If you imagine the rest of us have a problem living with US President George W. Bush for another four years, spare a thought for the 55 million Americans who voted against him. Senator 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 former presidents 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 the US than ever before, but there are also more Democrats.
Unfortunately this does not add up to a case for a recount. The US does not run a proportional system and the winner takes all. In Bush's case, he not only took the White House, but he also took 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 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 Vice President Dick Cheney immediately after he had been installed as vice-president in what was the most bizarre encounter of my time as British foreign secretary.
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 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 British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has identified climate change as a major priority for Britain's presidency of the G8 next year. The dilemma for Blair will be whether he uses the role to lever the Bush administration towards 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, get 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 towards 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 the US must acquire full-spectrum dominance of military capabilities in order that it can impose such solutions unilaterally.