If you want to know what the new President of the USA is going to do (whichever one wins), just look around you. Under the pressure of low opinion poll ratings, the logic of events and change of mood generated by Democrat successes in elections, the Bush Presidency has changed substantially.
Bush, you may member, came in like a lamb. This was a new Republican, a caring Republican, who could reach out to some Democrats. 9/11 changed all that. The Pentagon moved into a position of great influence over the Administration, which decided it had to pursue wars in countries associated with the terrorists. We moved from lamb to warrior. This year we see the US government shifting back to the arts of diplomacy. Just as Obama says he wants, the US is talking to its allies and working with them. The US is working through the French President over the vexed issue of Georgia, and stresses in every move and statement the need to work together with the Europeans. Just as Obama wants, the US is talking tough but not threatening military intervention. It has not ordered the carrier and surface fleet to concentrate near the Russian coast. The State department seems to be in charge and the Pentagon is taking a back seat. Similarly in the Middle East the talk is all of transferring power to locals in Iraq and Afghanistan, whilst warlike threats to Iran have been played down. The new mood is collaboration and diplomacy rather than leadership and military activity.
In other spheres too the Administration has moved in the direction of its critics. The President now says he thinks climate change is serious and needs multilateral action to tackle it. Maybe a new President would go further unilaterally than Bush will ever do, but if he tries to he will discover the adverse impact it will have on domestic politics. Americans like people the world over will resent having to pay higher taxes or follow more stringent regulations than their friends and competitors overseas, making it improbable a canny politician like Obama or Mc Cain will do much more than continue the shift in rhetoric that Bush has begun on this topic.
It is rare for a new government or even President to make a decisive shift which the wider governing establishment is not already making. I suspect that both Mc Cain and Obama, campaigning on change, will represent little shift from Bush Mark 3 in either foreign affairs or in domestic. Obama might be a higher tax and even higher spending President, though Bush the big spender will take some beating in that department. Mc Cain represents continuity in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the end both Obama and Mc Cain would cut their commitments there, Obama more slowly than he says he would like and Mc Cain more quickly than he currently says is necessary.
Meanwhile, neither candidate has anything original or important to say on handling the Credit Crunch and the state of the world economy. The Fed will do what is has to do, with little change to current policy whoever becomes Treasury Secretary.
The more US politicians talk about change, the more you should expect continuity. The shift in policy has occurred already. Bush is now a multilateralist believing in diplomacy, after the difficulties he placed himself in through his two big Middle Eastern wars. We will now discover that diplomacy does not work well either, as the Russians continue their military presence in Georgia, destroying the Georgian militaryâ€™s hardware whilst the West watches and condemns from a safe distance.
A sensible President would immediately set about remedying one great source of US weakness â€“ its dependence on foreign oil.