It is possible that we're now seeing the Thermidor of the Bush revolution - a period comparable to the one in the French revolution at which radicalism began to ebb and more moderate figures came to dominate. The radical preferences favoured by some have, in the past months, collided with reality on the ground in Iraq, in the corridors and hearing rooms of Congress, in public opinion polls and the balance sheets of the federal budget.
Mr Bush seems to understand that. That's why, in the last year of what he hopes will be the first of his two terms as president, he may engage in some course-correction, tacking in the direction of a more traditional, multilateralist version of US internationalism. That would mean more reliance on diplomacy, less on military action. To some extent, that's already happening. Rather than brandishing the threat of military force to deal with Iran and North Korea, the US is now investing heavily in diplomacy on both fronts.
All that is to the good. Even better, and still possible, would be a clear decision to concentrate on the reconstruction not just of Iraq itself but of the institutions on whose strength the US's depends - Nato, the UN and, I would add, the EU.
There is a difference between being a leader and a boss. If the US fails to see that difference or does see it but makes the wrong choice, the result could be the consolidation of exactly the sort of international consensus we don't want - that US power is a problem for the rest of the world, a problem to be managed, offset and, to borrow a phrase from another era, to be contained.Reuse content