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In Iraq, an assertion of US 'hard' power

Final chapter on war yet to be written; known costs include sagging world standing for US, rise of Iran in the region.

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South of Baghdad: US Army Staff Sgt. William Lambert shares his rations with an Iraqi boy. The Iraq war has come to define the Bush presidency, at least in the arena of foreign affairs.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP/file

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The Iraq war became emblematic of President Bush's faith in traditional American power at a time when new manifestations of power – a country's international standing, its involvement in spreading international development, the attractiveness of its values – have taken on new importance.

"Bush focused so heavily on the hard power that he neglected the soft power," says Harvard Prof. Joseph Nye, describing the availability of nonmilitary means for pursuit of national interests.

Citing a decline of 30 percentage points in European attitudes toward America and an even steeper decline in many Muslim countries, Mr. Nye says such figures are "a good measure of the effect of Iraq on America's attractiveness" and also on its interests. But not everyone agrees with this interpretation.

Some historians and foreign-policy experts note that the Iraq war was not a "go-it-alone" affair. They also tend to hold out the prospect – as does Mr. Bush himself – that a stable, democratic Iraq will emerge, becoming a "beacon" for the region and vindicating Bush's vision.

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