America awakes from a corrupt and incompetent nightmare

Finally, yes finally, it seems that America has woken from its slumber. After more than a decade, the hegemony of the right - and not just any old right, but a deeply arrogant, corrupt and incompetent right - appears to be over. (One must, in modern US elections, insert caveats as those with power have form in falsifying results at the ballot box.) The results from the congressional midterm elections mark, above all else, a personal repudiation of George W Bush and what he stands for.

Pollsters give varying assessments for the cause of popular discontent with the president. Some point to his hapless performance during Hurricane Katrina; others attribute it to an economy run with irresponsibly high budget deficits; many are shocked by the wave of sex scandals involving prominent politicians and evangelists in recent months, which have shattered any pretensions to a moral high ground. But most of all it comes down to one small word that has destroyed Bush as it has Tony Blair - Iraq.

It has taken Americans longer to get to this point than it has Britons. Most of the media in the UK displayed lamentable gullibility ahead of the war, allowing itself to be bullied by a hubristic government. But at least after the invasion those same journalists began to ask questions. In the US, broadcasters and newspapers were pressurised by the administration not even to carry pictures of the flag-draped coffins of servicemen and women as they returned home in increasing numbers.

Even the most duplicitous of propaganda machines, however, are eventually found out. Precious few Americans, from the think-tank salons of Washington to the family tables of Idaho, would now argue that the Iraq war was anything other than an unmitigated disaster.

Where now for Bush? History suggests his final two years will not be quiet. Lame duck presidents do not feel encumbered by public opinion. Bill Clinton, in his final hours in the Oval Office, signed amnesties for unsavoury friends. One works from the assumption that Bush will be far worse. Not only will he try to do favours for the small group of rich friends who bankrolled a man into the White House who was politically and intellectually not fit for the task, but he could cause more damage around the world.

Prepare for a military attack on Iran. Prepare for other dangerous sorties in far-flung places, all cloaked in the spurious banner of the "war on terror".

For international leaders and international institutions, this is a pivotal moment. What was once called the western world is crying out for a sensible, collective approach. Global warming is the most urgent challenge. The Bush administration, bolstered by its flaky, ideological adherents, did what it could to stop radical action. A number of US states have commendably taken up the task of cutting emissions. They may now receive more support in Congress. Other important issues that require immediate attention range from terrorism to nuclear proliferation, from global inequality to mass migration, to the rise of China and the shifting economic balance.

When Bush took power in January 2001, Blair saw his task as ensuring that the new president did not retreat from the world stage. His initial analysis was not wrong. His remedy - doing whatever he could to provide unquestioning public and private support - would prove catastrophic, for his own premiership and for the world.

Our own lame duck leader will also soon be gone. His successor, almost certainly Gordon Brown, should seize the new alignment of forces in the US to develop a more sophisticated foreign policy that combines strong ties with Washington and Brussels, framing our national interest through a broad global alliance. Brown, an acute observer of the American scene, will note, as our US editor does (page 10), that for all the Republicans' travails, the Democrats should have performed more strongly. They still have much to do.

The race for the American presidency of 2008 begins now. Whatever the outcome, the night of 7 November 2006 marked the beginning of the end of probably the worst presidency in US history.

Firebrand finds God and power

Meanwhile, a few miles south of the border, another election has taken place with an intriguing outcome. The re-emergence in Nicaragua of Daniel Ortega, one-time revolutionary firebrand and scourge of Ronald Reagan, may be cause for celebration for those who do their politics through leftist icons.

Ortega professed during the campaign, nearly three decades after his Sandinistas originally took power, to have changed. The US begged to differ and tried to undermine him. In so doing, in inimitable style, the White House vastly improved his prospects. Nicaragua is the poorest state in the region, second only to Haiti. Three pro-US free-market governments have stabilised the economy, but done little for the many disadvantaged. Hence the appeal of a man who now talks of reconciliation, claims an attachment to God, and who chose a former Contra rebel as his running mate.

Politics in Latin America has rarely been more vibrant. Radicals of differing hues hold power, from the ostentatious Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, to the fiery Evo Morales in Bolivia, to the pragmatic (and just re-elected) Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, to the apparently reformed Ortega - not forgetting Cuba's ailing Fidel Castro. The adherence of some of the above to free speech and other fundamental rights is not what it might be. But they do have one thing in common - a yearning to run their own affairs away from their preying, powerful neighbour to the north.