Foreign policy? What foreign policy?

These are dreary days for U.S. diplomacy.

A string of disappointments in recent weeks has left Washington’s role as a global power broker diminished. The unalloyed U.S. support for Israel during two weeks of fighting with Hezbollah insurgents in Lebanon and American refusal to agree to a quick cease-fire are leaving the Bush administration ever more isolated internationally.

U.S. relations with its allies had shown signs of improvement in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the signs of strain are growing:

_Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice failed to agree in Rome with European and Arab allies on terms for a cease-fire to end two weeks of Israel-Hezoballah violence.

_President Bush and visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had to concede a six-week-old plan for quelling violence in Baghdad had failed. Bush ordered more U.S. troops to Iraq’s battered capital _ a setback to hopes for a big drawdown of U.S. troops this year.

_Efforts to get North Korea and Iran to restrict their nuclear ambitions remained stalled.

_World trade talks collapsed.

“This president has a very firm world view that is not about to be changed by facts or realities. There are good guys and bad guys,” said Ivo Daalder, who was director of European affairs in the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.

“Right now, Israelis are the good guys and Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are the bad guys,” said Daalder, now a fellow with the Brookings Institution. He said the administration’s refusal to deal directly with Hezbollah, Syria or Iran “is a manifestation of this world view: We don’t talk to bad people.”

Bush may get some solace later this week when his strongest ally on Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, visits the White House _ he was last here just two months ago. But Blair himself is politically weakened, both by Iraq and by domestic woes. Blair has answered calls for him to step down by saying it is too soon, but he has promised to give up the prime minister’s post before the next national elections, expected by 2009.

The administration insists it is engaged with foes as well as friends, if not always directly. But White House spokesman Tony Snow on Thursday criticized what he called a push for “egg-timer diplomacy. Things do not happen on snap deadlines.”

“If somebody could guarantee me that a slip of paper would end a death, then we’ll have a conversation,” he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted not backing an immediate cease-fire in the current strife was the right move. “The fields of the Middle East are littered with broken cease-fires,” she told reporters on Wednesday as she flew toward a meeting in Asia.

The Bush administration and Israel insist that Hezbollah, which they consider a terror group, must be disarmed and defeated in southern Lebanon. European and Arab allies want a quick cease-fire to stop mounting civilian deaths.

Strong support in Congress for Israel is further complicating efforts to find common ground with allies.

The principal U.S. allies in the area, the predominantly Sunni states of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the weak U.S.-backed Democratic government of Lebanon have all criticized Hezbollah for kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and lobbing hundreds of missiles into northern Israel.

But support for Hezbollah appears to be growing across the region among both Sunni and Shiite Arabs.

Despite the administration’s repeated assertions that Syria is among the powers behind the Hezbollah attacks, there has been “not a single contact” by the U.S. government with Syria since the fighting began, said Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha.

That is a departure from past practice in which U.S. envoys would be dispatched whenever there was a crisis, Moustapha said.

Should Rice have included a stop in the Syrian capital of Damascus on a diplomatic mission that only took her to Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian West Bank and Rome?

“If necessary, yes,” said former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger. “If Syrian help is necessary to put an end to this thing, then I think she should go to Damascus.”

The Bush administration became “so preoccupied with Iraq, that it has no credibility whatsoever with the Arab people,” said Mehdi Noorbaksh, an international affairs professor at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. “Unfortunately, with the current conflict in Lebanon it has been intensified.”

Bush was even getting some diplomacy static at home from staunchly pro-Israel members of Congress who criticized the failure of Bush’s present poster child for democracy _ al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim _ to condemn Hezbollah in his speech to Congress on Wednesday.

To that, Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., rose to Maliki’s defense. “Well, it’s better that he come and state the facts as they are, rather than trying to paint an unrealistic picture,” said Warner.


Tom Raum has covered national and international affairs for The Associated Press since 1973.

© 2006 The Associated Press