ATHENS, Greece – Saddam is behind bars. Libya is shedding its outlaw image. India and Pakistan resumed air links Friday as part of peace overtures. Syria is warming to U.S. ally Turkey and there's talk in Israel of opening a dialogue with Damascus and Tripoli.
Backers of the Bush administration sense they are on a roll. But critics of the so-called Bush Doctrine (search) of diplomacy backed by military muscle say it does not deserve credit and actually undermines the cooperation needed to curb terrorism and conflicts.
The opinion gulf about President Bush's impact abroad shows no signs of shrinking in the year voters will decide whether to give him a second term. Almost every public forum around the world -- editorial pages, talk shows, the Internet -- buzzes with critiques of U.S. policies.
And these days there's much to examine.
"True, many things are happening, but it would be a huge stretch to say the Bush policies are making them all happen," said Jonathan Stevenson, a diplomatic analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
But the White House is staking claim to many of the developments as offshoots of the Bush Doctrine: sharp-edged diplomacy and the understanding that the Pentagon's radar is not only tuned on messy Iraq.
"We enter 2004 in an interesting arrangement, if I can use that word," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday in Washington. "We saw a lot of things happen over the last few months."
Commentators and experts are now studying the fallout to see how much credit should go to Bush.
"There's a kernel of truth about the Bush Doctrine being responsible," said Ted Carpenter, a strategic analyst at the Cato Institute (search) in Washington. "It's a kernel. It's not the whole truth."
There's widespread agreement the Iraq war perhaps unnerved Libyan leader Moammar Al-Qaddafi (search) into making surprising concessions.
Last month, he abruptly renounced efforts to build weapons of mass destruction and opened arms facilities to international inspection.
Then on Wednesday another potential shocker: Israeli media reported Libyan and Israeli envoys have held meetings in recent months. The reports -- denied by Libya -- said one session included Qaddafi's son.
Finally, on Friday Libya signed a compensation accord worth $170 million with families of victims of a 1989 French passenger jet bombing over Africa that killed all 170 people aboard.
But the Libyan shifts are not just motivated by fear of U.S. military power and predate the Iraq war, analysts say. They also came garnished with a tempting carrot: the possible lifting of economic sanctions.
"It would be wrong to say what happened in Iraq or the whole idea of putting military pressure on some regimes is completely counterproductive," said Thanos Dokos, director of studies at the Hellenic Foundation of European and Foreign Policy (search) in Athens.
"But if not combined with diplomacy and economic incentives it doesn't make much sense."
Qaddafi's gestures opened a torrent of commentary on political Web sites.
"A failure," one writer called the Bush Doctrine.
"There are upsides ... look at Libya," went another entry.
Any rapprochement (search) between Israel and Libya could have deep repercussions around the Middle East, where Saddam Hussein's downfall is apparently rearranging priorities.
Syria has cautiously offered to consider restarting peace talks with Israel. Syrian President Bashar Assad (search) also visited Turkey -- a longtime U.S. ally and NATO member -- in a possible effort to reach out to Washington and Israel.
"The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is one of the factors that have led to improved relations (with Turkey)," Syrian political analyst Imad Fawzi al-Shueibi said.
Iran -- another neighbor of Iraq -- also has offered some recent compromises.
On Tuesday, Iran and Egypt decided to resume full diplomatic ties, which were severed in 1979 after the Camp David peace treaty (search) with Israel. In December, Iran signed a protocol allowing U.N. inspectors to search Iranian nuclear facilities without notice or restrictions.
Iran has its eye on the possible payback: resuming free trade talks with the European Union (search), whose lucrative market will expand to 25 nations in May. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, visits Tehran next week.
The Iranians, some analysts say, made a deft political play. They used the EU's policy of engagement against the relative inflexibility of the Bush Doctrine. Washington cut ties with Iran in 1979.
"Europe was convinced that you could do business with Iran (search) (and) that you did not have to follow the U.S. policy," said Sergio Romano, a former Italian diplomat and columnist for the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
There's also only faint evidence of the Bush Doctrine in efforts to end friction between nuclear powers Pakistan and India -- which came to the brink of war in 2001 over Kashmir (search).
The two nations are scheduled to open talks next month. On Friday, commercial air service resumed between the countries after a two-year halt.
"There was a sense of both sides that it was too risky to remain in a state of tension," said London-based regional analyst Rahul Roy-Chaudhury.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is a crucial anti-terrorism ally for Washington. Musharraf has survived three assassination attempts -- two in the last month. Talks about Kashmir could also expand efforts to root out Islamic extremists.
Pakistani forces this week began raids near the Afghanistan border, considered to be a suspected hideout for Usama bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda fugitives.