While it is true that Time magazine and the media are knocking down a bit of a straw-man when they pronounce the death of Bush’s foreign policy, it is also the case that the administration has had a taste for rhetorical over-kill (not just in Bush’s speeches, but in its strategy documents–I have a small piece about this in the current issue of The National Interest). The practical application of its foreign policy has always been more prudent, but the strawman now being knocked down is partly of its own making.
I think it is pretty common for presidents’ foreign policies to veer pretty far in reality from the rhetoric. The language of foreign policy is for public consumption, to send a message about our idealistic goals and our hard-lines and to build support among the electorate. The Reagan Doctrine, such as it was, was like this. Hard-line and moralistic language in public while negotiations were the norm in private (some conservatives, I think, remember the rhetoric and think that Reagan’s policy actually followed along. It didn’t. But Bush sometimes gets unfavorably compared to Reagan as if Reagan’s actions were more in step with his words than Bush’s. Reagan would no more invade N. Korea or Iran than Bush though he would probably make similar statements).
This isn’t hypocrisy (or at least, I don’t think it is), it’s just that good foreign policy is a blend of the public image and the private reality. In my opinion it is somewhat of a cheap shot to criticize any administration for conducting a more pragmatic policy than its rhetoric. It’s really what we should expect (and what TIME should expect if they were being honest). The truth is, as you say, the strident rhetoric is not representative of Bush’s actual foreign policy either then or now. Maybe they were asking for it, but it is par for the course to overblow your goals and overdraw your lines in public. As a counter example, I think of the Nixon-Kissinger approach to foreign policy where the rhetoric and the action were pretty closely aligned in that Kissinger didn’t have too many pretentions about the moral or idealistic value of détente. The policy failed to hold the attention of the public and earned the wrath of the conservatives. Kissinger should have been a better spinner about our goals and perhaps he would have had less trouble…