Most of the problems associated with the Bush administration’s collapsing foreign policy stem from one central flaw: the attempt to socially engineer the world using military power or intimidation.

In a speech to the nation laced with presumptive rhetoric, the president demanded that allies, Middle Eastern nations and member of the United Nations share the responsibility of bailing the United States out of its self-inflicted quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, frequent bombings of oil pipelines and other prominent targets in Iraq, an Iraqi infrastructure still in shambles from the war, and an excruciating $166 billion over a two-year period (at the least) for both occupations, you’d think the president would have asked (or perhaps begged) for, rather than demanded, the help of other nations. But the hubris of a superpower and its leader—even when they have their backs to the wall—should never be underestimated.

That same high-handedness got the Bush administration into this bind in the first place. The administration took advantage of the attacks on September 11 to imply—without any evidence—that Saddam Hussein had some complicity in them and then proceeded—in contravention of the U.N. charter—to invade a sovereign nation without a convincing self-defense rationale. The invasion was designed to intimidate other “evil doers”—for example, Iran, North Korea and Palestinian groups, such as Hamas—into being more compliant with U.S. wishes.

Yet all aspects of Bush’s combative foreign policy are now collapsing. Administration neo-conservatives—habitually accusing liberals of being Pollyannas—exhibited a healthy dose of naiveté themselves by asserting that democracy could be brought easily to Iraq at gunpoint and that it would subsequently flower throughout the Middle East. The Bush administration failed to understand how hated the United States is in the Middle East—a state of affairs resulting from many years of supporting authoritarian dictatorships in the region, while paying only lip-service to democracy. Many in the Middle East still remember how little democracy exists in Kuwait today, despite being “liberated” by the former President Bush in 1991.

Also, the brash neo-conservative, interventionist civilians in charge of the Pentagon foolishly denigrated the expert opinion of the Army’s chief general that many more troops would be needed to pacify Iraq than they planned to use in the invasion. The general knew that they were naïve to try to subdue a country the size of California with forces that would fill only the stadiums at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.

As the United States has done in NATO for many years, it is bullying friendly nations to commit more troops and resources in Iraq, while remaining in control. France and Germany—unsupportive of the invasion of Iraq from the start—probably couldn’t send more troops there even if their governments so desired. Public opinion in those countries is still running high against the U.S. occupation. In addition, French and German troops available for peacekeeping are tied up elsewhere in the world. Even if nations of the U.N. Security Council could agree on another resolution, administration officials are pessimistic about the number of additional foreign forces they could garner. At most, they admit that they could get only between 15,000 and 30,000 additional troops from countries such as India, Pakistan, and Turkey.

With the chaos in Iraq negatively affecting the president’s popularity, he must keep the lid on the violence in Iraq during next year’s presidential campaign but is unlikely to get large numbers of competent foreign forces to aid him in that task. He will then be faced with the ominous political decision of throwing more American troops into the fray. That sounds like Vietnam all over again—only with much less public support for the initial stages of escalation. As hard as it might be, a better decision would be to declare victory, cut American losses, withdraw the U.S. military from Iraq and turn the country over to the Iraqis. In Vietnam, the political elites of an arrogant superpower were reluctant to pull out U.S. forces because they thought U.S. prestige would be impaired. The ensuing quagmire and eventual withdrawal, however, tarnished America’s prestige even more. The same likely will be true in the morass in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iran and North Korea—both now fearful of an eventual American attack—are using American preoccupation with occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan to accelerate their nuclear programs. With the United States tied down in those hellholes, Iran and North Korea figure that the chances of a U.S. invasion in the short- to medium-term are remote. They are using the time wisely to obtain or enhance the ultimate deterrent to American adventurism. The administration recently was forced to soften its hardline negotiating stance with North Korea.

And remember neo-conservative boasts that an invasion of Iraq would give the United States so much prestige and leverage that the problem of Palestine would practically solve itself? Once again, the Bush administration overestimated what a superpower could accomplish and underestimated anti-U.S. loathing in the Middle East.

In its bid to “democratize” the Middle East, the United States decided to have nothing more to do with Yasir Arafat, the elected leader of the Palestinians. Instead, the Americans pressured Arafat to appoint as prime minister Mahmoud Abbas, who had no legitimacy in the eyes of Palestinians. Perceived as being an American lackey, the forced appointment of Abbas merely shored up Arafat’s declining stature among Palestinians, did nothing to stop the violence, and further mired America in the swamp of the Middle East peace process. Abbas has now resigned, throwing the process into turmoil.

All of which leaves us with the remnants of a failed interventionist policy—and nowhere to go.