A far cry from the "humble" foreign policy that Mr. Bush promised in his 2000 campaign for president, the claims for "democratic imperialism" were boosted by the attacks on 9/11. To be safe from terrorism, the US must promote a world that shares American values, supporters say.
Defense officials and civilian advisers close to the Pentagon are already signaling the possibility of a widening scope in the region.
"Iraq is just one battle in a larger war.... bringing down the regime in Iran is the central act, because Iran is the world's most dangerous terrorist country," said Michael Ledeen, a former Reagan adviser who is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute at a briefing the first week of the war. The words "United Nations" and even "State Department" are laugh lines at the AEI's signature "black-coffee briefings" on the war.
To critics, the emboldened US posture is a formula for regional resentment and increasing US isolation in the world.
"Our friends in the region won't become more democratic; they'll have to be more repressive to deal with the consequences of a long-term American occupation," says James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington.
"This is a very different administration than that of Bush the father," Mr. Zogby adds. "In the past we've used diplomacy and containment and the building of alliances to strengthen ourselves and our allies against those who oppose us."
The prospect of a broader agenda beyond the war in Iraq alarms many in the US Congress, as well as allies in the "coalition of the willing" and some in the Bush administration. They signed on to what they thought was a single goal - regime change in Iraq. The resulting nation-building effort by itself could require years of involvement by America and other nations.
"I chair every closed briefing. This is not about Iran, it's about getting those [Iraqi] weapons of mass destruction. Period," says Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia.