President Bush has discovered diplomacy and is saying goodbye to his disastrous pre-emptive military policy. But, as he says so often, diplomacy is "hard work."
The escalating violence in the Iraq war -- now in its fourth year with no end in sight -- may have led to a grand awakening on Bush's part.
Bush is finding he has few options in dealing with crises with Iran and North Korea -- both seeking nuclear weapons -- and with the new violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
With U.S. forces stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president now realizes the world's only military superpower can no longer act alone.
He would do well to heed the admonition in John F. Kennedy's inaugural address in 1961 when he told us: "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."
Bush also should be reminded of a quotation from President Eisenhower, who frequently said he would go anywhere, anytime "in pursuit of peace."
The good news is that the U.S. is now willing to sit down with European nations to talk directly to Iran. It has no alternative.
But the bad news is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has spurned the European package of political and economic concessions, saying he will not retreat from Iran's right to develop its nuclear industry.
When questioned about North Korea's firing of a nuclear-capable missile, Bush told reporters at a news conference last week in Chicago: "As you know I want to solve all problems diplomatically."
But he added:
"The problem with diplomacy, it takes a while to get something done. If you're acting alone, you can move quickly. When you're rallying world opinion and trying to come up with the right language at the United Nations to send a clear signal, it takes a while."
Meantime, the U.S. continues to refuse direct talks with North Korea, a policy that's hard to understand when one considers the possibility of reaching an agreement that could keep the Korean peninsula nuclear free.
Bush says he will "not get caught in a trap of sitting alone at a table with North Korea." Why not?
Bush should brush up on Eisenhower and Kennedy when it comes to statesmanship. He could learn a lot.
Eisenhower opened the door to the Soviet Union by calling for coexistence. Kennedy stepped back from a nuclear holocaust in the Cuban missile crisis by negotiating with Nikita Khrushchev.
So we should write the obituary of the president's policy of unilateral use of force, a strategy he first outlined in June 2002 at the West Point commencement.
It has turned to shambles in Iraq -- and there is hope that he has learned his lesson. He now turns to the lesson of working the world's diplomatic channels to confront North Korea with an alliance, not a swaggering Uncle Sam.
China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia join the U.S. in opposing North Korea's nuclear ambitions. The U.S. is fortunate that the whole neighborhood is upset -- especially Japan -- over the possibility that the Stalinist-style communist state could become a nuclear power.
Bush is currently relying on China to persuade North Korea -- its close ally -- that it could face even greater isolation if it persisted in developing a nuclear arsenal.
A diplomat once described his job as "keeping the conversation going." That's precisely what the United States should do on all fronts.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail to: email@example.com.
© 2006 Hearst Newspapers