In the second presidential debate last October, George W. Bush warned Vice President Gore that it is not America’s role to patrol the planet and to arrange other peoples’ lives in its own image. The United States must be proud and confident of our values, he said, “but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.”

This was a breath of fresh air after Madeleine Albright’s triumphalist ravings about the “indispensable nation.” Other rays of hope included Bush’s pledge to order a review of America’s foreign commitments and his promise to “scrutinize open-ended deployments, reassess U.S. goals, and ascertain whether they can be met.” The appointments of Condoleezza Rice as national security advisor and Colin Powell as secretary of state have further encouraged hopes that Bush will usher in a new era of pragmatic diplomacy, based on rationally defined interests rather than ideological obsessions.

So far, the President has displayed a healthy disinterest in foreign affairs. While Beltway sophisticates may gasp in disbelief at Bush’s famous confusion of Slovakia with Slovenia, or his reference to Greeks as “Grecians,” his focus on domestic issues is comforting. The really dangerous presidents are the professorial know-it-alls like Woodrow Wilson, who intend to boss the rest of the world around because of their presumed omniscience.

The battle for Bush’s ear is far from over, however, and some whisperers speak with forked tongues. Several presidential advisors belong to the Council on Foreign Relations, which has traditionally provided the internationalist cadre of the U.S. foreign-policy elite, regardless of which party occupies the White House. There are people on his team—notably Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle— whose hegemonist malevolence is comparable to Mrs. Albright’s but who are also more competent and “rational.” Bush’s guiding principles, insofar as they exist, appear contradictory; it is far from certain whether they will be strong enough to resist pressure from the hegemonists.

President Bush readily admits that he defers to his advisors on foreign issues: “I may not be able to tell you exactly the nuances of the East Timorian [sic] situation,” he told the New York Times last year, but he would “ask the people who’ve had experience” to guide him. That would be fine for a man imbued with strong core beliefs. But Bush is not an instinctive defender of national sovereignty, and his latent tendencies to transnationalism are demonstrated by his refusal to defend U.S. borders from the migratory invasion that is irreversibly altering America’s character. Pie docs not seem concerned with maintaining America’s ability to preserve the traditional moral fabric, social structures, and economic interests of her own people.

The same flaws afflict the new national security advisor. While Rice is a hardworking professional, her lack of an articulated strategic vision could make her vulnerable to ideologues. Her stated priorities include not only military stability and world free trade but “the spread [sic] of democratic values.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, however, is a corporate globalist rather than a neoconservative interventionist: Where others see menaces, he sees markets. Still, he is no peacenik: As defense secretary, he directed the U.S. invasion of Panama and Operation Desert Storm. His oil-industry background and connections have naturally made him interested in the forthcoming Caspian Sea oil bonanza. As CEO of Halliburton, the world’s largest oil-services provider, Cheney denounced sanctions against Iran because of all the missed business opportunities. He is a traditional Wall Street imperialist, less ideological in his outlook and certainly more evenhanded on Middle Eastern issues than most Beltway experts.

Colin Powell, a self-styled “Rockefeller Republican,” has the image of a “reluctant warrior,” in contrast to the neocons’ triumphalism. He stresses the importance of having clear political objectives before engaging in military intervention, and he favors the use of massive force and an “exit strategy” once the decision has been made. Unfortunately, Powell is strong on means and mute on ends. He completely avoids the question of how objectives should be defined, and he seems to have no definition of vital national interests. This leads to prevarication where clarity should prevail. Powell was opposed to Clinton’s intervention in the Balkans at first, and while his support of the Kosovo intervention may be interpreted as a soldier’s reflex reaction that, once you are in, you have to get the job done, it also reflected a fundamental lack of intellectual and moral rigor and a confusion of strategy and tactics. His weak convictions will be used by those of his colleagues who hold very strong views — albeit wrong ones —to tailor a straightjacket for Powell and to set the agenda.

Ultimately, only George W. Bush can decide if such pressure will be resisted. It will be strong, since global interventionists are found not only within his administration but in the United Nations, a host of influential think tanks, the military-industrial complex, and the media. Their cry will always be “something must be done,” as Simon Jenkins noted in the Times of London, because modern America is eerily akin to late-Victorian Britain: “That is what happens when specious ideologies gain a hold on vain men.”

At present, President Bush still lacks the confidence of a leader with a developed world view. He is also short on the intellectual apparatus needed to counter the hegemonist intellectuals who yearn to run the planet. On the other hand, the Bush family has never felt comfortable with ideologues. And President George W. Bush is a short-tempered man with a streak of haughtiness, which will be a handy asset if some neocon starts lecturing him.

In the end, the Texas oil mafia may well prove to be the best faction of the new administration. They may be greedy and amoral, but we can hope that they will resist the temptation to invent new missions, lay down new embargoes, and fabricate new courts. Unlike some of their advisors, Bush and Cheney are at least recognizably human.