonstrated that we can be tough, but we need to show that we can be smart," he said. "I know that makes people anxious who want to turn Fallujah into a parking lot, but you can win the battle and lose the war." Hawkish critics immediately called the new softening a retreat. But it was only one of many examples of shifting tactics. Bush won't change his mind when the French want to avoid a war at all costs, but he is willing to change course if there's a smarter way to get where he wants to go. He still thinks international institutions like the U.N. are feckless and weak, but he now understands they have a role to play.
Having confronted the limits of military power, Bush had little choice but to embrace the U.N. as the midwife of Iraqi independence. In November he hauled L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. proconsul, back to Washington for consultations and set a timetable to restore sovereignty to Iraq, having concluded that the Iraqis would not fall in line behind an American, no matter who he was. Bush knew that Bremer was getting beaten up in the media for the occupation's failings, so when the two went walking outside within sight of the cameras, Bush put his arm around Bremer while photographers took the shot. "Access to power is power in Washington," Bush once told an aide.
Bush, who once spoke of being a war President, now refers to himself as a peace President who would spend a second term working to repair damaged relations and build democracy in the Middle East. He has repeatedly sent the signal to Arab countries in interviews with their media that he's not keen on more invasions. After three years of criticizing Bush for high-handedness, some foreign officials at the G8 summit in June saw a real change. U.S. officials, they said, were more willing to listen, more interested in finding a pragmatic solution to their differences. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, long in the White House doghouse after opposing the war in Iraq, was moved to declare after a meeting with Bush at the summit, "There has been a remarkable change in the American foreign policy." Of course, many were saying that back when Bush went to the U.N. for a seal of approval on the invasion, but he went to war without it.
THE LIMITS OF KNOWLEDGE
As the nation's first M.B.A. President, Bush took to the White House a businessman's case-study training rather than a lawyer's conceptual toolbox. But if a concept will solve a problem, he can embrace it with a convert's passion. Once he was convinced that phonics worked, he put the reading theory at the center of his Texas education plan. A similar thing happened on the way to war. In that case the concept was the neoconservatives' largely academic belief in the transforming power of freedom in the Middle East. The neocons' vision to remake the world is, to Bush, deeply practical; it is meant to keep more planes from flying into buildings.