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Last Updated:  Sunday, 2 March, 2003, 18:25 GMT
Analysis: Power Americana
BBC News Online's Paul Reynolds
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

US plane takes off from carrier in the Gulf
The US appears to be heading to war with Iraq whatever happens, with implications for the future conduct of American foreign policy.

Tony Blair might be trying to convince the British Parliament and people that Saddam Hussein can even now, as he put it in his statement on Tuesday, "save [his regime] by complying with the UN's demand".

This claim is an insistent one from the British Government. It is designed to appeal to the doubters. It has become less and less convincing.

For George Bush is singing the dominant tune.

Saddam Hussein is "playing games", President Bush said, also on Tuesday, about some concessions from Baghdad, and "I suspect he will try to fool the world one more time."

European accusations... are countered by American descriptions of Europeans as 'EU-nuchs' in general and of the French in particular as 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys'
The conclusion to be drawn is that whatever Saddam Hussein does now will probably not be enough for Washington.

US officials are admitting that they only agreed to go back to the Security Council for another resolution in order to accommodate Mr Blair.

The new resolution therefore has no real meaning beyond covering, or indeed exposing, the British back.

This points the way to the future. For better, for worse, it is one of Power Americana.

Its proponents welcome the prospect of an active United States, spreading economic and political freedom just as it did after the Second World War in Germany and Japan.

Its opponents fear a self-centered superpower which pays lip service only to international institutions.

Single superpower

To understand the background, it is worth going back to a project called the New American Century set up in 1997.

Founded by two commentators - William Kristol and Robert Kagan - it laid the philosophical groundwork for what was to come.

A number of its sympathisers later joined the Bush administration, including two of the leading hawks, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton.

This doesn't mean that the administration is run by a lobby group. No administration ever can be. But it helps to explain some of the administration's actions. All strong governments are based on a philosophy.

The thinking behind the New American Century also helps to explain why the current gulf exists between the United States and some of its allies.

That gulf is consonsiderable. Look at the language. European accusations that George W Bush is a "cowboy" or worse are countered by American descriptions of Europeans as "EU-nuchs" in general and of the French in particular as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", though the origin of that vivid phrase was a cartoon character.

In September 2000, as Mr Bush was running for the presidency, the New American Century team produced a report called "Rebuilding America's Defences".

The goal was to "promote American global leadership", the report stated.

"As the 20th Century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's pre-eminent power," it said.

"Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge.

"Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievement of past decades?

"Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests?

"[What we require] is a military that is strong... a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American interests... and a national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibility."

At first, it did not look as if Mr Bush was that enthusiastic. While keen to build up American power, he was not keen on intervention. Isolationism is not dead in America.

He said in a presidential campaign debate in October 2000 that American foreign policy had to be "humble".

"We must be proud and confident of our values but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course," was how he put it.

America goes it alone

President Bush has his European supporters like Tony Blair who spotted that the president was open to persuasion on some issues, and was in due course he was in fact persuaded to go to the United Nations over Iraq. Indeed, the Blair view of Bush is very positive and was formed at their first meeting as president and prime minister at Camp David in early 2001 when the British found the president to be very unlike his public image.

Even the smart British ambassador to Washington Sir Christopher Meyer was impressed.

However it was not long before Mr Bush showed that he could also chart America's own course.

With the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sitting next to him in the Oval Office in early 2001, he dismissed the Kyoto environmental treaty by saying that American jobs were not to be put at risk.

Maybe Mr Schroeder remembered that humiliation in the charting of his own Iraq policy later.

Then came 11 September.

Its impact is not properly understood in Europe. It shook Americans to the core. The outside world might have seen their strength. They felt their own vulnerability.

After a shaky start, Mr Bush rose to the challenge when he stood amid the rubble and promised retribution.

He went on to develop his own Bush Doctrine, one of pre-emptive intervention.

He has since been encouraged on this course by another contribution from the folks who heralded The New American Century.

In a book called "The War over Iraq: Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission", William Kristol, joined this time by Lawrence F Kaplan, stated: "The complacent assumptions of the post-Cold War era were destroyed on September 11.

"That day brought us to a new era for which we need a new road map.

"If America does not shape this new epoch, we can be sure that others will shape it for us - in ways that neither further our interests nor reflect our ideas.

"For the United States this is a decisive moment."


The former CIA Director James Woolsey praised the book.

"The authors show us why - in this age of terror, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction - we can only make the world safe for democracy by finishing the job of democratising it," he said.

Protesters burn effigy of George W Bush in Peshawar, Pakistan
The new US doctrine is causing resentment in Muslim states
"Democratising" the world is an important part of neo-conservative thinking, especially when it comes to the Arab and Islamic world.

It does not mean full-scale democracy along Western lines, apparently, but it does mean "reshaping" it to encourage civil institutions and a freer press and so on.

Douglas Feith, the US Under-Secretary of Defence in charge of policy and another of the neo-conservatives in the administration, told the New Yorker magazine recently that "democratising" Arab and Islamic countries would help to diminish terrorism.

"If [an Iraqi] government could create some of those institutions of democracy, that might be inspirational throughout the Middle East," he said.

President Bush has now specifically stated, in a speech, that he hopes that a free Iraq will encourage a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian issue.

There is a sub-plot here, in which ant-semitism has raised its ugly head again.

One of the products of the New American Century approach is a close alignment with Israel and the inclusion of the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad as part of the war on terror declared by President Bush.

Those right-wing supporters of George Bush who are Jews have consequently found themselves the subject of political and personal attack.

David Brooks, a commentator on the Weekly Standard, the publication of the new right, wrote: "Not long ago I was chatting with a prominent Washington figure in a green room. 'You people have infested everywhere,' he said." Anti-semitisim, Brooks feels, is still around.

Europe divided

The response of many Europeans - and some Americans as well, it must be said - has been to regard the New American Century approach and the way it has been picked up by the Bush team with some alarm.

For a start, Europeans are far more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

But it goes beyond that. Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine invented the word "hyperpower" to describe the United States and not in an admiring way.

In a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Chris Patten, former UK Government minister, Hong Kong governor and now European foreign affairs commissioner, said that "in order to be a more credible partner and in some cases to be a counterweight, Europe has to invest in its own security".

Europe, however, is divided and its efforts to forge a "Common Foreign and Security Policy" have for the moment, and for the foreseeable future, foundered on the rock of national interest.

We have seen that over recent weeks very clearly.

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