Perhaps even more telling of the changed thinking is the extent to which the Pentagon has signed on to the new effort. When the Defense Science Board last year issued a study criticizing preparations for Iraq and postwar stabilization planning, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld not only embraced the report but directed staff to find ways to implement its recommendations for doing things better next time.
The Pentagon is putting more effort into expanding and training military police, engineers, and civil affairs officers that play key roles in these kinds of deployments - and were found lacking in the Bush first-term engagements.
In addition, Mr. Rumsfeld supported creation last year of the coordinator for stabilization and reconstruction in the State Department - a position that ran counter to his image of keeping State in the dark and out of matters comprising military deployment.
Mr. Burns says the office for reconstruction and stabilization, which will draw on work in agencies ranging from the CIA and Treasury to the US Agency for International Development, will focus on "getting civilian expertise to our military leaders as they plan operations and undertake" them.
The administration is still reluctant to appear as a proponent of nation-building - or at least to adopt the terminology. "If you ask them if they've embraced nation-building, they would say 'We don't do nation-building, but we do help people build their nations," says Mr. Dobbins. But what they're doing, he adds, is basically nation-building by another name.
One reason for the reluctance to embrace the concept beyond mere face-saving is that Congress, for various reasons, remains skeptical of the administration's new interest in global intervention. "We're seeing an appetite in Congress to limit funding and put conditions on it in this area, whether it's to the UN or to the administration's requests," says Victoria Holt of the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington.
Congress approved less money this year for UN peacekeeping than the White House sought, and substantially less - $3 million compared to a requested $17 million - for the office for reconstruction and stabilization. And Congress failed to approve creation of a contingency fund for emergency interventions - such as to Haiti last year - although President Bush is trying again for $100 million to set up such a fund in 2006.