"There's an enormous amount of diplomatic activity and geopolitical movement taking place without US participation. Much of this is new, and it's striking," says Charles Kupchan, an international-relations expert at Georgetown University in Washington. "Part of it is the world taking steps on its own as the US focuses on its changing of the guard. But certainly a crucial factor is the world's changing balance of power."
This "changing balance" is causing a shift to new words to describe how the world will work in the post-Iraq-war, globalized era. Gone is the first Bush term's vision of unipolarity. And while some experts speak of an emerging multipolarity, Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass goes so far as to envision an era of "nonpolarity" where no power will dominate.
For some experts, focus on the US presidential campaign and a half-decade preoccupation with Iraq are two factors pulling the US away from broader involvement in the world – while also obscuring the larger changes in global power distribution.
"We are seeing a diffusion of power to other actors," says Thomas Henriksen, an American foreign-policy expert at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif. "But there are other things going on that make it hard to know if it's a major trend."
President Bush's unpopularity in the Middle East may be one explanation for diplomatic efforts such as those in Lebanon and between Israel and Syria moving ahead without the US, he says. A US overstretch in Iraq is another reason that others list.