The things one does for one's country. The other day I found myself called in to help brief a group of MPs who were in Washington to discover the thinking of the Bush administration. I was shocked by the degree to which they had assimilated the current wisdom in Britain about what will unfold in a postwar Iraq. Tories and Labour members alike, they had swallowed the Blair line that following a vicious war that required 300,000 troops, has left more than a hundred British and US servicemen and women dead, cost $70bn and killed thousands of Iraqis, the United Nations would be brought in to run a postwar Iraq and that a "road map" to peace between Palestine and Israel would be followed assiduously.
These two pillars may be Tony Blair's hastily cobbled-together, retrospective rationales for the Iraq invasion, but there is precious little talk of either in Washington. True, I am told that President Bush privately told a visiting delegation of Arab leaders that he would pursue peace in the Middle East "even if it costs me the election [next year]". But it is almost impossible to see the administration hawks now known as "neoconservatives" making any genuine moves towards trimming back Israel's power. Israel, after all, receives fully one-third of all US overseas bilateral aid; while Yasser Arafat is widely seen here in much the same light as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
And what of the UN? The MPs I talked to all believed that it had a crucial role to play in future in Iraq. But, if Blair sticks to his line on the UN, the UK and US governments really will diverge over the ruins of postwar Iraq. The UN is widely viewed with contempt in America, as an effete band of cocktail-swigging, meddling (and usually black) foreigners who would dare to tell the US how some part of the world should be dealt with. It was not until after the atrocities of 11 September 2001, after all, that the US government paid up nearly $lbn in UN dues that Congress had deliberately withheld. The suspicion and paranoia over foreigners and the UN was neatly summed up by an American website I recently found, featuring the United Nations crest and motto against the organisation's light blue background, and with a crucial third sentence added: "Welcome. It's your world. We just want to own you.
The British MPs should have listened more carefully to Dubbya when he appeared briefly alongside Blair at Hillsborough Castle (the venue was listed in White House schedules simply as "Belfast, Ireland"): "We're committed to working with international institutions--including the United Nations--which will have a vital role to play in this task [of rebuilding Iraq]," he said. And what was that vital role? "An agent to help people live--freely. That's a vital role. That means food, that means medicine, that means aid, that means a place where people can give their contributions, that means suggesting people for the IIA, the Interim Iraq Authority, that means, er, being a party to the progress being made in Iraq."
The logic of the neoconservative view is that if only all the people of the world understood America and its values, they would all want to become American in style and outlook. Their vision is a revolutionary one: to export the American way of life to the rest of the world. But this vision does not allow for anti-American countries and governments to spring up in democratic societies. That, the logic dictates, is impossible. Never mind that a democratic Chile elected a pro-Soviet leader--at that point, the CIA moved in to replace Salvador Allende with Augusto Pinochet. From Guatemala and Chile to Iran, the US has hitherto been happy with those dictators it places in power. I have even heard the deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, for example, argue that it was all right for the Philippine government to throw out US troops stationed in that country, because that was democracy in action.
These theories, …