updated 10/10/2006 1:21:08 PM ET 2006-10-10T17:21:08
ANALYSIS

The closer President Bush gets to the end of his term, the more troubled his foreign policy legacy looks, including potential all-out civil war in Iraq and the prospect of leaving behind two new nuclear weapons states, Iran and North Korea.

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The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, Palestinians are torn by infighting, efforts to end genocide in Darfur have failed, concerns persist about the readiness of the U.S. military, and Bush's sweeping vision of promoting democracy throughout the Middle East has produced mixed -- sometimes negative -- results, many critics say.

"The world was full of problems when Bush became president in 2001 and in every single case, he has turned a problem into a threat," said Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and a former Clinton administration adviser.

Politics of control
Republicans are less inclined to deliver such public criticism of the man who led the country to war after the Sept. 11 al Qaeda attacks, but as polls and anecdotal evidence shows, there is serious unease in party ranks as well. This poses a major challenge as Republicans struggle to maintain control of Congress in the November elections.

None other than Bush family loyalist James Baker -- secretary of state and White House chief of staff for Bush's father -- has publicly broken ranks with some of the current president's most controversial positions.

Baker, now head of a bipartisan panel reassessing Iraq strategy, told ABC Television Sunday the panel was expected to deviate from Bush's determined plan to stay the course in Iraq. He also endorsed "talking to your enemies" -- something Bush has resisted with Iran, North Korea and Syria.

The panel's report, not yet completed, is expected to recommend alternative "face-saving" ways Bush could eventually extricate the United States from Iraq.

Losing public support
American involvement in Iraq is losing public support as casualties climb -- two or three U.S. troops die in Iraq every day on average -- and Iraq appears to sink toward civil war. Recently, Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged a "change of course."

Bush has defended the Iraq war as part of a much larger response to global terrorism.

But Daalder, author of a book on Bush's foreign policy, said the Iraq war was "a strategic blunder that derived from a belief of the world that was so wrong that we're unlikely to ever see again a president able to conduct foreign policy on that basis."

Bush was a foreign policy revolutionary in the first term but "the revolution is over and even Bush now realizes that the notion that an America unbound by international rules, laws and institutions is one that is more able to promote its interests is wrong," Daalder told Reuters.

Nuclear concerns
With violence in Iraq as a daily backdrop, North Korea's announcement Monday that it had conducted its first nuclear test was a stark reminder that North Korea and Iran both continue with their nuclear programs unchecked, despite Bush's pledge to stem such proliferation. Iran denies charges by major powers it is trying to build a nuclear weapon. The nuclear-armed planet

On North Korea in particular, critics argue Bush waited too long to agree to hold talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs, allowed his negotiators too little flexibility to discuss a serious deal and never erased suspicions that what he really wanted was a change of government in the North.

Peter Brookes, a senior Pentagon official during Bush's first term, defended the administration, saying "a lot of these challenges that it's dealing with have long history," including a North Korean nuclear program going back 20 or 30 years and an Iranian program under development for about 20 years as well.

"To try to place all of these issues in the lap of the current White House would not be appropriate," said Brookes, an analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

Bush gets high marks for forging a new relationship with India, the world's largest democracy, after a period of estrangement with the United States. But the centerpiece of those new ties -- a nuclear cooperation deal -- remains stuck in Congress awaiting U.S. Senate approval.

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