So George W. Bush is President once more. This time, the man derided for having been handed the Presidency four years ago by the Supreme Court after having lost the electoral vote by 500.000, has achieved a 51 percent majority, with a 3.5 million votes more than his Democratic opponent, a win in 31 states and a record turnout. He has fortified his majorities in both houses of Congress. He has lost (in Senator Daschle) one of his most effective and ruthless opponents in the legislature. And he may soon be in a position to determine the composition of the highest court in the land for the next generation to come. European public opinion, on the other hand, was solidly for a President Kerry.
Talk about a victory (plus a resounding rebuff to Europeans who like to dismiss American democracy for its supposed voter apathy). Over here, the reaction was, well, shock and awe. What does that augur for U.S. foreign policy to come? And for the transatlantic alliance?
The first of these questions was answered by Colin Powell on Tuesday: The president, he said, is not going to trim his sails or pull back. Its a continuation of his principles, his policies, his beliefs. The Secretary of State made a point of referring to past and future U.S. foreign policy as aggressive in terms of going after challenges, issues. The second one was dealt with by a newly confident President Bush, who described his future method of handling allies with this memorable formula: I will reach out to others and explain why I make the decisions I make. Right. It all looks rather like four more years of more of the same.
But will the realities of American power match the rhetoric of the GWB II Administration? Probably not. The re-elected President faces a domestic arena that is fraught with difficulties and risk.
The U.S. armed forces are overstretched and exhausted. Many servicemen and women feel betrayed by a political leadership which they see as reckless and incompetent. Over a thousand dead, many thousands more wounded and maimed: here lie the seeds of a generational trauma potentially on a par with that of Vietnam. More than any other in recent memory, this Administration has rested its claim to global primacy on its overwhelming military strength. If that superiority is diminished in the way that the credibility and legitimacy of American power have already been diminished by hubris, doublespeak and hypocrisy then America will be grievously weakened. At any rate, the weakened state of the armed forces precludes military intervention against Iran or Syria, which were once at the top of the White Houses youre next list.
Solid as the Presidents majority may be, the electorate is bitterly divided, the opposition bitterly disappointed. One country, two nations: hard to see how this Administration can pursue its next main domestic policy projects privatization of Social Security, tort reform, and more tax cuts and not deepen the culture rift. (And surely bipartisan, healing politics cant be limited to reappointing Democrat Norman Mineta as Secretary of Transport.)
Bankrolling those reforms, and the ongoing Global War on Terroism in Iraq, Afghanistan and other, possibly undisclosed locations, will make breathtaking demands on an economy already weakened by a historic current account deficit. With a euro-to-dollar exchange rate at $ 1.30 to the euro and upwardly mobile oil prices, it wouldnt take much to send Americas (and the worlds) economy into a tailspin of recession.