The lesson of Iraq is that the United States is going to do what it wants to do without regard to international law or any nation’s good faith effort to cooperate. If they have decided to take military action against you it is a fait accompli. “Aggressive engagement” looks suspiciously like the “Decade of Defiance and Deception” public relations package that sold the war to the American public. No world leader is now under the misapprehension that complying with American demands necessarily guarantees that he will not be invaded and deposed anyway. There is no value in face saving or compromise because the US has proved that it will change its goals and create new rationales at will. So, the only question for any leader in this situation is whether to surrender without bloodshed or go down fighting. All moral authority is vested in America's willingness to deploy its military.There are two related problems here: One being international law, the other being international power. The United States is the most powerful country in the world right now, with nobody to match it- that's why those who run the United states feel they can discard international bodies like the UN, as they think the U.S. doesn't require any sort of collective security arrangement to make itself safer- indeed, it is so powerful at this point that its security objectives are supposedly better served by simple force.
American foreign policy is now entirely unpredictable and is based upon nothing more than an elastic self-serving notion of American security. It requires no international consensus regardless of whether it directly impacts US national security and does not follow any international law or norms. It interprets treaties as it wishes without regard to precedent and holds other nations to standards to which it does not hold itself. It does not speak with one voice so its impossible to judge its real position and act accordingly. The American public are overwhelmingly supportive of the administration's new policy regardless of whether the government lies blatently about its reasons so there is little hope of any internal pressure to moderate. The world must now base its relationship with America on nothing more than blind hope or fear of one man's unknown intentions.
This seems to be an attempt to discard "soft power" or, at least, redefine it to suit the purposes of the neoconservatives.It used to be that they felt this required at least the appearance of multilateralism, but outside of the sad show that was the "coalition" (where countries were either strongarmed into joining or just added without their knowledge), multilateralism is pretty much dead right now. Without a new paradigm for soft power outside of "collective consent" (Which is what the U.N. represents), there's not much else to go on: the "liberator" bit is going to get old quickly, and isn't going to win the U.S. any friends or allies among governments that don't want to see today's Baghdad become paradigmatic. The "shining city on the hill bit" may be good enought to keep local support, but it won't gain any soft power in international relations. The problem is that without soft power, the United States' control only lasts as long as its military is strong enough to fend everybody off... and without any ethical basis by which the United States can justify this arrangement, other countries can portray their contra-American buildups as morally justifiable, and even use it to build what they see as "defensive" alliances.
Up until now that would be counter-productive at least, but then again up until now they could rely on the United States being reluctant to wage war and wanting to be seen as having a stake in international order. As both of those are gone, what's to stop an arms buildup, especially in countries that are friendly today but recognize that they might not be tomorrow?