President George W. Bush has often promised to “sprint to the finish” of his eight-year tenure in the White House. But as the president has kept from public sight in recent days, his approval rating hovering barely above 20 per cent, he has seemed the lamest of lame ducks.
After the election, however, Mr Bush is set to re-emerge in a high-profile way, hosting the international financial summit in Washington on November 14 and 15.
His administration is also preparing to take a momentous step on relations with Iran, and is in the final stages of deciding on plans to send diplomats to Tehran to run a consular department that would manage US interests in the Islamic republic.
State department officials have been discussing the move for months, with Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, indicating her support for such a step – but have held off any formal request until after the election.
Mr Bush is merely following his predecessors in seeking to make his mark right up to the day he leaves office on January 20. His father, George H. W. Bush, sent troops to Somalia only after he lost the presidential election to Bill Clinton. And Mr Clinton spent his last days in the White House in eye-catching, but ultimately doomed, efforts to agree deals on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and with North Korea.
Former and serving officials argue that an irony behind Mr Bush’s current activity is that several of the policies on which he is now focusing his attention are closer to Barack Obama than to John McCain.
Thomas Graham, a former official who headed Russia policy in George W. Bush’s White House, argues that there is “more continuity than you might expect” between the Bush administration and the Obama campaign, partly “because the administration has shifted from where it was even a year ago on some of these issues”.
Throughout its second term the Bush administration has stepped up an effort to repair old alliances and emphasise a more multilateral approach towards diplomacy than it did in its first four years – whether on fashioning a common approach on Iran, encouraging Middle East peace or handling North Korea’s nuclear programme.
Indeed, some experts and analysts argue that while Mr McCain’s more aggressive approach is closer to the policy of the first Bush term, when the influence of neoconservatives was at its peak within the administration, the Democrats have more in common with the president’s final, more pragmatic, days in office.
The administration’s likely move to establish a US presence in Iran would chime more closely with Mr Obama’s call for dialogue with Tehran than it would with Mr McCain’s more suspicious approach.
On North Korea, it was Mr Obama who praised the Bush administration’s recent move to take Pyongyang off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism as “a modest step forward”. Mr McCain, by contrast, criticised the decision.
Mr Obama even appears closer to the administration on its $700bn bail-out of the financial sector than is Mr McCain, who has called for $300bn of the funds to be spent on buying up mortgages instead.