Thursday, March 30, 2006

New World Scene II

20 March 2007
by John Pedler, (Diplomatic Consultant, former British diplomat)
[comments welcome to: ]

This remains one of our basic papers - 2 Sept 2008

"The Pax Americana is over...The real question is not whether US hegemony is waning but whether the US can devise a way to descend gracefully, with minimum damage to the world and to itself." Immanuel Wallerstein, Foreign Policy Magazine July/August 2002.

“I kind of think that the decisions taken in the next few weeks will determine the rest of the world for years to come.” UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to President G.W. Bush, 20 March 2003 as the Iraq war began. As quoted in Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward, p 399.


This essay for the general reader is in response to our correspondents who have asked us for a summary of the why of the Iraq war and its global consequences. This is because ‘sound bites’ and op-ed articles etc. cannot summarise the whole picture, and also because so much of the media in the US and the UK has been ‘dumbed down’ for both profitability and right wing political reasons. So, many of those involved in politics, business, NGOs, and the media itself – as well, of course, ordinary voters – want, without or before going to expert sources, better to understand the long thought out neo-conservative foreign policy, much of which President George W. Bush has put in action, why that led to disaster, and what is the effect on the now already altered world scene.

With Iraq poised between a still unformed Shia dominated government and civil war or chaos; with an apparently escalating ‘clash of civilisations’; and with the crises over the Hamas victory in Palestine and Iran's nuclear ambitions, the situation has now reached a point where it is both possible and essential to have a first look at the worldwide repercussions of the 'unapproved' invasion and occupation of Iraq. (Unapproved, of course, not only by the UN Security Council but also by NATO, the EU, and the countries most concerned).

Our note in September 2002 (when it became clear that meagre US & UK intelligence on Iraq was being "cooked" to provide a casus belli), collected the warnings of experts in many fields on the likely outcome of occupation and the international impact of such a war (this list was endorsed by a National Security Adviser in the Clinton Administration). Our paper of November 2003 noted that these expert predictions had all come true and suggested that ‘damage limitation’ required ‘Administration change’ following the US presidential election in November 2004. This did not happen and the world situation has since deteriorated further.

Before sketching the reverberations of ‘Iraq’ across the planet, we need first to look at (1) our politicians' pre-war failures in the US and the UK and (2) the need for policy changes after the disaster of 'unilateralism'. This involves (3) understanding the rationale for 'Iraq', comparing the neo-conservative vision and (4) its weaknesses with (5) what we know of the vision of the al-Qaeda leadership:

One of the most striking things about the Iraq war was the failure of democratic safeguards in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The Democrats in the US and the Conservatives in the UK, signally failed in their very purpose as opposition parties effectively to question and challenge the Bush White House and Mr. Blair's 10 Downing Street before the crucial votes in granting authority to go to war. (On the Iraq Resolution, 11 October 2002 the Senate voted 77-23, Senator Chaffee being the sole Republican to vote nay. In the UK, on the Declaration of War Amendment of 18 March 2003 the vote was 396 to 217).

Yet these representatives had access to all the information we on the outside possessed, and the right to demand very much more. More determined, some well-organised questioning of key political and career individuals before the war would have revealed both the glaring defects in planning (a leading UK complaint), the gross distortion of the intelligence (see now esp. John Prados, Hoodwinked, 2004), and the likely grave world-wide consequences of an 'unapproved' invasion (Mr. Powell and key aides). Downing Street even massaged the legal advice to obtain an opinion that the war would be legal. Had the two governments’ culpability been demonstrated, the voting could have been very different.

Neither party even demanded clarification of the reasons for invading and occupying Iraq, and the advantages supposed to result. Yet the media were persistent in suggesting that the official reasons - the alleged immediate danger of Saddam's WMD, the possibility of him supplying al-Qaeda, and the need to end his tyrannical regime - were not the only ones.

There were also, readily available to the elected representatives, a host of warnings from an array of distinguished outside specialists about the likely problems that would have to be faced both within Iraq and on the world stage. Perhaps the most eminent was Mr. Brent Scowcroft, who had served as security adviser to Republican presidents since Nixon: he warned on TV on 4 August 2002, that an invasion “could turn the whole region into a cauldron and, thus, destroy ‘the war on terrorism’ (cited John Prados, op. cit., p 1). Note that almost all of the expert warnings against the war were given by those who did accept that Iraq did possess significant biological and chemical weapons.

There were exceptions, notably the late Robin Cook, former UK Foreign Secretary in his resignation speech as a Cabinet Minister on 17 March 2003 whose plea for multilateralism reverberates today. Senators Feingold, Graham, and others strove to preserve priority for the "war on terror". And Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (who voted war powers, hoping they would be used with prudence) made a remarkably prescient speech on 30 September 2002 at the Eisenhower Institute – insisting that Iraq not “be viewed in a vacuum”, but required a multilateral “comprehensive strategy for peace” including moves to resolve the Israel/Palestine problem, maintaining the priority for Afghanistan, and other vital requirements - all of which, as we see below, were jettisoned.

So, ironically, the missionary zeal to spread democracy coincided with a major failure of the duty of opposition - that is of democracy - in the invaders' home countries.

Equally striking, both the Democrats in the 2004 Presidential election, and the Conservatives in the 2005 General Election failed to take advantage in their campaigns of President Bush's and Mr. Blair's gross misjudgements over Iraq. Senator Kerry, as Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2004, never made a major statesmanlike speech on Iraq and the resultant world situation - he chose to campaign largely on domestic issues. Mr. Michael Howard, the Conservative leader in 2005, went so far as to confirm that he would still have voted for war even if he had known the results!

This was partly because both candidates and both their parties had voted too readily to give war powers to the leaders, and partly because of the general failure to comprehend the damage already done by 'Iraq' to the West's position in the world. So far only a few ‘yea’ voting politicians have used the valid excuse that they were deceived by their governments when they voted. Yet, for example, Senator J.D. Rockefeller, so sceptical of the welcome the Administration counted on, and so aware of the likely global consequences, voted for war powers being persuaded of the Administration's claim - against the clear expert consensus - that Saddam was near obtaining nuclear weapons (Senate statement, 10 October 2002).

So it is essential that US and UK politicians, and US and UK electorates, now urgently grasp the totality of the damage to Western interests caused by the 'blunder' (the word attributed to Mr. Al Gore) of the Iraq war and to use that understanding in their forthcoming campaigns. For this it is important first to understand the genesis of the war.

We still know little for sure about Prime Minister Blair's motivation beyond his conviction that Britain had to 'follow my leader'. As he told Robin Cook: Britain had to keep close to the US and so be able to influence it. But of course, to be a good ally does not mean just blind support for all the major partner's actions, but also a duty to warn in good time should some plan seem likely to court disaster. And Mr. Blair had major reservations about the US approach to the war. We do not know how far Mr. Blair was aware of, or accepted, the neo-conservative Iraq package reconstructed below. Like the State Department in the US, so the Foreign Office in the UK was sidelined: small teams in the White House, and in a presidential style No. 10 Downing Street, formed policy and acted on it to the considerable exclusion of foreign affairs and other specialists who were ringing alarm bells. It was hard therefore for even the most authoritative warnings to get the attention they deserved. (On this see notably DC Confidential by Sir C. Meyers - British Ambassador to the US 1997-2003).

Specifically, Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Blair's and Downing Street’s alarm about the lack of planning for a post-Saddam Iraq. And subsequently Mr. Bush has not noticeably bent American policies to meet British interests in any domain (although he has continued US assistance over Northern Ireland). Indeed, the President's message has been for the UK, like the US, to look out for itself. So being a 'good ally', has brought Britain no true influence - not even over the conduct of the occupation. To set against the £3bn cost of the intervention to date, British business has got something over £1bn, mainly for security and electricity contracts.

Had Mr. Blair used Britain's trump card - withholding British military participation unless there were a second UN Resolution, or the invasion were delayed by some six months, he might well have won international recognition and influence as the statesman of world class so badly needed today. (Polls showed that a majority of Americans did not relish a war without Britain). Both in Europe and world-wide, that would greatly have increased Britain's influence (and his). As it is, taunted as "Bush's poodle", Mr. Blair has paid dearly both at home and abroad. Labour's 2005 re-election can be put down to the then pathetic state of the Conservative party (just as President Bush owed his close re-election in 2004 to the lack lustre performance of Senator Kerry and the Democrats).

As for President Bush - it is not hard to see why he was beguiled by his suite of neo-conservative advisers, primarily of course, Vice President Cheney and his Defence Secretary Mr. Rumsfeld (also notably his then Deputy, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz) and their, at first sight, plausible scenario. The neo-conservatives, theoreticians for pre-emptive war, had for years urged the removal of Saddam Hussein in order to forward US interests in the Middle East - and beyond. The '9/11' attacks provided the opportunity to invade Iraq - not because Saddam was believed to be behind them (an unjustified claim touted by Mr. Cheney that was perhaps critical in persuading a majority of Americans to back war) but because it was, as they saw it, the key move for the US in the world game. Neo-conservative thinking is revealed notably in their Project for a New American Century and in the classified Defense Planning Guidance leaked to the New York Times in 1992 (drafted by a protege of Mr. Wolfowitz, Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, the neo-conservative Afghanistan-born US Ambassador to Iraq, and previously to Afghanistan. A more recent precis is From Containment to Global Leadership, also by Dr. Khalilzad). Piecing together neo-conservative thinking:-

A quick war, which certainly would be welcomed by most Iraqis, would not simply end any threat from Saddam's WMD (which the CIA had anyway assessed as slight), but would put the United States into the heart of the Middle East, both militarily (with bases in Iraq), and politically. The U.S. could then start a shift towards American style secular democracy thoughout the region by establishing a successful democratic Iraq. As importantly, a friendly oil-rich Iraq would reduce dependence on ever less dependable Saudi Arabia (whose fundamentalist Wahabism had spawned al-Qaeda led by the Saudi, Osama bin Laden). And such a success in Iraq could be a magnet pulling Saudi Arabia (with its increasingly fragile monarchy) - and even all of Islam - towards democratic evolution and away from Wahabism, al-Qaeda, confrontation, and chaos. A thriving Iraq would at the same time encourage success in Afghanistan.

Also, with American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan on either side of Iran, and with secular democratic regimes in both those countries quickly becoming far more appealing than Iran's dour Islamic Republic, the already advancing reformers in Iran would have fresh wind in their sails. The Islamist Ayatollahs would be on the defensive. The removal of the Ba'athists in Iraq would doom the Ba'ath regime in Syria. Israel's position would be strengthened. The Palestinians, faced with these American successes, would desert Hamas and other extremists and accept a Palestine/Israel two state settlement acceptable to Israel.

The neo-conservatives, aware that American power had been leaking away since the fall of Saigon - and this despite the collapse of the Soviet Union (essentially due to its own house of cards structure) - believed that a brilliant manoeuvre, such as the occupation of Iraq, would plug that leak,
restore prestige, and guarantee the US even greater pre-eminence in the post-Soviet world.

Thus the neo-conservative doctrine of pre-emptive war would have been vindicated and a powerful message sent to all potential enemies of the US. And particularly to the two remaining members of President Bush's "axis of evil" - North Korea and Iran, also pretenders to nuclear power status. It would be 'one down and two to go'. Non-proliferation would be saved.

All of this would amount to a severe set-back for al-Qaeda. It would be a major victory, even quite likely the decisive victory, in the 'war on terror'. In other words - the invasion of Iraq would not be an unnecessary and disastrous diversion from the 'war on terror' as the critics claimed, but on the contrary, a strategic shift of theatre away from isolated Afghanistan and home security (i.e. uncertain reliance on 'goal-keeping') - neither of which could bring any quick and dramatic success over al-Qaeda and its progeny. In December 2002, President Bush, asked if there were a strategy to counter the growth of Islamic extremism, is reported to have replied ‘that victory in Iraq would take care of that’ (James Risen, State of War p 171). This was to be an elective shift towards the Islamic homeland, at once protecting America's Achilles heel - oil supplies - and strangling the appeal of al-Qaeda by opening up in its Arab homeland a new Middle East with all the attractions America offers.

So this bold stroke against al-Qaeda, would amount to a master move to strengthen the United States' hegemonic position world-wide, ensuring that the 21st century, like the latter part of the 20th century, would be America's: a uni-polar world. All America's enemies - Kim Il Jung, the Ayatollahs and anyone else, would have have learnt a salutary lesson.

Indeed a most beguiling package! And it is no wonder that a President who admitted to little international experience, but saw ‘democracy’ as a panacea, (apparently more enthusiastically after reading The Case for Democracy by the Israeli politician Natan Sharansky) accepted much of this neo-conservative vision when offered by the two neo-conservative leaders he had chosen as his principal external affairs advisers.  

i) Success for this bold plan clearly depended above all on correct and exhaustive planning for a swift transfer of power to a new Iraqi government, one which would very soon prove stable and ready to play its part in the grand design.

a) Any significant delay or miscalculation leading to widespread opposition to the occupation which the nay-sayers had warned of, would risk another 'Vietnam' with no easy exit. The enforced US withdrawal from Vietnam had not much mattered - the Sino-Soviet rift had already ended the nightmare of a monolithic 'communist bloc' domino-style takeover dangerously shifting the world balance of power. But any precipitate US withdrawal from Iraq replacing the relative stability of Saddam's tyrannical but anti-Islamist regime with either the threat of chaos, or an unfriendly sectarian regime in the heart of the Middle East, would be a grave setback for the US and a boon to all its enemies - and most of all to al-Qaeda and co.

b) To prevent Iraqi society splitting ethnically and confessionally between Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites there was general acceptance by experts that there would need to be a secular government, as was Saddam's. That implied keeping the state structure - army, police, and administration intact, though removing the worst elements in Saddam's secular though odious Ba'ath regime and greatly increasing Shi'ite (and Kurd, etc.) participation in each. In sum, a swift, smooth, transfer of power and a quick exit could only be achieved by preserving and building on Iraq's existing structure.

c) To do this required providing adequate forces trained in occupation and police duties i) to prevent civil unrest, ii) and to reduce that risk by ensuring security for the rapid restoration of Iraq's public services and economy to pre-Gulf War levels, iii) to continue Saddam's controls on al-Qaeda, preventing it from infiltrating Iraq in an attempt to wreck the grand plan which threatened to prove its nemesis. In other words, carrying a truly big stick but being able to use it with restraint because of generous and effective use of the carrot. Thus the popularity of the occupation and of the successor regime would be maintained.

But, quite remarkably, there was no such detailed planning - even though the British government and the State Department (e.g. its Future of Iraq project) had stressed its importance.

ii) Such a bold plan would be unlikely to succeed unless it enjoyed both the widest possible international backing and specialist support from the UN and Arab countries. For the US lacked not only adequate forces trained in occupation duties, but also expertise in Arab language, politics, culture, and Shi'ite as well as Sunni Islam. Also, the post-Saddam reconstruction of Iraq would also need the widest possible international financial and other assistance if the bulk of the cost were not to fall on the US. (Oil experts saw no such large and speedy increase from Iraq’s rusty oil industry as the neo-conservatives claimed would soon enable the country to pay for its own reconstruction and service its debts - even in the best circumstances, let alone in conditions of insecurity).

But, while virtually all countries have a major interest in a stable, friendly Iraq, few countries want to see the United States achieve so dominant a politico-military position in the Middle East and over its oil wealth, and indeed over the world, as the neo-conservative plan projected. What if the American presidency did produce one of Amaury de Riencourt’s famous Coming Caesars and there were no countervailing power? Indeed, under the second President Bush, by 2002 the US was already showing a worrisome unilateralism and disregard for international co-operation. In fact, it was to conceal the 'imperial' nature of neo-conservative policy that there has been such ambiguity over the real reasons for invading Iraq and the great benefits to be expected for the US. (Senator Kerry, a ‘yea’ for the Iraq Resolution, saw this fog and remarked, 9 October 2002 : "By casting about in an unfocussed, undisciplined, overly public, internal debate for a rationale for war the Administration complicated their case, confused the American public, and compromised America's credibility in the eyes of the world community").

The fact was that as the grand plan was designed to help ensure that 'Second American Century', the neo-conservatives did not want major foreign participation which diluted American overall control. So this requirement too, was not met.

iii). The plan contained another contradiction: throughout the Cold War the US had backed all manner of dictatorships as best able to stem communism. For the sake of stability, the US and its allies had continued to support such regimes in the Middle East. But the plan to install a democracy in Iraq with the acknowledged aim of moving the whole area towards something like American style government, begged the questions that experts in Middle Eastern and Islamic affairs posed. What if the reaction to decades of one party rule backed by the West led to a rejection of secularism and majorities for anti-Western Islamic parties? What if an end to repressive rulers were to facilitate recruitment by al-Qaeda and co? And what if, far from stifling al-Qaeda and co's recruitment through Islamic resentment at the fate of the Palestinians, anything went wrong in Iraq – or Afghanistan - and one or both became a greater source of Islamic resentment even than Palestine (and Chechnya)? But, just as there was no adequate planning for 'post-Saddam', there were no contingency plans that took account of these cardinal questions asked by State Department experts.

The authors of the grand plan were clearly betting on America's appeal not only in Iraq (although a non-Islamic occupying power) but in staid, tradition-bound, ill-educated, societies where religious intolerance and pervasive anti-imperialism hold sway.

CIA and State Department warnings against counting on a lasting welcome, of the likelihood of armed opposition, and of the possibly insuperable difficulties in creating a stable, friendly Iraq, were ignored - some State Department personnel even being declared non grata with the planners in the Pentagon. The White House preferred the rosy picture painted by Mr. Ahmed Chalabi - darling of the Pentagon, but long seen for a fraud by both CIA and State Department - who, with other emigrés predicted the warm welcome for the liberating US forces indispensable for the grand plan's success. (It appears that Mr. Chalabi may have been acting for Iran's Ayatollahs in pressing for invasion - just as Israel too, pressed for war, believing toppling Saddam to be in its interest).

Clearly the whole operation was very high risk - regional experts might well have put the odds at over 10 to 1 against. The world now sees the outcome of President Bush's and Prime Minister Blair's gamble which was described by Clare Short, who eventually resigned as a UK Cabinet Minister, as 'reckless'.

Reckless indeed: In parallel with John Prados, Mr. Paul Pillar, National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia 2000-2005 has now filled in (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006) many of the details of how the intelligence was ‘cooked’, how the White House - notably Vice President Cheney - brow beat the professionals (see also James Risen, State of War) to produce something, anything, to back its public assertions that Saddam was in some way involved in 9/11; and how - although it had already been totally discredited - the President's 2003 State of the Union address came to include the charge that Saddam was purchasing uranium in Africa in order to give some semblance to the otherwise unbacked casus belli claim that Iraq was near to producing 'nukes'. As to the lack of planning: Mr. Pillar also reveals that, as coordinator of all intelligence regarding Iraq, "the first request I received from any Administration policymaker for any assessment was not until a year into the war". It was against this background that President Bush and his White House insisted on dragging us all pell-mell into his world-destabilising adventure.

The Neo-Con weaknesses become apparent: the fundamental contradiction between America's lack of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ resources to achieve the grand design by itself, and the neo-conservatives' opposition to exchanging the planned American dominance for essential international support and approval to rectify this, was resolved by accepting the far greater risks of 'going it alone' as quickly as possible with significant military support only from the UK. Hence the 'rush to war' in March 2003 - the newly returned UN weapons inspectors had absolutely not to be allowed time to demonstrate that Iraq presented no immediate threat. (Small contingents from other countries were sent less because of belief in the mission, than their need to ‘keep in with the US’).

But the lack of 'post-Saddam' planning was immediately apparent. As General Shinseki, the outgoing Chief of the US Army Staff, had famously warned before the invasion, the Rumsfeld slim 'blitzkrieg' force designed quickly to unseat Saddam proved grossly insufficient for the occupation. The initial welcome for the end of tyranny - so important for the plan to succeed - had soon been dispelled after civil order in Baghdad had straightway broken down in looting. Mr. L. Paul Bremer III, then President Bush's 'viceroy' in Iraq from May 2003 complained that far more troops were needed. Bremer had replaced General Jay Garner who lasted less than a month - partly for having opposed enforced privatisation. Bremer lasted a year. Ambassador Negroponte was appointed to succeed Bremer in April 2004. He too, lasted a year, being replaced by Dr. Khalilzad - appointed US ambassador on 21 June 2005. Although a neo-conservative ideologue Dr, Khalilzad has proved pragmatic and regret has been voiced that he, the first choice, was passed over and arrived too late to rectify errors. Like the others, he too, complained of the astonishing lack of pre-war planning.

There had not even been sufficient troops either to secure arms dumps (to prevent their use by pro-Saddam or al-Qaeda insurgents) or mass graves (needed as evidence if Saddam's guilt was to be established to prevent his being later presented as a martyr. As of today his trial is in disarray). Frontier control also suffered severely from lack of man power: efficiently repressed by Saddam, al-Qaeda could now infiltrate those circles opposed to the occupation.

In the confusion the Iraqi army, police, intelligence, and even administrative structures were melting away. No decision had been taken to maintain and pay for them as was essential to the grand plan's swift transfer of a functioning Iraq to a lay successor government. As Major General Paul Eaton, tardily made responsible for rebuilding an Iraqi Army, has complained, for lack of planning a year was lost before this obviously top priority task got under way. Worse, the Pentagon, which had been left responsible for organising the political handover (apparently because the neo-conservatives did not have the same influence over the State Department) had not chosen a preferred succession or how to impose one. "We'll find out about that out when we get there", was one quote. But, with the quick end of the honeymoon, there was no time for that.

In this vacuum of US dithering from the President down, Saddam's secular state disintegrated - as predicted - on sectarian lines into Sunnis and Shi'ites (with subsidiary feuding among the latter) all struggling to grab as much as possible of the power Saddam had so recently enjoyed. Not to mention the Kurds and other ethnic groups staking out their claims. Mr. Bremer stood down an already largely phantom army, so ending hopes of employment for the large reservoir of armed, unemployed, disgruntled men open to recruitment by anyone. By then the insurrection - or rather insurrections - were well under way, fanned by al-Qaeda and co. Whatever the aims of other insurgents, al-Qaeda and its associates have taken the lead in largely isolating Iraq - driving out the UN, some foreign embassies, and making it all but impossible for NGOs and reconstruction workers to get on with their tasks. All this has vastly increased Iraqi resentment of the occupation.

So, instead of putting the US into the centre of the Middle East and strangling al-Qaeda support through a successful 'democratisation' of Iraq, thus bringing victory in the 'war on terror' (or ‘the struggle against violent extremism’) within reach, the inherent weaknesses of the plan led to the opposite - such dramatic insecurity in Iraq as to enable al-Qaeda readily to infilitrate the centre of its own Arab homeland. And to carry on its war there against both the US and 'moderate Islam'.

Partly because the grand plan was not capable of being realised as an all but entirely American undertaking, partly because of the lack of planning for the handover to a successor government, and partly because - to get it accepted politically - the invasion had had to be presented to Congress as requiring few troops and but modest expense, the American people is far from supportive of Mr. Rumsfeld’s long haul to ensure even an acceptable minimum of success - a demonstrably stable and not unfriendly Iraqi regime. As of now, this still remains a mirage with the appointment as Prime Minister designate of Mr. Ibrahim Jaafery, the outgoing caretaker moderate, but who has now become dependent for his position on the extremist cleric Moktada al Sadr and his ‘Mahdi Army’ which fought the Americans. Al Sadr is tipped by some as ‘the dictator in waiting’.

But it is not even so simple as that: there is a complicating factor. Has defective planning coupled with gross disrespect for international norms (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, 'extraordinary rendition' etc.) helped to bring about so great an antipathy not only in Iraq but thoughout Islamic circles, that the American presence itself is working against such a minimum of success, as increasing numbers believe in both Republican and Democrat circles? If so, what should be done about drawing down American forces when no other powers are either prepared or able to help pull America's chestnuts out of the fire? Would withdrawal - partly, as some suggest, to isolated bases - actually improve the chances of quelling the insurgency and producing stability and a not unfriendly Iraq? Mr. Bush’s famous ‘Mission Accomplished’ appearance aboard USS Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003, has been replaced by this sombre debate.

At the time of writing (March 2008) the security situation appears worse than ever. Oil production has fallen below what it was in Saddam's last years. An army of mercenaries has been unable to provide sufficient security for technical workers to get on with reconstruction - fuelling discontent at the failure after nearly 3 years to restore electricity, water, sewage etc. Crime too, is undermining normal life for Iraqis, particularly extortion by kidnap. Worst of all is the slide towards civil war.

In sum, now that the grand plan appears utterly to have failed, a restive US public has revived the spectre of Vietnam that the neo-cons planned to lay to rest for ever. Only a minority of the US electorate now believes the war was worth it; a majority want US forces out of Iraq in a short time scale. Congress is balking at approving the great expense of staying on in Iraq. And Congressional elections are due this autumn with the President’s approval rating around 34% .

Curiously there is no reliable information available about what al-Qaeda expected from the attacks on New York and Washington and what potential it now has to achieve its aims - even in this age of leaks of the most delicate information. Has Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, 'extraordinary rendition', and electronic interception really yielded nothing on these high priority intelligence requirements? Or is it, as some suggest, being suppressed because so potentially embarrassing to the Bush Administration.

Al Qaeda's leaders surely must have anticipated determined military action by the US - presumably an invasion of Afghanistan, the only real immediate option. They no doubt hoped for a humiliating check for the US because of the great tactical problems would-be invaders faced. But they must surely have allowed for ultimate American military victory. Did they foresee that even success in making Afghanistan a model for Islamic countries would still leave Americans dissatisfied, clamouring for some decisive victory over those who were pledged to destroy them? Some clear end to the terrorist threat hanging over their nation?

Which begs the question - did Osama bin Laden and his closest associates calculate that their attacks on New York and Washington would prove the detonator that set off an invasion of Iraq? They may not have known of reports that when President Clinton handed over to George W. Bush in January 2001, the former put al-Qaeda as the No.1 threat to US security, while the latter cited Iraq. But they must have known of the long standing neo-conservative arguments that replacing Saddam would bring great strategic benefit to the US in the Middle East - and that, with neo-conservatives surrounding the new President, it might not take much to provoke an invasion.

Al-Qaeda was in the business of crippling the second, and only remaining, superpower with the ultimate aim of dominating the Muslim, or at least the Arab world – even perhaps, ‘restoring the Caliphate’. Its leaders believed that their part in the Afghan struggle against the Soviet superpower had led to, or at least hastened, its demise. Vietnam had shown them that even the United States could be defeated militarily. And, since the fall of Saigon, the US had withdrawn from Somalia and Lebanon after the loss of a handful of soldiers. So how long would the US stay in Afghanistan - how long in Iraq? Al-Qaeda knew the Middle East far more intimately than the Americans so it must have shared the assessment of all those experts (notably Mr. Powell in his reported critical tête à tête with President Bush) who warned of those dire consequences, not only in Iraq but world-wide, of an occupation - dire consequences al-Qaeda was well-placed to exploit.

Indeed, by the autumn of 2002 pundits (including he writes: see letter to The Independent, 10 Sept. 2002) were pointing out that nothing was likely to help al-Qaeda more than an 'unapproved' American invasion of Iraq. For al-Qaeda, it was not just set-backs to the US in the Middle East that would help it, but set-backs world-wide. For every set-back the US suffered on the world scene would be a gain in al-Qaeda's monumental task of clipping the American eagle's wings and gaining control of the Middle East and its oil for its extreme Wahabist version of Islam based in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, bin Laden and his closest associates must presumably have made contingency plans for their own flight from Afghanistan - whether to exile in Waziristan or elsewhere. They must have known the great risks they were running. But, in the aftermath of '9/11' how far did they count on al-Qaeda's inner group being able to continue organising major terrorist operations - especially if Osama himself does indeed suffer serious health problems? Or did they assess that the torch of terrorism had already been successfully passed on to the many they have trained in their camps over the years? Are there one or more master groups capable of the overall strategic assessments and detailed planning for major terrorist acts with little, or even no, direction from Osama's original core group.

Indeed, al-Qaeda's interests in Iraq – provoking civil war, reputedly under Musad Al Zarqawi (and to a lesser extent in the London and Madrid bombings) do seem to have been successfully pursued by lieutenants acting almost entirely, even entirely, on their own initiative. We do not know how far the al-Qaeda core command, or its quasi-autonomous associates (‘al Qaeda & co.’) - is in a position to organise a truly disastrous act of terrorism - say, using nuclear material.

Or were the al-Qaeda fanatics no better at forward and contingency planning than the ideologues in the Bush Administration? The al-Qaeda ‘Harmony’ database papers published by the Pentagon suggest that organisation too, may have made serious mistakes in planning – particularly over the escape from Afghanistan - and only been saved by ‘Iraq’.

We can now sketch some of the most important worldwide repercussions of the neo-conservative policies which have not only aided al-Qaeda and co. and seriously set back the 'war on terror', but, quite as importantly, weakened not only the US but also the West as a whole, and all those who rely on the United States and the West to help preserve and forward their interests. As will be seen, taken together these repercussions have radically altered the international outlook.

Looking first at some Islamic countries, beginning with Afghanistan and including Israel/Palestine, both keys to success against al-Qaeda & co. but both neglected in favour of Iraq:-

1. Afghanistan - unfinished business: it was widely agreed by strategists both within and outside governments that the first response to '9/11' should be for the US to gain the support of the international community to overthrow the Taliban and crush al-Qaeda or at least to deny it use of a sovereign state. 

Then to prevent it reverting as a harbour for terrorism. That implied, with the help of all willing powers, providing the personnel, expertise, and funding to reconstruct Afghanistan politically and economically as an example for other Islamic countries

This would further isolate al-Qaeda after '9/11' which almost all governments had condemned and which Muslims world-wide had greeted not with applause but rather with condemnation or shocked silence - a few Saudi clerics notably excepted.

President Bush acted with commendable deliberation, first gathering the truly remarkable world wide support acclaimed by Mr. Cook, and then - notably with British help - staging a tactically challenging invasion.

But with pacification far from complete, with the al-Qaeda leaders still being sought, and with reconstruction barely started, Mr. Bush turned his attention to Iraq. Afghanistan lost its top priorities politically, militarily and financially. The President hinted at the primacy he was giving to the neo-conservatives' 'grand plan' when he made his famous comment about Osama bin Laden (Press Conference 13 March 2002) "I truly am not concerned about him", adding that he was though "deeply concerned" about Iraq's WMD threat.

US officers in the field lamenting the failure to capture Osama bin Laden (the prime reason for invading Afghanistan) declared that they believed he could have been taken in the Tora Bora area as he escaped if preparations for 'Iraq' had not prevented the deployment of sufficient US troops.

More serious still was the White House failure to ensure sufficient funds (from the US and the countries that had supported the invasion) and a crash plan to kick-start reconstruction and a revival of the economy such that the general population quickly derived tangible benefit. (Indeed a contact there complains that after three years there is still no proper planning). So Afghanistan fell back on opium production. Although the area devoted to poppy has, since ‘9/11’, about tripled, this is still only about 2% of Afghanistan’s agricultural land. But with the price rising from around $30-60 to some $150 per kilo very large sums have been going to local warlords (enabling them to defy or buy chunks of the Kabul government); to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (whose private army did most to wreck Afghanistan, so facilitating the Taliban takeover before going on to fight the Americans); to the Taliban; and directly or indirectly to al-Qaeda and co.

Already by the end of 2002 the State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) was insisting that the Afghanistan opium crop had to be dealt with immediately while the number of farmers, processors, and those corrupted were still comparatively limited. This required sensitive policy making to avoid unneccessary hostility. There needed to be a feared and effective stick capable of dealing with the violent response of powerful profiteers to the destruction of processing facilities. But success depended on devoting sufficient resources to get the economy going sufficiently for Afghanistan to be weaned from dependence on opium. Alternative livelihood, not spraying and compensation (the US nostrum) is now seen as the answer.

And that means major targetted investment, experts and training and well as extra ground forces to assist the expansion of the power of the Kabul government into the provinces on the back of new prosperity. But all of that has been in short supply because of 'Iraq'. Mr. Bobby Charles, head of INL, briefed the Senate International Relations Committee on the need for urgent action (transcript, 12 February 2004). But this plea for some restoration of Afghanistan's high priority seems to have been 'buried' by the neo-conservatives who are said to have seen Mr. Charles as a thorn in their side.

It was only at the end of 2004 that Mr. Powell was able personally to brief President Bush, who agreed that opium growing had to be stopped to prevent the narco-destabilisation of Afghanistan. But Vice President Cheney and Messrs. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz seem to have 'buried' even this presidential decision too, in their determination to stop the President from taking his eyes off Iraq (see esp: James Risen, op. cit., ch 7). They argued that a drive against narcotics would pit the US against the warlords on whom the US depended given the lack of troops (because of 'Iraq', i.e. because of them) to keep the peace given the Kabul government’s inability much to extend its writ.

With the deterioration of security, and the failure of the occupation to bring much prosperity (except to 'narco-beneficiaries'), the initial encouraging return of Afghan refugees is partially in reverse. Some are going back to Iran. Lack of funding for reconstruction has led to a 'brain drain' of anyway scarce professionals, many of whom had only recently returned with the fall of the Taliban. In a word, for many, high hopes have led to disillusionment.

Now, with the US army overstretched and with increasing public pressure for troop withdawal from both occupied countries, some US forces are being drawn down in Afghanistan. Those NATO countries which early on had readily volunteered to help peacekeeping, but which are now dismayed by the reversal of American fortunes, are being pressed, reluctantly, to reinforce their troops to take over from US forces what is becoming not peace-keeping but a second pacification of the southern provinces. Observers there suggest that growing Taliban de facto control cannot be reversed by the still puny Nato contingents even if Europe proves to have the political will to keep them in the line of fire. After three years of inaction, NATO is being expected to tackle opium to prevent the country becoming the 'narco-state' the INL warned about.

In sum, all but incredibly, the White House, fixated on 'Iraq', failed to learn the lesson from US abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal which led to the Taliban government and the haven it gave to Osama bin Laden after his ejection from Sudan. Leaving unfinished (or rather, barely begun) business in Afghanistan in favour of his elective war in Iraq, President Bush finds that the ghost of defeat already hangs over what was his brilliant victory.

There are though, some indications now that significant US withdrawal from Iraq may enable military and financial reinforcement in Afghanistan in an attempt to ensure that at least this intervention orginally, and rightly, considered so essential against al-Qaeda, does prove a success.

Internationally, as a result of the neglect of Afghanistan because of the Iraq war, many Muslims now lump Afghanistan together with Iraq as US occupied territories, along with Palestine occupied by Israel, and Chechnya 'victim of Russian Imperialism'. This perception has much increased al-Qaeda & co.'s ability to recruit the susceptible worldwide.

2. Palestine/Israel: victory for Hamas: it was also widely agreed that, in tandem with the occupation of Afghanistan, the immediate response to '9/11' should be to deny al-Qaeda & co. the prime source of the prestige and the recruitment potential it enjoyed among disaffected young Muslims as a result of the widespread resentment felt by so many - non-Muslims too - at the conditions of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

That meant mobilising the wide support America had won for the invasion of Afghanistan to follow up President Clinton's initiative in 2000 to resolve the decades long running sore of the Palestine/Israel problem by the establishment of a Palestinian state as projected by the 'road map'. In the immediate aftermath of '9/11', renewed and maximised pressure from the 'quartet' (US, EU, UN and Russia) backed by a number of Muslim states and most of the international community, could – respected experts believed - well have obliged the two leaders, then Messrs. Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, to yield sufficently to achieve a solution.

Failure to get total success on a first round would not greatly have mattered - the world would have seen that America was leading those who were trying. But President Bush, who had made a point of turning his back on Israel/Palestine immediately after his election in 2000, failed to see that America's overriding interest lay in starving al-Qaeda's appeal and recruitment by direct action. And not as the dividend, more favourable to Israel, that the neo-conservatives expected from replacing Saddam Hussein's tyrrany with 'democracy' in Iraq.

The support for the US after '9/11' presented a unique opportunity to hit al-Qaeda where it was psychologically most vulnerable. But President Bush lost it. Now, as noted above, far from being 'defused', Palestine and Chechnya have joined Iraq and Afghanistan in a foursome for vastly greater Muslim resentment.

Israel scored an 'own goal' by assiduously backing the neo-conservative rush to war - through the Israel lobby in the US, and through regular Mossad (Israel's secret service) visits to Washington, notably to the Pentagon and its neo-conservatives at the top.

The Iraq war's resultant boost for Islamic extremism, anti-Americanism, anti Israeli (even anti-Semitism) and terror, plus the Bush Administration's failure to do anything practical about the terror-engendering conditions in occupied Palestine explain the not really so 'surprising' victory of Hamas in the January 2006 elections.

Had there been no 'Iraq' and had America and the other three members of the 'quartet' made any serious effort to forward the 'road map', Arafat's Fatah would surely have kept its majority, despite its deplorable record of corruption and inefficiency. ‘Iraq’ has meant – for the time being at least – the loss of Fatah’s secular rule to an Islamic one. Even as it was, one poll after the elections reported that Hamas got some 45% of the vote and 56% of seats, while Fatah got significantly more than 50% of the vote but only 43% of the seats: splits in the latter, partly reflecting poor morale at lack of progress in negotiations due to excessive US support for Israel, apparently led in several cases to candidates supporting Fatah standing against eachother for seats.

The West now has to decide how to handle Hamas, set up in 1988 by the military wing of Eygpt's Muslim Brotherhood largely to wage terror against Israel. And Hamas has to decide how to exploit its victory at the polls. A major complication is Hamas being a named 'terrorist organisation' by the US and Europe. For President Bush made the strategic error of lumping all terrorist groups together as 'terrorist organisations' in the struggle against al-Qaeda & co. But maintaining a distinction between national and international terrorism is essential. This is because of i) the terrorist/freedom fighter ambiguity, ii) the military/diplomatic rule of thumb: never make more enemies than is strictly neccessary, and avoid potential enemies allying with enemies. Every case of national terrorism is sui generis and requires an individual response.

National terrorism usually reflects very real discontent which often can be remedied alongside pacifiation (Malaya in the 1950's is an example). And terrorists can often either be sidelined or got to come out of the cold into politics. International pressures - sticks and carrots - can be applied to encourage such developments. Formally abandoning terrorism and decomissioning weapons and personnel is the last step to be expected, because retaining terrorist capability is the main card such organisations hold when negotiating with a government with its forces of repression. In the case of Hamas, the second to last card to lay down is the formal recognition of the state of Israel for that is the quid pro quo for recognition by Israel (which will only happen at the conclusion of negotiations). Both sides know this - the only questions are does Israel want peace? Does Hamas want a state of Palestine?

For the United States the question is whether it puts the interests of the US first - the struggle against al-Qaeda, and US relations with Islam and the Arab world - or will it continue to put first what Israel claims, rightly or wrongly, are its interests?

For Russia, the choice seems to be to help Hamas 'come out of the cold' - if it will. For Europe - is it prepared to take a lead with Russia and dialogue with Hamas, or is it still bound to the US, right or wrong? 

Hamas' terrorism is confined to the Palestine of the British Mandate following the first World War. It is not monolithic. Both observers and polls suggest that a very substantial majority of its supporters at the elections were voting against Fatah's corruption and ineffectiveness in getting rid of the Israeli occupation, and for the reputed integrity of Hamas and its provision of social services. Its electoral victory was certainly not anywhere near a majority vote to try to destroy Israel.

The choice for Hamas is to exploit its present popularity and get the best possible deal for the establishment of a Palestinian state, or forcibly to repress the inevitable dissent inherent in a ‘theological’ decision to carry on its terrorist campaign - and lose its independence by being forced to rely on say, Iran for assistance to continue its armed struggle. At the time of writing Hamas has snubbed a video appeal by Ayman al-Zawahiri (reputedly bin Laden's right hand man) to destroy Israel. Hamas replied it had no need for outside advice - it would act solely in the interests of the Palestinian people. But its leader in Syria declares all former Palestine must be regained.

So, given sufficient priority, patience, flexibility and good diplomacy from outside, Hamas is, on the face of it, an organisation which could respond positively. But not only Hamas, but the US would have to overcome ideology. And that could be difficult for both sides in an atmosphere poisoned by the fallout from 'Iraq'. Time will be needed, for Israel will not quickly concede to Hamas negotiators even what it once appeared ready to agree with Fatah.

3. Iran - resurgence of the diehards. During the eight years of the moderate President Khatami, Iranians enjoyed a slow but fairly steady reduction in the harshness of the initially Robespierrian Islamic Revolution which ousted the Shah in 1979. Although the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, publicly opposed the US invasion of Afghanistan, he declared that Iran also opposed al-Qaeda type terrorism. In fact Iran was glad to see the end of the Taliban and there was some discreet improvement in local US/Iranian relations (diplomatic relations had, of course, been broken off for 23 years after revolutionaries seized the American Embassy in Teheran). This relaxation began to unravel after President Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address so unwisely named Iran as one of three disparate states which made up his 'Axis of Evil' - thus suggesting that Iran could be on a list for forcible 'regime change'.

Then came the invasion of Iraq which put US forces on the west as well as on the east of Iran. 'Regime change' had come to the first member of the 'Axis of Evil'. This was both a threat and an opportunity for Iran's leaders. As America's fortunes declined not only in Iraq itself, but in much of the world as well, Iran was able correspondingly to increase its influence in the neighbour which had cost it of the order of a million dead during Saddam's chemical-weapons-using Western-backed war against it.

The Shia majority in Iraq, though Arab, not Persian, gave Shia Iran a unique chance to emerge, if skilfully handled, as the major influence in the 'democratic' state the US neo-conservatives were trying so unskilfully to build. American errors had conveniently ended secular government, bringing a largely confessional interim government dominated by a Shia majority. Al-Qaeda's suicide bombing support for Sunni insurgents helped create chaotic conditions initially favouring Iranian influence, but is now hampering the establishment of Iran's vision of a stable satellite clerical Iraq.

The genuine threat America represented, led the Ayatollahs to speed up their secret nuclear work to realise the Shah's plan to make Iran a nuclear power. Paradoxically, with American ground forces stuck in Iraq, the only real threat is from American air attacks but only if Iran persists in these efforts to 'get the bomb'. So it could possibly be that Iran's aim is to use its nuclear pretentions to blackmail the West into giving the largest possible package in return for desisting (or pretending to desist) from going ahead.

n the new charged situation of both US threats and the chance to turn the tables on the US in Iraq and perhaps also Afghanistan, the Guardian Council of the Revolution judged it an opportune moment to reverse the Khatami relaxation which they had so reluctantly and only partially tolerated. After blocking reformist would-be candidates their 'controlled election' produced as president the populist extremist Ahmed Ahmadinajad of the neo-Nazi anti-semitic outbursts, whose power base is the feared, well armed, Revolutionary Guards (the Pastoran) - a parallel army to the state's armed forces. Ahmedinajad is now beating the nationalist drum over Iran’s ‘right’ to go nuclear in an attempt to win the popular support he conspicuously lacks.

This seems to have surprised some at least among the leaders of the regime who apparently believed that the election had been rigged (by throwing out reformist candidates) to ensure the return of the worldly wise but corrupt President Rafsanjani so adept at manipulating the West to Iran's benefit. (He did just manage to win most votes in the first round, but got less than 2/3 in the run off . The largely unknown Ahmedinajad won with the votes of only about one third of the electorate, partly because of the protest vote against his well known but mistrusted opponent). Some observers question whether the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council, mostly cynics who run the Islamic Republic to their advantage, can maintain their control, or whether Ahmedinajad and his zealots will exploit their divisions and come to dominate policy, and perhaps provoke a power struggle.

For the time being though, Iran is pursuing a skilful policy of confronting a weakened West over its nuclear policies, while at the same time striking oil and gas deals with, and winning support in India, China, and South East Asia.

Meanwhile 'Iraq' and its fallout has brought a cruel setback for all those Iranians favouring a gradual evolution towards genuine democracy. Their cause has suffered from the misfortunes of the West. As elsewhere, their voice of moderation for the moment no longer has the wind behind it.

Still unanswered, is whether America's botched occupation of Iraq will result in Iran achieving the hegemonic position over Iraq that the neo-conservative grand plan was intended to win for the United States. Iraq's Arab, Sunni, neighbours do not want that, nor does (Sunni) Turkey. Would some of these intervene if the slide towards Iran or civil war cannot be stopped?

Equally unanswered - will President Bush succumb to the Vietnam-style popular build up for immediate troop withdrawal, thereby abandoning even the minimum requirement of leaving a stable (albeit none-too friendly Iraq) or, after the US elections, will he use his then two remaining years of power in an attempt to rescue at least that much from the neo-conservatives' dream – and perhaps in the process do something to rescue Iraq from Iran?

To consider briefly Turkey and some Arab states:-

4. Egypt: the effect of 'Iraq' has again shown how naive and impetuous pressures for 'democracy' in the Arab world can back-fire. Destabilising 'Arab street' riots, which some predicted, did not occur. But President Bush's pressure for 'greater democracy' led President Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt for 24 years, to hold 'freer' elections in which he made sure the moderates did not win (some were housed in prison) and candidates supporting the 'illegal' Muslim Brotherhood were allowed to win 20% of the seats, while other opposition parties got barely 3.5%.This outcome was presumably designed to show President Bush and any others interested, that the panacea of 'democracy' to replace authoritarian regimes from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, would end, à l'Algérienne, with the triumph of Islamic extremism. The message: 'better let the dictators take care of that' - as Saddam Hussein so successfully did!

5. Turkey: despite intense pressure and a reported US bribe of some $11bn, Turkey's new moderate Islamic government and its ever vigilant, fiercely secular, military both wisely refused to support the war on Iraq. But Turkey could not escape the fallout from the invasion. Prime Minister Erdogan - who, though leading a confessional party, famously promised "not to impose Islam on anyone" and gave as a priority Turkey's adhesion to the European Union - is faced with a recrudescence of the religious intolerance endemic in Turkey. This too, stems from 'Iraq', and from the 'clash of civilisations' exemplified by the furore over the Danish cartoons. (These are, for example, the two reasons the suspect is reported to have given for murdering Andrea Santoro, a Catholic priest).

But 'Iraq' has led to the deterioration of relations between the West and Islam, Europe's much enhanced fear of Islam, and the resultant massive growth of anti-Americanism in a once loyal NATO member. All this has reduced the chances for another American aim: Turkey's accession to the European Union. This should greatly have helped Turkish society on the road towards tolerance. If rejected by the EU, how will post ‘9/11’ Turkey respond - it was the imperial power over most Arab areas, and the last 'holder' of the Caliphate?

Turkey now waits to see whether Iraq's slide towards civil war can be arrested. Or whether, at some point, it may feel obliged to intervene in the north - which it so sensibly refused to do when it opposed the invasion.

6. Saudi Arabia: as noted above, the prime aim of the neo-conservatives was to obtain US bases in Iraq and dote it with a stable friendly secular government thereby ensuring less dependence on Saudi oil, and at the same time giving the Saudi royal family a gentle lesson in how they should manage the evolution of the kingdom towards the norms of the developed world.

Instead, coalition intelligence suggests that al-Qaeda & co's arrival in Iraq thanks to the war, and the experience it gained there supporting the insurrection (notably by providing suicide bombers) is a step towards intensifying its nascent violent campaign to de-stabilise Saudi Arabia. For them, an essential step towards dominating in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia's strict Wahabism, an extreme interpretation of Islam, puts it in an ambivalent position between, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia's stability, its trillion dollar oil business and relations with the West, and on the other hand upholding, for Muslims to emulate, the kingdom's established religion. For years a significant portion of the world's payments for oil has gone to support Wahabist madrassas and other 'charitable' works, notably in Pakistan.

And the de rigeur Wahabist beliefs are not so big a mutation away from the jihadist beliefs of Osama bin Laden and the 15 Saudis out of the 19 who carried out ‘9/11’. Indeed, it appears that several well-off Saudis have been bankrolling al-Qaeda in much the same way as the 'Angels', a number of European capitalists, bankrolled Lenin and the Bolsheviks before the Russian revolution.

The arrival in the kingdom of al-Qaeda associated terror, and the post 'Iraq' escalation of tensions between the Muslim and the non-Muslim world has made Saudi Arabia's foot-in-both-camps stance one fraught with danger. Its elderly rulers have to confirm its leadership of Islam as protector of the Holy Places, yet counter both internal terrorism and the perception that the regime is enfeebled by its own brand of decadence - which is bin Laden's criticism.

Competition with Shi'ite Iran, reflecting the Sunni/Shia hostility in Iraq fanned by the war, has exacerbated confessional tensions inside the country. Worse, previously loyal Wahabist religious leaders have begun to berate the royals for less than enthusiastic support for the struggle against the 'infidels': as noted, some of these were among the few voices applauding 9/11. Even within the Saudi security and intelligence services there are alleged to be several with sympathies for al-Qaeda.

'Iraq' has coincided with Saudi indirect support for al-Qaeda's version of Wahabism, obliging the Saudi rulers to recognise that they themselves have spawned a threat to their rule that now comes from within. In a word, the Iraq war has not given America the promise of Iraqi oil that neo-conservatives planned as guaranteeing supplies should there be doubts about Saudi supplies. Instead the Iraq diversion helped bring al-Qaeda one step closer to destabilising Saudi Arabia.

7. Pakistan: first the invasion of Afghanistan; then of Iraq; and now the violent Islamic reactions to American abuses in Guntanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, etc., and the Danish cartoons, have put America's ally, President Pervez Musharraf, onto a tightrope. His 1999 coup d'etat was at the expense of middle class democracy. He therefore relies for support on the army and disparate elements of the population including the northwest frontier tribes and religious extremists. Although Pakistan opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and helped both the Islamic insurgents and the resultant Taliban government, President Musharraf accepted the American led invasion and cooperated in the 'war against terror'. Before 'Iraq', the US looked the best bet.

America's set back in Iraq has thus considerably increased the fragility of General Musharraf's rule. He has no obvious strong-man successor. Should Musharraf lose his grip there is a real risk either that an Islamic extremist will take over, or instablity. The US and the rest of the world tolerated both Pakistan and India becoming nuclear powers. A most unfortunate development as Pakistan's leading nuclear expert Dr. A.Q. Khan was in large part responsible for supplying nuclear weapons technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea - thus doing much to wreck non-proliferation and enable the two latter 'Axis of Evil' members, to benefit greatly in their nuclear programs.

Given this degree of lax nuclear security, there has to be a fear that instability in Pakistan could lead to an extremist regime in a nuclear armed Pakistan. One that might assist al-Qaeda in a search for nuclear material. Or simply that unstable conditions and bad security would enable terrorists to seize it.

On top of this, President Bush's proposed special exception for India (but not for Pakistan) enabling the US to give it nuclear technology despite its nuclear weapons, (besides prejudicing the future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty) discriminates against Pakistan, the essential ally against al-Qaeda and for success in Afghanistan.

It was hard enough for General Musharraf to change horses and ride out the occupation of Afghanistan, but doubly hard to ride out 'Iraq'. It is worse still to see his chosen ally failing in both these countries, and at the same time becoming the object of intense hatred particularly among those of his countrymen on whom he depends. Osama bin Laden and his organisation appear to be operating out of Waziristan - Pakistan's unwelcome guests whom the General wishes someone would destroy, but whom he himself has no wish to capture. Added to all this is a revived Taliban operating out of Pakistan principally in Afghanistan’s southern provinces. President Musharraf may be forgiven if he sometimes wonders if it would have been better simply to have dismounted rather than mount the American horse.

8. Other North African and Middle East countries, Islamic areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, S E Asia: There is no space here to discuss these individually. Suffice it to say that all their governments suffered damaging consequences from 'Iraq' and its aftermath which magnify tensions between Islam, local Christians and animists, and the US and Europe. For example, this has compounded the delicate task of Nigeria's President Obasanjo in his dealings with the partly autonomous largely Islamic northern provinces where the introduction of Shariah law has led to widespread Christian and other reaction. It has also harmed Christian and animist relations with the Government in Khartoum after the great effort made by former Secretary of State Colin Powell towards ending the civil war in the south. (Darfur is mentioned below).

In South East Asia, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, even of Buddhist Thailand and the mainly Catholic Phillipines - all of which backed the 'war on terror' - have to face stepped up Islamic extremism with the ‘post Iraq’ deterioration of relations between Islam and the West.

9. Europe & NATO, Russia, China, Japan, Latin America,
i) The European Union - wisely (though not always for the the best of reasons) France, Germany and Russia opposed the Iraq war, notably generating much anti-French resentment in the US. Yet M. de Villepin, the then French foreign minister, was, with Mr. Powell and Mr. Blair, largely responsible for the key Security Council Resolution 1441 of November 2002, and the return of the UN inspectors to Iraq. France also proposed greatly strengthening the inspectorate to meet American claims that it would prove ineffective. Virtually all those governments, led by Britain, that joined in the 'unapproved' war, now privately regret they did. But all governments, aware that Mr. Bush will in all probability be US president for 2 3/4 more years, avoid all but muted criticism, and have welcomed US readiness to improve relations (of course without any US admission of error).

British protesters, with an unprecedented anti-war ‘march of the million’ through London, split government from people. And indeed today most European governments and peoples see 'Iraq' as having much helped al-Qaeda & co. and to have much increased their vulnerability to it. (Mr. Blair was satirised for denying that 'Iraq' has anything to do the bombings in London and Madrid).

The split in Europe also meant, of course, a split in NATO. As already noted, American troop reduction in Afghanistan due to 'Iraq' has led to a demand that NATO increase its share of responsibility for Afghanistan. The originally enthusiastic response to this out-of-area NATO role has been met with doubt and reluctance. 'Iraq' has significantly weakened NATO, increasing queries about its future role and its relevance without a Soviet Union.

'Iraq' has also brought to a head a number of latent questions about Europe/American relations. What should Europe's position be as America's 'unipolar' world gives way to the unknown - especially now that in an increasing number of cases the EU needs to take a position at variance with the US - e.g. over Hamas and human rights? Should Europe attempt to become a 'pole' in a coming 'multi-polar' world? How far should Europe continue to rely on the United States when the neo-conservatives now in charge do not support the 'dumb-bell' theory that Europe should grow into a more united, more equal and so more effective partner for America? Should Europe seek closer ties with an increasingly authoritarian Russia, long estranged but part of Europe, with which the EU has many common interests?

'Iraq' and the fiasco over the European so-called constitution (partly resulting from a desire not to go down the American road), have brought home Europe's weakness. But many issues such as Iran's nuclear ambitions, do appear to be focussing EU thinking towards a greater recognition that the EU has its own particular interests in a rapidly changing international scene. There appears to be a growing consensus that, no matter its internal disarray, the EU must move quickly towards a far more united foreign policy, distinct from, but when possible in line with America's: that the EU position, if it develops as some kind of 'pole', should not be as opposing, but as complementing the US in the broader interests of the West. But so far this tentative development remains private talks, not deeds.

ii) Russia: 'Iraq’ and America's resultant discomfiture, and Europe's increasing dependence on Russian (rather than Gulf) energy have given President Putin less need to pay attention to Western criticism, particularly of his moves increasing the power of the Kremlin. President Bush's inclusive definition of terrorism has hindered efforts to get Russia better to respect Chechen human rights. Russian repression has led to a situation where al-Qaeda & co. are involved, and unpacified parts of Chechnya are reported to be providing a sanctuary for international terrorism.

But, as Russia too, has to face the emerging new political geography, there is the tug of Europe, of which it has been a major member since Peter the Great in the 17th Century. Depending on how this works out, 'Iraq' may eventually assist a Russo-European rapprochement, perhaps one day introducing something that might be called an outer covering for a nascent EU 'pole' into the disappearing unipolar world. If so, the Ukraine, instead of a bone of contention, would become a trait d'union between the EU and Russia. More immediately, inter alia, Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Palestine problem, the rise of China, and the need for stability in Iraq have enhanced the need for EU and Russian foreign policy coordination - at a distinct remove from US policies.

iii) China: America’s loss of prestige and projectable power due to ‘Iraq’ has hastened China’s
anyway inevitable emergence as a 'pole'. It enables China too, to pay less heed to American and other calls for more ‘democacy’ and more respect for human rights - for China it is ‘pot calling kettle black’. These pressures, now more internal, are fast increasing. The great problem the Communist regime does now claim to be addressing, is how the new prosperity can be got to allay the rising discontent of the huge rural mass.  

Post ‘Iraq’, China has greater relative potential, militarily and financially. Financially, because of its huge holdings of American Treasury bonds filling a financial gap in the US budget caused in part by the Bush tax reductions and the balooning cost of 'Iraq'. Theoretically these funds could be transferred elsewhere, upsetting the international currency market and a great deal more. So far, China has simply joined a number of other countries which are increasing the proportion of their funds held in euros. Indeed China's leaders, despite fits of bellicosity towards Taiwan, do not seem to want to destablise a situation working to their advantage while they struggle with the vast internal problems they face.

China, on a very large scale, is rent with a problem that the world faces - how far, and how, the extraordinary dynamic of free enterprise should be controlled or chanelled to ensure social justice, particularly the abolition of poverty and, as importantly, to ensure priority for internal and international environmental challenges. The outcome of the present version of the socialist/capitalist argument is likely to determine whether China will preserve its stability and come to offer an alternative to the American system. For, under the Republicans, the US has been becoming increasingly a 'plutocracy without borders', all but blind to humanity's urgent long term problems.

American calls for China to adopt 'democracy' (a vague ideal of which there are, of course, many kinds), forget - as a top cadre put it to us in Beijing towards the end of the Cultural Revolution: ' when criticising us, outsiders should never forget how hard it is to govern a billion people'.

The ex-Maoist fast growing Chinese giant is on probation - Japan and South East Asia in particular are much concerned to see whether the partial eclipse of the United States will be followed by some Chinese form of neo-conservatism. None want a Chinese hegemony to replace America's relatively benign form.

iv) Japan and North Korea: 'Iraq' has led to heart-searching in Japan given its fears of China with its nuclear arsenal and its greatly increased military budget, and also of a nuclear North Korea. Dependent since World War II on the American alliance, any weakening of America is of concern. So for some, the time has come to amend the pacifist constitution. Japanese strategists were much surprised that the US should have struck at Iraq ostensibly because of its WMD, when US experts agreed with the general consensus that North Korea’s nuclear programme presented a far greater and far more immediate threat. 

Had the US joined with China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea in a co-ordinated top priority effort to end that threat, some observers, not just Japanese, believe it could now be on the way to being removed: North Korea was potentially far more susceptible to concerted pressure and offers of a direly needed package for desisting, than is Iran.

Had there been no 'Iraq', and had North Korea instead been the top priority, Iran's nuclear programme would far more likely have been susceptible of resolution. As it is, Japan is much concerned at the failure of the US effectively to lead over North Korea’s nuclear effort, and at South Korea's increasing disillusionment with the US over the South’s efforts to engage the North.

v) Latin America. On his election in 2000 President Bush, a self-styled Texan despite his East Coast origins, declared he would give real attention to the lands south of the Rio Grande. But he has not. During the cold war, the US understandably propped up any leader or regime that pledged anti-communism. This policy cost Latin Americans much loss of freedom, and often of blood. So the collapse of the Soviet Union naturally led to demands throughout the continent for emancipation from US tutelage. These required careful attention and sensitive diplomacy. 'Iraq' the optional extra to the world wide struggle against al-Qaeda & co, took up too much White House attention to leave time for fine tuning US policy towards the 20 states of Latin America and their differing problems, but common wish to loosen American apron strings.

Cashing in on the surge of anti-Americanism in Latin America fanned by 'Iraq', President Chavez of Venezuela, armed with oil in a time of scarcity, seeks to make himself the populist mouthpiece for the downtrodden of the continent. This has been met by President Bush's reiterated support for free trade and the IMF nostrums of the past, when moderates in Latin America are looking for a fresh approach to the area's long standing economic and social problems. In sum, post cold war, Latin America required a re-think - but for neo-conservatives, it has been viewed as a backwater.

10. The blow to the UN & international cooperation: Since the end of World War I in 1918, led by the US, an increasingly interdependent world has been moving towards organised international cooperation. The League of Nations, established largely at the behest of the US, failed to prevent World War II, in part at least, because the Senate did not ratify the Covenant of the League. But after that war, again largely as a result of American initiative, the United Nations was founded not only to prevent war, but to tackle the other international problems facing humanity. Although partly paralysed by the communist powers during some forty years of Cold War, successive US Administrations led efforts to make the UN work wherever possible - not only in the Security Council and General Assembly, but in its associated organisations.

The 'preventive war' against Iraq, of course, divided the UN Security Council anew - this time with the US and the UK on one side and France, Russia and China on the other - supported by many allied (notably Germany) and other interested countries. And, indeed, their peoples (among them, as noted, Britain's). President Bush famously called in question the continued relevance of the UN if it did not back his Iraq policy. Faced with severe the setbacks in Iraq, the US has since attempted to obtain UN assistance. But the President's recent insistence on appointing Mr. John Bolton, a hard liner, as US Ambassador to the UN, has once again signalled that the UN is apparently still only welcome on America's terms.

'Iraq' has thus created a crisis for organised international cooperation which had been been slowly but surely developing, despite grievous setbacks, for the best part of a century.

This could prove the most serious undesirable side-effect of the Iraq war and occupation. For organised international cooperation is essential to the very survival of civilisation as we know it. What can be done to ensure that the historical era - the last five thousand odd years - does not end in the bang of nuclear holocaust, or in the whimper of climate change and ecological disaster? What can be done about over-population when the present 6.5bn inhabitants are set to rise to 9bn by 2050? Can the economic trends of global capitalism be canalised and modified to bring sustainable development and an end to poverty in place of today's excessive laisser-faire? Can a world energy policy be worked out and real steps taken to replace reliance on hydrocarbons? Can demographic and migratory problems be resolved? And can the threats to health in an overpopulated closely integrated world be contained?

These and other titanic challenges obviously require an urgent, major, and sustained effort by all the powers greatly to improve the mechanisms for international cooperation in all areas.

As the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation, these are the problems America should be leading the world in addressing. But it is not. And 'Iraq' has opened up serious doubts about US leadership - not just of its intentions, but of its wisdom.

'Iraq' has thus created a crisis for organised international cooperation. To quote again Robin Cook's resignation speech: "Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules". He was speaking of post-imperial Britain, but this now applies also to a United States whose pre-eminence has been dwindling since 'Vietnam'. Post 'Iraq' it needs to prepare to play a leadership role in the comity of nations, without the rightist ideology and the domineering that many call bullying.

If nothing else, the plight of the unilateralist neo-conservatives should be teaching our US and UK politicians of all parties that multilateralism is the only way ahead. A point they should take a lead in bringing home to their constituents, too unaware of the urgency of tackling the planetary problems that affect all of them, and so, too prone to vote solely on domestic issues.

Iraq’, in a word, has intensified President Bush’s misplaced determination not to talk to those he regards as his enemies or potential enemies. Yet dialogue with such is the fundamental purpose of diplomacy. So the US under Bush has, so to speak, boycotted itself reversing the growth of multilateralism which had begun to flourish with the end of the Cold War.

11. Limits of US power revealed. Great empires and hegemonies have receded or collapsed in the past because their weaknesses have been exposed (e.g. Britain's by the Boer Wars). Far from increasing 'shock and awe' of America, 'Iraq' has revealed America's military and financial limitations for all to see. The US is overstretched in keeping upwards of 200,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of 'Iraq', Army morale and readiness to sign on again has much diminished - to risk your life for a political mirage undermines discipline. Army recruitment is failing to meet targets. There can be no question of restoring the draft. 'Iraq lite' - few troops and low expense, and thus a low level of public engagement, has not worked.

The direct costs of the intervention in Iraq, originally estimated in the $50 - $100 billion bracket, is going beyond $369bn. The indirect costs may - as some experts suggest - eventually approach $1 trillion. 'Iraq' has added a major additional burden to US financial problems already stretched by President Bush's plutocrat-pleasing insistence on tax cuts in wartime, and by the implications of America's alarming balance of trade (in 2005 the US spent 57% more than its export earnings, a deficit of $805bn) and budget deficit (2005 - over $300bn, 2006 est. 371bn). And this with a now negative personal savings rate.

The US is perceived as bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its ability and political will to intervene on the ground, even in small countries, is now doubted by friends and potential foes alike. With the growing public clamour for 'out' from Iraq, there is renewed doubt too, about the US public's readiness to accept any military intervention anywhere. This is particularly serious when several countries risk becoming 'failed states' like Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal and thus potential havens and training grounds for al-Qaeda & co.

Al-Qaeda aside, America's post 'Iraq' reluctance and lessened ability to intervene terrestrially much reduces international readiness to prevent genocide. If it had not been for 'Iraq', it is likely that the Darfur genocide would have been limited if not prevented. President Bush's famous marginal note on a report on the Rwandan genocide read: 'Not on my watch'. But in the absence of American leadership, the African Union force in Sudan has been left without strong international political backing, air-support, proper equipment, and finance. Congress's concern about Dafur is unlikely to oblige Mr. Bush to act.

More important still, all the powers - allies and others - have had to factor into their strategic outlook, a new assessment of the limits of American military and financial capabilities and the reasons for which they might be used. Nuclear power - unusable except by accident through dogmatic extremism - and air and sea power remain. But air power without terrestial back-up can often be counter-indicated. Today, for example, a pre-emptive air strike to deprive Iran of its nuclear facilities could possibly lead not only to its use of the 'oil weapon', but to some worse wrecking action in Iraq despite the presence of US ground forces.

The US has needlessly used up long term in Iraq its potential for swift ground intervention instead of keeping its 'army of intervention in being' both as a deterrent and for selective short term use.

Although more a matter of sea/air power, America's set-back increases the risk of an (at present unlikely) Chinese misjudgment leading to conflict over Taiwan. Especially as China is now rapidly expanding its navy, and will soon have an aircraft carrier.

It may well be that America's so called 'world hegemony', both political and military, reached its apogee with the remarkable passage 15-0 of Security Council Resolution 1441 on 8 November 2002 threatening "serious consequences" if Iraq did not declare and disarm its WMD, which led to the return of the UN weapons inspectors to Iraq. Some observers see the decline of US power as having begun on 19 March 2003 when its forces set off for Baghdad.

12. Anti-Americanism hampering the 'war on terror': To cite again Robin Cook about 'Iraq' on 17 March 2003: "Only a year ago, we and the United States were part of a coalition against terrorism that was wider and more diverse than I would ever have imagined possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition". Prescient, for 'Iraq' has meant some fracture of the complex 'world wide web' of intelligence and political cooperation so essential to counter international terrorism.

Of course, almost all countries want the struggle against al-Qaeda and co. to succeed, and few indeed do not want America to succeed in Iraq. But with such a level of popular and governmental antagonism towards, and suspicion of, the US, it is now more difficult for many intelligence services (not only in Islamic countries) to give their fullest cooperation. Yet another boon for al-Qaeda & co. For example, because Germany opposed the unapproved invasion of Iraq, German Intelligence is being blamed for helping to ensure that, were there an invasion, it would swiftly succeed – a major German interest

There is always scepticism about government statements, but the Bush regime has lost credibility internationally and at home through 'spin', deception, and outright falsehoods as it pursues the twin neo-conservative aims attempting to make permanent both American 'hegemony' abroad, and an increase in the power of the presidency in the US.

Mr. Rumsfeld now concedes that the US is lagging in the propaganda war: al-Qaeda has skilfully exploited the forceful negative images of the West. His cure: improved American propaganda. He apparently cannot accept that it is his neo-conservatism that has cost America trust, confidence, and respect, not just among Muslims, but globally.

In many parts of the world, especially in Europe, much of this new anti-Americanism is 'anti-Bushism' (with a big dose of ‘anti-Cheneyism’. But with President Bush's re-election for four more years the distinction has weakened. Many see Americans as incorrigible for again voting him in with a majority when he got only a minority of the votes before he had done his damage. But this overlooks how his approval ratings have dropped since 2004 to around 33% at the time of writing. In a parliamentary democracy there might be some chance of ousting him, and installing a new face with a chance to begin a recovery. Mr. Blair, wounded by 'Iraq', may soon succumb (albeit tardily) in the UK's parliamentary system. But British, like American, politicians, fail effectively to exploit the war and its global fallout - partly because so many of them voted for it, or do not appreciate the magnitude of the blunder, or because they have no alternative to offer.

New faces at the top in the US will certainly be needed before America's 'image' problem can be turned around. But we must expect nearly three more years of George W. Bush - and even then another 'Caesar' or a sheer incompetent may arrive. Some Washigton observers say Mr. Bush may have Vice-President Cheney step down, in order to be able to annoint his chosen successor. Given the already mentioned 'dumbing down' or blatant bias, of so much of the media, and the fact that a presidential candidate has no need to have won his spurs as leader of an opposition, there is no assurance that America will produce a Roosevelt to turn around the country's fortunes, not just for the US but for the world.

13. Human Rights: America's above mentioned extra-legal policies and the very violence with which it has pursued the pacification of Iraq have made it much harder for moderate Muslims to speak out against the extremist minority and their growing number of sympathisers. American behaviour - not just poor discipline due to bad morale, but authorised torture and degradation deriving from the White House itself - has set-back the struggle for human rights world-wide. Mr. Rumsfeld famously described those detained at Guantanamo as "the worst of the worst" - so pre-judging all.

Prosecutions of low ranking soldiers for gross abuse of prisoners have faltered because of President Bush’s declaration in February 2002 that terrorist suspects would not be protected by the Geneva Conventions. This left a fog of uncertainty - as a lawyer for a soldier charged with abuse pleaded, "If the President of the United States does not know what the rules does the government expect this Pfc to know?"

If the US is not going to execute, 'disappear', or hold for life, those it now holds indefinitely, they will one day be released. Nothing is more likely to return them to al-Qaeda type terrorism than having been locked up uncharged for years, perhaps abused, and with only the Qu'ran to read. Yet re-education is clearly essential - and it can work (Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, former Taliban roving ambassador, is reputedly doing well at Yale). But 'Iraq' and those damaging images have worked powerfully against alteration of the mind-set of terrorists.

It appears that much effort has been made to avoid any presidential remark or order showing that Mr. Bush directly condoned torture or gross mistreatment (see James Risen, op. cit. Ch 1). But, in his signing statement on the Senator McCain's bill banning torture (passed by the Senate 90-9 on 17 February 2006) the President wrote: "The executive branch shall construe [the law] in manner consistent with the authority of the President... as Commander in Chief". In other words the President can ignore it. (Like others of Mr. Bush's signing statements, an excellent example of his Caesar-like determination, to reduce the powers of the Senate).

The struggle for human rights was one that the United States - despite grave shortcomings notably in Vietnam - used to lead along with Europe. But with the US Administration's policy on detention, interrogation, and extraordinary rendition as it is, there are suggestions, even in the West, that there is no place for the United States on the proposed new UN body to protect human rights (which indeed some human rights groups accuse Ambassador Bolton of trying to sabotage).

There is a tendency to underestimate the severity of the damage done, not only among Muslims but world wide, by the notorious photographs of torture and sexual degradation. Yet it is this, probably more than anything else, that has led to the 'silencing' of moderate Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia (and among Muslims within Europe) - many of them former friends of America. This revulsion against America - so recently looked up to for at least setting a standard of decency in contrast to the cruel practices of some Arab and other regimes - has increased the likelihood that where there is a move towards democracy in the Middle East, clerical regimes will emerge, rather than Western style secular governments.

In the Vietnam war we ourselves saw how the Americans swelled the ranks of their enemies by indiscriminate violence and their permissive attitude to torture. Little has been learned. US behavior since '9/11' has done much to create the antipathies that may now, together with American public opinion, force a dangerously premature withdrawal from Iraq.

In a word, it is ironic that US excessive force and cruel and disgraceful behaviour has greatly helped, of all people, the ruthless and heartless terrorists that are al-Qaeda and co.

To quote Al Gore, "President Bush should apologise to all those men and women throughout our world who have held the ideal of the United State of America as a shining goal to inspire their hopeful efforts to bring about justice under law in their own lands."

14. 'Iraq' as arresting the evolution of Islam: in one generation the world has had to survive the fascism of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo's Imperial Japan - and the variant Marxisms of Stalin and Mao. Not to mention the worldwide tragedy and international paralysis of the decades of Cold War. Hardly has all that more or less passed into history than a new and very different challenge has arisen: that of Islamist terror, a spin off from a religion with around a billion adherents centered mostly in a swathe of countries from Morocco and the north of sub-Saharan Africa, eastward to Indonesia, but with large numbers of believers also in Europe and very many other countries.

The aim of Al-Qaeda is not exactly known. It appears to be not only to install their intolerant, rigid form of 'jihadist' Islam in the Muslim countries and to unite them in a political bloc, but also to use elements in the Islamic diaspora as a means of dividing and weakening non-Muslim countries in the long term attempt to replace the hegemony of the United States with their own.

After years of training by al-Qaeda ('the base') of some thousands of Muslims both theologico-politically and in the techniques of terror, '9/11' was meant to kick-start this process, but as already remarked, al-Qaeda was initially all but isolated. Much Muslim opinion rallied behind the US and the genuine, voluntary coalition which overthrew the Taliban and forced the al-Qaeda leadership into hiding. Al Qaeda's grand plan seemed on the verge of collapse.

It is too often forgotten that Al-Qaeda did not come out of nothing, but out of widespread resentment and feelings of impotence and frustration by Arab Muslims in particular at their civilisation being left behind, despite a brilliant past (from Europe's Dark Ages until the Renaissance) in the making of the modern world. Today, authoritarian rulers of Islamic countries, whether confessional or secular, have frequently encouraged this resentment to focus on the plight of the Palestinians and the perceived iniquities of Israel - rather than on themselves. There is, of course, another strand of indignation - the complaint that the West is 'looting' the oil wealth of Islamic countries. There are also complex feelings generated by so much of the Islamic world having been part of the European empires particularly after World War I.

But, as already suggested, the neo-conservative ideologues, by persuading President Bush to take Baghdad, did just what was needed for al-Qaeda to rise, phoenix-like, from, if not its ashes, its glowing coals. As the situation in Iraq worsened, extremists used the Danish cartoons as a match to ignite long accumulating tinder freshly doused with the fuel of 'Iraq' and the photos of gross abuse.

The US invasion did not so much 'awake a sleeping giant' (as the Japanese admiral who attacked Pearl Harbour is famously alleged to have remarked). Rather it may have held up the gradual evolution of the Islamic religion towards an accommodation with the modern world.

For observers have remarked that in modern times, starting with the educated, Islam has been quietly going down (or returning to) the same road towards greater toleration that Christianity went down (or returned to) after the era of the Inquisition and the religious wars of the seventeenth century. But that, since 'Iraq', we appear to be witnessing a reversal of this trend and a recrudescence of confrontation with the non-Muslim world. Even within Islam, the Sunni/Shi'ite religious divergence has been exacerbated. As noted above, experts warned that, were there an occupation, significant Shi'ite religious resentment would be bound to occur after the years of Saddam's largely Sunni rule, and recommended it be contained by the early incorporation of many more Shi'ites in a reformed secular government in Iraq.

Partly because the invasion was 'unapproved' (and so lacking in the expertise the UN, Arab allies, and other sources could have provided) and partly because the Pentagon was responsible for the political reconstruction (and the State Depatment and its Arabist experts banned for 'nay-saying'), the Islamic dimension of the Iraq problem hardly appears to have been considered. Yet the Islamic religion has, from its beginnings, always had a strong political and legal element complicating and at times negating attempts to install, or come to terms with, secular government. There was not only a lack of understanding of Islam, but a failure to recognise its crucial importance both militarily and politically for the occupation.

Much is said about how al-Qaeda has 'hijacked' Islam and how important it is for moderate Muslims to resist this. But, as already noted, after 'Iraq' and such gross American human rights abuses, it is difficult - even in some places dangerous - for moderates to speak up. With such pervading, and often irrational, fear of Islam in Europe and elsewhere since 'Iraq', non-Muslim scholars of Islam with the neccessary profound knowledge of classical Arabic hesitate before publishing parts of their work. Extremist Mullahs and Imams exploit these self-imposed gags.

To rectify Mr. Rumsfeld’s admission that the US is failing in propaganda, requires considerable knowledge of Islamic theology. For al-Q'aeda's recruitment and its claim of Islamic rectitude in large part depends on the interpretations it puts on certain passages of the Qu'ran. And any encouragement of moderate Muslims to stand against extremism implies a knowledge of mainstream Islam and the alternative overall interpretation which promotes mysticism, personal moral perfection, honesty, and tolerance.

A much larger question, long discussed and much disputed among Muslims, is how far their 7th Century revelation should be, or is susceptible of being, interpreted to meet changing times. The fallout from 'Iraq' has impeded this delicate discussion too, so important for facilitating ethnic integration and for improving inter-faith relations. The Vatican which (like the Anglican Church), has taken a leading role in seeking to improve Muslim relations with Christianity and other religions through greater understanding, has found the problems of such dialogue have been greatly increased since 'Iraq'. (See recent items in Zenit News Agency The World as seen from Rome).

In Europe, on the agnostic 'liberal' side so strong in government, fear coupled with 'political correctness' often comes first: the tendency is to accept that Islamist violence must reflect great injustice at the hands of the West - and therefore requires moves to accommodate Muslims as a special case. In America, on the contrary, there is the Christian Right whose support for Mr. Bush and his particular version of Christianity ensured his two elections - and much of the support for his invasion of Iraq. For many such supporters - however Mr. Bush may deny this with apparent sincerity - Islam is the enemy.

So ignorance of comparative religion, and ignorance of history, plus religious 'certainty', and plain bigotry and ill-will, are pushing both sides - Muslims and non-Muslims - into confrontation. Just two examples: first, Muslims complain of the Crusades and past Western imperialism, while Christians have often forgotten that Christianity, also revealed to a Semitic people, also began as Middle Eastern religion and that it was the Arab invasions of the Middle East and what had been Roman North Africa that resulted in the centre of balance of Christianity settling in Europe for the best part of a millennium. Second, many Muslims complain of being treated as second class citizens in Europe because of their faith. But there is little Western complaint at the lack of basic rights, persecution and even martyrdom that Christians experience in a number of Islamic countries. (see e.g Zenit daily e-mail, 14 February 2006). Western governments usually simply accept as inevitable such Islamic intolerance.

Since tolerance usually begins among the educated and well-informed, clearly efforts to foster education are of great importance. And education alone can raise living standards – bigotry is usually the handmaid of poverty. But equally the prevailing Western relegation of theology and comparative religion to a rare 'God slot' in the media and in schooling, leads to the near total ignorance of the beliefs of others which are already directly affecting daily life in the West. Higher criticism – which, since the 18th century, has been applied to the Jewish and Christian texts to the benefit of believers – began in the mid 19th century (notably by German scholars) to be applied to the Qu'ran and the Hadith yielding useful insights. This needs to be followed up 'without fear or favour', difficult though this may be in the current atmosphere of fear and revenge.

In sum, 'Iraq', by poisoning an atmosphere already charged historically and theologically, has helped take us still further from the day when people will have not just the ‘right’, but the ability to choose without fear their religion or their 'world outlook' irrespective of the religion of their parents, their community, or their government.

15.The environment:
We cannot conclude this sketch of the new world scene we now face without remarking that history may very well conclude that the most lasting and damaging legacy of George W. Bush's two terms at the White House had little to do with the Iraq war. Rather it was that those years were wasted because he failed to tackle the biggest threat to mankind - the calamity of an irreversible alteration of the climate. For, from his election, months before '9/11', President Bush has stubbornly refused to accept overwhelming scientific data demonstrating, all but certainly, the acceleration of the warming of the planet since the industrial age began in the 18th century. Yet America, as all the world knows, is not just the world's richest country but by far its greatest polluter. It therefore had an obligation to take the lead in the attempt to prevent such a catastrophe. Historians may say that the Iraq war was important only because it so distracted the Administration and Congress that there was far less opportunity to get the President to concentrate on this issue.

The reader will doubtless have formed conclusions of his or her own. Here are a few points that seem to us important:

1. The War on Terror’: as predicted by so many, nothing could have helped al-Qaeda more than the ‘unapproved’ Iraq diversion. Instead of the best move for America, it has proved the worst. And the Bush Administration has made it even worse than it might have been through gross lack of planning and lack of adequate forces for the occupation, through excessive violence, through the President’s decision regarding the rights of detainees and the scarcely credible lack of discipline which led to the gross abuses and their publication. The neglect of Palestine/Israel and the unfinished business in Afghanistan, has led to two more foci for Islamic resentment (and for al-Qaeda & co. recruitment) in addition to Palestine and Chechnya: US occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. The rise of anti-Americanism (or ‘anti-Bushism’) and the growing ‘clash of civilisations’ have made intelligence cooperation, needed for the struggle against al-Qaeda and co., considerably more difficult. There is increased risk of unstable areas becoming available for use by al-Qaeda & co. for refuge and training purposes. Instability in Pakistan - which could prove extremely serious - is now more likely. We are all ‘much less safe’ as a result of ‘Iraq’.

2. Weapons of mass destruction: with the inspectors back, and Iraq in 2002 in any case presenting no nuclear threat, North Korea – expert consensus insisted – presented a far more dangerous and immediate threat and should have been tackled first with the aid of the surrounding powers. The grave consequences of the Iraq diversion for American power and prestige have much assisted the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran .

3. US pre-eminence: Iraq’ has moved the world further towards a ‘multi-polar’ world. The neo-conservative hope of the 21st century proving an American century like much of the 20th - never likely – has been dashed. America will long remain the world leader. And only a few would prefer any other. But, as our first quotation suggests, can America adapt to becoming the primus inter pares and lead towards grappling with the great problems mankind faces?

4. The European Union: with enlargement, Europe is the world’s largest economic unit with a population of some 350 million and it, with the Euro, is increasingly recognised as such. But on the world stage it continues to wait on the United States. Pathetically unable to stamp on Serbian aggression at the outset (as Britain’s former leader Mrs Thatcher, urged), it waited on America to act after the damage had been done. Post ‘Iraq’, which magnified Europe’s divisions, there is an urgent need for a far more unified foreign policy which need not wait on overcoming internal disunity. To be successful this will have to diverge in important particulars from American policies in an attempt to mitigate the damage done by ‘Iraq’. But overall, Europe must surely always work towards becoming the other end of the transatlantic ‘dumbell’ – a co-partner with America, working together with, and forming policy with America, where the great issues are involved.

Europe will remain largely a ‘soft power’ but will no doubt need to increase its military ability for peace keeping and intervention well out of area. The complex task of re-integrating post-Soviet Russia into Europe in the widest sense falls to the EU countries.

But ‘Iraq’ has shown that the UK is also not integrated into Europe, and felt – not just Mr. Blair but the Conservative Party too – that the UK must follow the US in great matters, even where there is much doubt. ‘Iraq’ may now be bringing about a UK- Europe rapprochement in foreign policy. This must succeed if the European Union is to play its vital role on the new international scene.

5. The ‘clash of civilisations: Europe, with its imperial past and considerable expertise in Arabic and Islamic affairs, has an important role to play in mitigating Islamic extremism. But it will not succeed unless it makes it clear that relations with Islam must be conducted on a basis of reciprocity.

And there is not just one ‘clash’ – there is the clash of economic interest between the developed and the developing world. Particularly of Africa and Latin America. This notably requires adapting globalisation to ensure much greater equity. Here the EU as the biggest market, has a leading role to play.

6. Politics: certainly a new lot of faces will be needed before the US (and the UK) can rebuild their standing following the blunder of Iraq. But the Democrats seeking to improve their position in Congress this autumn are still a long way from launching a withering criticism of the global disaster ‘Iraq’ has brought on America. This is partly, if not largely, because to win votes, a well-thought out policy must be proffered along with criticism. But, for the opposition in the US and the UK, while ‘Iraq’ offers such a target, it has dug a hole from which there is no clear way to clamber out. President Bush is now bringing in outside experts to seek the best way to re-organise the US role in Iraq to achieve the stability most of the world wants to see. The US and UK opposition need to do the same thing. For the Democrats there is very little time – campaigning will soon begin for this autumn’s elections. There is plenty on the home front on which to campaign – but to get some of those new faces, a positive stand on ‘Iraq’ and the great foreign issues will surely have to be introduced.

The United States, which so many still see as the world’s best hope, has in the past always risen to overcome its errors. Can it, in a new less congenial political climate, again produce the leadership and vision to do so once again?

[Ends, 20 March 2006