When he goes to Capitol Hill tonight, the President will have to deal with foreign policy challenges in almost every part of the world. A year after declaring that "democracy is on the march," Mr. Bush is learning that it can sometimes be dangerous to get what you ask for. In the Palestinian territories, the stunning Hamas victory is a disaster for the U.S. peace plan -- a legislative majority dedicated to the destruction of Israel. And four years after calling Iraq, Iran and North Korea the "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush is still battling insurgents in Iraq. A radical leader is defying the world and continuing nuclear research in Iran. And America and its allies are no closer to a solution in North Korea.
Former Senator Sam Nunn, now co-leader of the Nuclear Threat Initiative -- a global effort to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials -- told me the President would have been wiser not to categorize those three nations as "the axis of evil."
No matter how much danger they pose individually, Nunn says: "When you basically have all sort of challenges in the world, and when you specifically identify enemies in a State of the Union speech, instead of lining up your allies with you, you begin to split alliances with that kind of rhetoric."
Still, the President can point to some progress: in the last year, a new secretary of state has repaired damaged relations with Europe and helped pressure Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.
So what should the President tell the nation tonight about the state of the world?
"I think one of the things I would like for him to convey, maybe not in these words, but at least implicitly, is that we recognize that to lead, which America must do, you also have to listen," says Nunn. "That you cannot simply command the world."
In fact, the best example that America cannot simply command the rest of the world is the continuing threat posed by terrorists. That is reinforced by the recent message from Osama bin Laden and, on the eve of tonight's speech, the video from his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. But as the President and his top advisors have discovered in the past, whenever al-Qaida releases a new tape, Americans tend to rally around the Commander-in-Chief. The war on terror will -- for many reasons -- surely be a key rallying cry for the President tonight.