Washington — With an eight-day tour of the Middle East starting this week, President Bush hopes to spur negotiations among Israeli and Palestinian leaders vowing to make peace and lay the groundwork for two independent states by year's end.
Yet analysts say the president will arrive in the region with too little to promise and too late in the game during this visit - his first to Israel as president - to offer any real hope of securing a lasting peace.
Bush, also touring several Arab nations, will address more than the role they can play in encouraging reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. He also will explain his vision for democracy in Iraq and his concern about the potential security threat posed by Iran.
The president's departure Tuesday also marks the start of a globe-trotting year for a leader who has ventured abroad relatively little, as he attempts to secure a legacy in world affairs.
As the president approaches his final year in office, his agenda is so heavily booked that he already is scheduled to touch every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
His itinerary will take him to the heart of the disputed lands of the Middle East, to Asia twice within roughly four weeks and to sub-Saharan Africa for the second time as president.
It adds up to at least 70,000 miles and a final year heavily focused on foreign policy, practiced amid an emerging generation of foreign leaders likely to be on the world stage long after Bush leaves office.
The travel raises a key question: Can a lame-duck president achieve lasting foreign-policy goals during his dwindling months in office? The record of past presidents suggests that it is difficult if not impossible. However, for an unpopular president in his final year, with Congress in the hands of the other party, it might be the smartest move.
"It's a lot easier and more comfortable to go to Moscow, Russia, than Moscow, Idaho," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who was President Reagan's final White House chief of staff. "It's easier to do foreign affairs than to grapple with problems here at home when the presidential campaign has passed you by."
The calendar tells the Bush story line for the coming year. This week, Bush will be on his way to Jerusalem, the first stop on a nine-day, six-nation trip to the Middle East. In February, it's Africa. In April, Romania for a NATO summit, with other European stops likely. July will be Japan for a Group of Eight summit. August, he's in Beijing, for the opening of the summer Olympic Games. And finally, after his successor is chosen in November, a meeting of Pacific nations in Peru.
The Middle East trip, put on his calendar only a few weeks ago, carries the highest stakes.
"It has potential," Duberstein said. "But he has to make things work. It's a big riverboat gamble. He's committing whatever prestige he has left."