WORLD LEADERS SEE THE PRESIDENT'S SECOND TERM AS A CHANCE FOR A FRESH DIPLOMATIC START. BUT THERE ARE ALREADY SIGNS THAT THE NEXT FOUR YEARS MAY BE A LOT LIKE THE FIRST TERM

The White House wants the world to see its new term as a fresh start, with a re-election victory behind it and a big domestic agenda ahead. But it's not at all clear that the rest of the world should expect much change from a second Bush term. In fact, judging from recent comments by some of the president's closest aides, there's a distinct reluctance to suggest that anything is going to change from last year to this, in terms of George W. Bush's foreign policy.

Take the president's first foreign trip of his new term. The grand kiss-and-make-up tour in Europe has been whittled down to little more than three days on the ground--in Brussels with European leaders; then Mainz, Germany, with Chancellor Gerhard Schroder; then Bratislava, Slovakia, with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. What was once billed as a lengthy exercise in bridge-building has become a brisk chance to do business. That's fine for the self-styled results-oriented president, who cares little for sightseeing or state dinners. But it sounds like the moment for reconciliation with those awkward allies is going to be brief, just like the moment for bipartisan outreach back in Washington. With the heat of the election well behind him, the president need not care so much about last year's criticism that he has squandered America's alliances.

That's not to say we're set to return to the prewar days when the president was laying down go-it-alone threats to the international community. But the shift in tone took place last year in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and the need to win United Nations support for the coming elections in Iraq. And what's to come may not be enough for America's wounded allies, who are sifting through the tea leaves for signs of change.

When asked how the president's diplomacy might be different in the new term, White House chief of staff Andy Card told NEWSWEEK: "You're implying the president is somehow going to be a different kind of butterfly when the cocoon opens on Jan. 20 than the cocoon that opened on Jan. 20, 2001. He's still that beautiful butterfly flying around. But the times are different. The challenges are different. And some of the personalities are different. The leader of Canada today is a different leader than the one in 2001. So by definition those relationships will change."

That doesn't exactly suggest a major shift in style or substance of the president's foreign policy for the next four years--or a big improvement in what Sen. Joe Biden (the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) depicted as a bleak state of affairs. "The fact is," Biden told the newly nominated secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, that "relations with many of our oldest friends are, quite frankly, scraping the bottom right now, and we need to heed the advice of the president of the United States just before his first inaugural when he talked about acting with humility as well as force."

Rice's position in her confirmation hearings echoed that of the White House that she's leaving. There's unlikely to be any public admission of humility, second-guessing or past mistakes--even though administration aides concede privately that many mistakes have been made. That doesn't bode well for a fresh start with foreign leaders, who are yearning for some admission of past errors--if only to act as political cover back home, where they could then say they were ready to work with a kinder, gentler Bush administration.

When pressed about why the administration opposed anti-torture language in the recent intelligence-reform package, Rice relied on language that predates Abu Ghraib and the recent releases of detainees from Guantanamo Bay. "We did not want to afford to people who did not--shouldn't enjoy certain protections those protections," she said. "And the Geneva Conventions should not apply to terrorists like Al Qaeda. They can't, or you will stretch the meaning of the Geneva Convention." Rice was clear to state that "nobody condones torture." Yet her argument that some people are not covered by the Geneva Conventions suggests the administration does not yet understand how damaging the torture revelations have been to America's alliances and image around the world.

On the positive side, the White House can point to a series of warm personal relationships the president has built with several world leaders, including Tony Blair in Britain and Junichiro Koizumi in Japan. It can also make the case that Bush has launched a series of initiatives on the softer side of world affairs that undercuts his image as a Texan cowboy--on international HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Challenge Accounts for developing countries (even though both programs have come under fire for lack of resources).

And as Card points out, those softer policies are one of the best ways for allies to work more closely with the Bush administration. "While you may see France and the United States on different sides of a debate with regard to Iraq, we're on the same side on the debate about AIDS," he said. "Or you'll find that Sweden has very strong concerns about the International Criminal Court, but we have the same concern about creating economic opportunities through things like Millennium Challenge Accounts."

Beyond Iraq, the real window of change is the shifting relationship between Israeli and Palestinian leaders following Yasir Arafat's death and running up to Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza. There President Bush and his troublesome allies have plenty of common ground in one of the most contentious parts of the world, especially when it comes to U.S. policy. Given the level of logistical and political support (and cajoling) that both sides will need, there's ample room for a fresh start in the Middle East--whether or not the president changes his tone on the world stage.