WHEN George W Bush was sworn in as President there were fears that the United States would revert to its isolationist instincts.

For the first time in generations, the incumbent of the White House had no interest in foreign affairs and had hardly ever left his country.

A combination of the reality of office and the impact of September 11 have amounted to life-changing experiences for President Bush.

While there are many who have opposed his intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, no one can accuse him of opting out of international affairs.

In his speech at the Banqueting House yesterday the President outlined his vision for the global community, in particular the Middle East.

Both the contents and tone of his address may have gone some way to allay the fears that the President may be tempted back into isolation.

President Bush was adamant that there would be no early exit from Iraq, leaving the country in chaos and in the grip of terror.

"We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," he said.

Elsewhere, he committed himself to the creation of a viable independent Palestinian state and recognition of the state of Israel by its neighbours.

And he was honest enough to reflect on past ill-conceived policies to prop up tyrants in return for short-term political and diplomatic gains.

These were long-term goals, pretty much in line with those of our Prime Minister, guaranteed to receive a warm reception from a sympathetic British audience.

But they were only words. We have yet to see meaningful action.

One wonders whether President Bush's message will have the same level of approval from an American audience, increasingly sceptical of overseas intervention as the dead bodies of US troops continue to be flown home from Baghdad.

And one wonders whether the President dare risk alienating his own people for the sake of peace in the Middle East in the year he is seeking re-election.