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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 November 2006, 18:55 GMT
Bush diminished as world leader
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Indian socialists hang effigies of George W Bush and Tony Blair on 8 November
The US leader is already highly unpopular abroad

The mid-term elections have left President George W Bush diminished as a world leader.

The sudden news of the resignation of the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld adds to a sense that the ship of state is in rough seas.

The word abroad will be that George Bush is on the defensive and has taken a knock. Enemies will be encouraged. Friends will take cover.

To his own publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the way things are going in Iraq has been added voter dissatisfaction with him.

His party is even in danger of losing the Senate as well as the House of Representatives.

As Oscar Wilde might have put it: "To lose one House may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness."

Mr Bush will have to find a way to stop the slow strangulation that Iraq is now exercising on him and his party.

What now for US foreign policy?

And the question being asked now is whether the days of major US foreign policy interventions under this president are over.

image showing Bush's poll rating

Will the United States now conclude that the problems in Iraq and the lack of domestic support for them require a purely diplomatic approach, for example towards Iran and North Korea?

And above all, what will this mean for policy in Iraq itself, the root of his woes?

Vice-President Dick Cheney dismissed the election results in advance with a statement that policy in Iraq would go "full speed ahead".

One should not underestimate George Bush's determination. He has said proudly that he will stay the course in Iraq even if his wife and dog end up as his only supporters.

And it is the case that since the president controls foreign policy, he need not change course because of cries from the voters.

US soldiers on patrol in Iraq
There are about 147,000 US soldiers deployed in Iraq

In a post-election news conference, Mr Bush accepted that the voters "registered their displeasure" at the way Iraq had gone wrong. But he insisted yet again that to leave early would mean defeat. "We cannot accept defeat," he said.

Several times he mentioned the Iraq Study Group under his father's Secretary of State James Baker. He is to meet it soon and perhaps was hinting that he will take its recommendations seriously.

Not that the presidential options are many. Even before the election he laid down that the Iraqi government itself must do more, both politically and militarily, to go on justifying American support. That has to be given time to work through.

If there is any comfort in the Democratic party's successes for Mr Bush, it is that his opponents really have no more idea of what to do in Iraq than he has.

Their constant call is to "change course" but nobody has explained what that means. They cannot, because they do not know.

During his news conference, the president came close to admitting that he told an untruth when he informed reporters last week that Mr Rumsfeld would stay on. He said he had told them that because he did not want the issue to be injected into the campaign. He admitted that, at that stage, he had already spoken to Mr Rumsfeld about the need for a "fresh perspective".

The American Century

During his first term President Bush bestrode the world like a colossus.

He drew inspiration from the principles of the Project for the New American Century, drawn up in 1997. Among the signatories were Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

It asked: "Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests?"

The 9/11 attacks and the "war on terror" he declared in a speech soon afterwards allowed him to use the instruments of US power and diplomacy to topple the Taleban and gather support from around the world.

Then there was the "Forward Strategy of Freedom" announced in November 2003, for democracy in the Middle East. "Promoting democracy and freedom in the Middle East will be a massive and difficult undertaking, but it is worthy of America's effort and sacrifice, " he said.

Iraq and the disastrous course of events between Israel and its neighbours have lowered expectations for all that.

And now the mid-term elections, which the Republicans thought earlier this year they had in the bag have confirmed that criticism from fellow Americans has caught up with criticism from around the world.


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