Tom Baldwin: The go-it-alone President who changed tack in search of a legacy

Roundup: Talking About History

[Tom Baldwin is a journalist at The Times.]

President Bush receives scant credit for the transformation of his foreign policy in the past four years. In contrast to the go-it-alone president who in his first term rode roughshod over international sensibilities when he took the US to war in Iraq, Mr Bush now seeks the legacy of a leader who sought diplomatic solutions.

He told The Times recently that he wanted to “leave behind a series of structures that make it easier for the next president” — or, as he put it later, “a multilateralism to deal with tyrants”.

Yesterday, he took a small but significant step towards that goal. North Korea's decision to hand over a long-awaited account of its nuclear activities — and the subsequent announcement from Mr Bush that he is ready to take the country off the list of state terrorism sponsors — represents the most visible proof yet that his tough diplomacy can work.

Yesterday's announcement from North Korea and the US response are the most visible proof yet that his tough diplomacy can work.

In his press conference Mr Bush said that he was under no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang. He also held out the prospect of a pariah state returning to the fold much the way that Libya did. Mr Bush said: “If North Korea continues to make the right choices, it can repair its relationship with the international community.”

It is a far cry from the days when the President described North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” or talked of how he “loathed” Kim Jong-Il, the country's dictator. Mr Bush, in turn, was called an “imbecile” and compared to Hitler by the Communist regime...

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