WASHINGTON -- Presidential debates on foreign policy should come with a disclaimer: What you hear from the candidates is not necessarily what you would get in the next four years.
Consider these words from Governor George W. Bush of Texas when he debated foreign affairs with Vice President Al Gore on Oct. 11, 2000:
''Strong relations in Europe is in our nation's interest."
''If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're humble but strong, they'll welcome us."
''We're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war. That's what it's meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops."
Yet during the Bush presidency, relations with leading European nations have become frayed over the Iraq war and other issues. ''Humble" hardly describes Bush's foreign policy. As Vice President Dick Cheney bluntly puts it on the campaign trail: ''We will never seek a permission slip to defend the United States of America."
And the US mission in Iraq has evolved from the quick ouster of a dictator into the largest of all nation-building projects since World War II, with the US military running the country for more than a year and the National Guard and Reserves stretched to keep enough troops in Iraq.
That Bush's presidency would differ from his campaign rhetoric is not surprising.
Just moving into the Oval Office can change a politician's world view. Unforeseen events can lead to a drastic reshuffling of national security priorities -- and few presidents have had to deal with an event of the magnitude of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
And the foreign policy agenda has changed. The Balkans and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were big issues in the 2000 debate; terrorism was not even mentioned.
None of this means that candidates' comments are irrelevant. Some of Bush's policies clearly reflected his positions in the 2000 debate. He said he would pursue antiballistic missile systems -- and he did. He said foreign aid should encourage free markets and political reforms, and that became the basis of his Millennium Challenge Account program.
Most significantly, Bush made clear he would get tough on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
''We don't know whether he's developing weapons of mass destruction. He better not be or there's going to be a consequence should I be the president," he said during that 2000 debate.
But Bush also said, ''It's going to be important to rebuild that coalition to keep the pressure on him." Democrats say Bush did not do enough to rebuild the broad multinational coalition that forced Saddam's military out of Kuwait in the earlier Persian Gulf War.
Bush also said that when a president sends troops into a conflict, ''the force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well-defined."
Critics now say not enough troops were used to secure Iraq after Saddam Hussein was toppled.