Writing Prose for a New Term; the Second Bush Term Will Be Less Aggressive, Less Unilateral, Less Militant and Less Arrogant. but This Will Not Be Due to a Change of Heart

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Byline: Fareed Zakaria (Write the author at comments@fareedzakaria.com.)

The key to President Bush's victory might lie in a simple historical fact. No American president has lost an election in the midst of a war. Two of them, Truman and Johnson, decided not to run as the country was slogging through Korea and Vietnam, after tens of thousands of American casualties.

But no incumbent president who has put himself up for re-election during a war has lost. So this is a reassuring win for George W. Bush. But it is not likely to translate into a honeymoon or a mandate. Even in the best of times, as former New York governor Mario Cuomo said, "we campaign in poetry but we must govern in prose."

It's not just that this was a tough campaign and a close election, or that the country is divided and Washington deeply polarized. It's that in the president's main area of responsibility, foreign affairs, the world is not going to give him a break--or even breathing room. Bush faces an ongoing threat from terror groups, a war going badly in Iraq, a stabilization effort-cum-military operation in Afghanistan, a nuclear North Korea, potentially a nuclear Iran and military engagements across the globe from Colombia to the Philippines. And all this is taking place with American military power stretched to the limit by the commitment in Iraq, and American financial resources severely constrained by large deficits. Looking over this list, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, quipped, "It's surprising that either of these two gentlemen wanted the job."

Most second-term administrations have different faces in top positions. But most also tend to be less bold and assertive in their second incarnation. In this case, it may be a blessing.

The question for many is, how different will this Bush term be from his first? My own sense is that it will be different, but not for the right reasons. The second term of the Bush administration will be less aggressive, less unilateral, less militant and less arrogant in its foreign policy. However, this will not be due to a change of heart, but because the administration will be hemmed in. America is now constrained by the world, a situation largely created by George Bush's policies. Unilateralism, military force and arrogance simply won't work.

If you want to see what Bush 2 would look like, look around--it's already happening. …