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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time to Decide How to Move Forward

The American people have spoken in an election that was very largely about foreign policy, and the rest of the world will have to respect their verdict in giving victory to George W. Bush. On the stump the president proudly and repeatedly stuck by his record of muscular unilateralism, scorned John Kerry for calling the Iraq invasion a mistake and scoffed at him for running to allies for more help. None of the 120 million people who voted therefore had any excuse for not knowing where the president stood on the key foreign policy issue. And they chose to re-elect him by a margin of nearly 3.5 million votes.

This has to change the way the rest of the world views the Bush administration's foreign policy. It does not mean being resigned to the policy continuing unchanged in every respect for the next four years or more. But it does underline that U.S. foreign policy is no longer just the creation of a bunch of conservatives after the awful events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The fact is that a hard-nosed nationalism that has been ready to wreak collateral damage abroad and infringe civil liberties at home in the perceived defense of U.S. interests has now been democratically endorsed. That poses a challenge to America's friends as much as to its adversaries. They need to think hard about how they pursue their own interests in this new world.

Bush has some foreign support to work with, even though his policies have brought America's international standing to its lowest point since Vietnam. Among those welcoming his re-election are President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who believe Bush's war on terror has helped legitimize their actions in their own conflicts with Chechens and Palestinians.

As a region, Europe has been probably second only to the Muslim world in its hostility to Bush's foreign policy. But Bush still has his supporters, among them the leaders of Poland, Italy and Britain.

However, once Bush finishes celebrating victory and starts to refocus on foreign policy, he should soon see the need for more allies in tackling the three most pressing international crises looming in his second term.

The first is obviously Iraq. Here the United States is poised to try to crush the insurgency in Fallujah as an example to all other rebels in the country.

Similar strong-arm tactics have proved counterproductive in the past. But even if they work in Fallujah, the United States will remain desperately dependent on any military and diplomatic help it can muster to get Iraq through January's elections.

The second is the building crisis over Iran's nuclear program. This is likely to come to a head later this month in the International Atomic Energy Agency, which, in the U.S. view, should arraign Iran before the UN Security Council. If the United States is to succeed in this, which is doubtful, it will need the backing of other Security Council members.

The third crisis involves North Korea's dangerously advanced nuclear program. But, here again, the United States is dependent on multilateral diplomatic talks, currently orchestrated by Beijing, to try to contain this threat.

Ultimately, the key to Bush's second-term foreign policy may lie in his relations with Europe. His re-election will certainly stir anti-Atlanticist instincts.

Any such siren voices should be resisted, for two reasons. The first is that, frankly, Europe has no other choice but to stay engaged with Washington, whoever is in charge there.

The second reason is that there is at least a chance that Bush's re-election will usher in a modification of the course he took in his first term. Second-term presidents have no need to coddle their ideological supporters and can afford to act pragmatically.

European Union leaders should certainly not assume that Bush will be any different, but they would do well to send a signal that they are ready to bury past disputes and work constructively with the new administration.

This comment ran as an editorial in the Financial Times.