WASHINGTON -- Meaning it as a compliment, George Mitchell remarked the other day that President Bush had reversed himself on ''nation-building'' with his tough policy on Afghanistan.
The former Senate Democratic leader said it was to Bush's credit that he did not allow his campaign rhetoric to stop him from using force to counter terrorism and to go on from there to try to rebuild Afghanistan.
Switches like that are not unusual. Well-remembered by President Clinton's critics was his pursuit of better relations with China after accusing Bush's father during the 1992 presidential race of coddling the Chinese.
Once Clinton moved into the White House he saw things differently.
George W. Bush, struggling with foreign policy issues and trying to strike a balance between Republican isolationists and interventionists, criticized his Democratic opponent, Al Gore, during the 2000 campaign for getting involved in what Bush called ''nation building.''
He said Clinton and Gore had overextended U.S. military forces by intervening in places where U.S. security interests were not at stake.
But after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks Bush all but declared war on Afghanistan's Taliban rulers for sheltering Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorist network. Bush is using U.S. troops, successfully, to root out the Islamic fundamentalist militia and to hunt for bin Laden.
When that campaign ends, Bush has vowed to pursue terrorism beyond Afghanistan's borders. However, his tools might be financial and diplomatic, not military. There have been hints in both directions.
In any event, U.S. troops are not likely to be part of the gathering international peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan, although the Bush administration is directly involved in trying to reconstruct the country -- nation-building, in effect.
Bush is falling in line with a long tradition.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, running for a third term in 1940, capitalized on having kept the United States out of the war in Europe. But his sentiments were clearly anti-Nazi, and the United States generously assisted the British war effort until Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 drove the United States directly into the war in Asia and Europe.
John F. Kennedy, in 1960, charged in his campaign against Richard M. Nixon that the Eisenhower administration, in which Nixon was vice president, had permitted a ''missile gap'' to evolve, giving the Soviet Union a critical security edge over the United States.
After Kennedy settled into the White House the notion of a missile gap and a program to bridge it vanished.
So did Nixon's ''secret plan'' to end the war in Vietnam, which he had used in his successful race for the presidency in 1968, capitalizing on widespread sentiment against the war.
The war went on for years after Nixon was elected, and if he ever had a secret plan to end the conflict, he never revealed it.
Ronald Reagan, in his 1980 presidential campaign, attacked the process of arms control agreements with the Soviet Union. It was a position that reflected the suspicions of Reagan and other deeply conservative Republicans.
After he was elected he refined his opposition and developed the mantra ''trust, but verify,'' meaning he would continue the process of seeking nuclear weapons reductions through negotiations but make sure agreements with Moscow contained safeguards against cheating.
Barely a year into his presidency, Bush's views on foreign policy are only beginning to evolve.
Like candidate Reagan, he is suspicious of arms control agreements and already has decided to opt out of a landmark pact outlawing national missile defenses.
On the Middle East, Bush, like candidate Clinton before him, pledged to have the U.S. Embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That, in effect, would bolster Israel's claim to the city as its capital.
''As soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the U.S. ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital,'' Bush told an American Jewish group in May 2000.
Last week, Bush exercised an escape clause in congressional legislation that called for the shift and delayed it for six months. It would be no surprise if he delayed the move again next year.
On the other hand, Bush vowed during the campaign to act as a benevolent broker -- nudging, rather than trying to force -- Israel and the Arabs toward peace agreements.
As president he has held to this course, agreeing with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that violence must be curbed before steps toward peace can be taken.
Bush also has taken a hard line on Yasser Arafat, not inviting him to the White House and demanding he dismantle terrorist groups that have attacked Israelis.
At the same time, Bush has endorsed statehood for the Palestinians.
Last month, Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered a speech in Louisville, Ky., that suggested a larger role for the Bush administration in peacemaking if the violence is brought down.
Powell said Israel was strangling peace hopes by constructing homes for Jews on the West Bank and in Gaza, and he called Israel an occupier of land that Powell said should be turned over to the Palestinians in exchange for peace and security.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Barry Schweid has covered foreign affairs for The Associated Press since 1973.
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