If you imagine the rest of us have a problem living with George W. Bush for another four years, spare a thought for the 55 million Americans who voted against him. John Kerry is fated to be stuck with the label of a loser and is already being blamed for his lack of charisma, his absence of passion and his electoral misjudgment of being born on the Eastern Seaboard rather than the deep South. Yet in fairness to Kerry, more Americans backed him than supported Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, and some of them queued for two hours in their determination to vote for him. There may be more conservatives in America than ever before, but there are also more Democrats.
Unfortunately this does not add up to a case for a recount. The U.S. does not run a proportional system and the winner takes all. In Bush's case, he not only took the White House but also made a clean sweep of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and he will now have the opportunity to take a majority of the Supreme Court. All the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers constructed to restrain presidential power are broken instruments.
It is to be hoped that the obsession of President Bush with fitness will guarantee his health for the length of his renewed tenancy of the White House. Otherwise we get President Cheney. I met Dick Cheney immediately after he had been installed as vice president in what was the most bizarre encounter of my time at the Foreign Office. He could not disguise his irritation that a European pinko had somehow wormed a way into his diary and for half an hour mostly confined himself to monosyllabic replies. By contrast, this week he was in full triumphalist flood, claiming Bush's election as the greatest "of any presidential candidate in history."
Cheney himself may not go the distance if the rumors about Halliburton continue to lap closer to his desk, but while he is in his post it is hard to see an administration so dripping in contacts with the oil industry taking serious action on global warming. This is a real problem for Tony Blair, who has identified climate change as a major priority for Britain's presidency of the G-8 next year. The dilemma for Blair will be whether he uses the role to lever the Bush administration toward the consensus among the other seven, or cajoles the rest to accommodate the idiosyncratic Washington position. If he wants to signal a break from Bush, he will not get a clearer opportunity to do so.
The first sign as to whether the Bush second term will be more flexible will be what now happens to the neoconservatives. Will Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon No. 2 who lobbied for the invasion of Iraq, be promoted to the front rank? Will John Bolton, the No. 3 at the State Department who has overseen the Bush campaign to torpedo the International Criminal Court, survive in any rank? Bolton has been responsible for much of the saber-rattling toward Iran and responded to a question about whether he would support Europe's attempt to offer Iran incentives with the terse one-liner: "I don't do carrots."
What makes this web of reactionary ideologues a menace to the world is that they believe complex, historic problems have simple, instant, military solutions. And it is an article of faith with them that America must acquire full-spectrum dominance of military capabilities in order to impose such solutions unilaterally. They are the product of an era in which America has emerged as the sole hyperpower, and they regard allies not as proof of diplomatic strength but as evidence of military weakness.
They will now celebrate their election victory by putting Fallujah to the torch. Wolfowitz was furious last spring when the outcry among both Sunnis and Shiites obliged the Marine Corps to abandon its siege; this time he will insist on military victory in Fallujah regardless of the political cost across Iraq from civilian casualties. The administration remained sensitive enough to the potential domestic cost of another major offensive in Iraq to delay it until after the presidential election, but it will not give a second thought to the adverse impact on public opinion in Britain of escalating civilian casualties.
The unpopularity at home and abroad of his ally's reliance on overwhelming firepower will make it even more essential for Blair to obtain something in return for his support. The first test will be whether it is possible for him to engage the Bush administration in a serious effort to secure peace for the troubled peoples of Israel and Palestine. There has been some imaginative speculation that Bush might be more courageous in putting pressure on the government of Israel now that he does not face reelection.
The problem with such hopes is that they rest on the theory that the Bush administration has been indulgent to Ariel Sharon for reasons of electoral calculation. This is to underestimate the extent to which Bush identifies with Sharon's conviction that terrorism requires a military and not a political solution, and the religious faith with which the Southern born-again Christians, of which he is one, believe in the right of Israel to its biblical borders.
It is notable that all the comment this week from the Bush camp on prospects for the Middle East has built on the failing health of Arafat, as if he alone had been the obstacle to peace. But it is a delusion to imagine that a peace agreement can be established by the simple strategy of finding a more pliable successor to sign up to it. There will be no lasting peace or viable Palestine unless Israel withdraws from its settlements on the West Bank. Far from pressuring Sharon for such a concession, there is no evidence that Bush even supports dismantling the settlements, or that he could get agreement to it from the neoconservatives in his administration, who regard Likud as the nearest thing they have to a sister party.
The paradox may be beyond Bush, but the best way he could make progress in his war on terror would be by winning peace in the Middle East. When Osama bin Laden launched his attack on the Twin Towers he intended it as a demonstration of his malign belief that the only relationship acceptable between the West and Islam was one of violent confrontation. As George Soros has argued, the Bush administration walked into a trap by responding in a way that accepted the terms of the relationship set down by its enemy.
Now the world is fated to four more years of confrontation, which will widen rather than narrow the gulf between the West and the East. It is ironic, given that terrorism played such a central role in the election, but bin Laden must be as gratified as Cheney that Bush is back.