This man is Washington's candidate

George Szamuely reveals how George W Bush and the US Republicans are supporting the cause of Iain Du

If Iain Duncan Smith does indeed become the next leader of the Tory party, it will be a spectacular triumph for the Washington conservative establishment.

Duncan Smith has been a darling of the American right for years now. He is a habitue of the well-oiled transatlantic conference circuit, pontificating happily away alongside foreign policy hardliners such as Richard Perle and Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu about terrorism, ballistic missile defences, "rogue states" and, above all, those dastardly Europeans conniving to destroy the "sacrosanct" (to use Secretary of State Colin Powell's term) Atlantic Alliance. Significantly, the US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, met Duncan Smith before he met the British Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon. After their meeting, during which Rumsfeld apparently expressed shock and dismay at the St Malo and Nice treaties, Duncan Smith gloated that the "new administration is waking up to the fact that what they have facing them is not about military capability, but about politics. It defines itself by being in opposition to America, and that is a matter of grave concern here."

US policymakers, particularly Republicans, have been cultivating the Tories for a number of years, warmly encouraging them in their anti-European obsessions. American conservative magazines publish ponderous articles on the common bonds supposedly knitting together the Anglo-Saxon people, and on the stark contrast between their entrepreneurial culture and the "Eurosclerosis" allegedly afflicting the Europeans: the lack of "flexible labour markets", too many unions, too much welfare, too many holidays, too many government regulations.

To US policymakers and pundits, Britain is the agent to ensure that American interests in Europe are protected - in other words, that Europe does not emerge as a superpower rival. Last December, two powerful Republican senators - Jesse Helms, the then chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, and Gordon Smith, the chairman of the Senate European affairs subcommittee - wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph, warning that "European leaders should reflect carefully on the true motivation behind ESDP [the European Security and Defence Policy], which many see as a means for Europe to check American power and influence within Nato." They concluded: "Now is the time for the United States and Britain to exert their influence to ensure that ESDP emerges as a complement, not a competitor."

On his frequent jaunts to Washington, Duncan Smith regales his enthusiastic audiences with tales of European plots and of the duplicitous ways of the Blair government. Testifying before the House of Representatives committee on international relations in November 1999, Duncan Smith warned Americans of the perils they face from an independent European military. "As a world superpower and guarantor of freedoms, the US has the right to state firm opinions on Europe's future direction," he said, adding: "It must therefore work to reinvigorate the Nato alliance and resist and caution against these moves towards European defence structures. These will inevitably undermine Nato at the same time as Europe's defences wither in the complacent shadow of a nascent European superstate . . . The USA and the UK need to reassert Nato's role and pre-eminence now or it may be too late . . ."

The Bush administration has given up on Tony Blair, and scarcely bothers to disguise its contempt for him. As US policymakers see it, Blair has betrayed them by going along with French anti-Nato machinations. Perle, soon to be named chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board, recently described the UK's stance on defence as "wishy-washy and ambivalent". As such, Duncan Smith will be critical to the success of Washington's agenda. And he knows this very well. He goes out of his way to reinforce US policymakers' suspicions about Blair.

Following the Prime Minister's visit to Washington in February, Duncan Smith accused Blair of hoodwinking Bush about the scope of the St Malo and Nice treaties. "These are dangerous games that the government is playing with Nato," he fumed. "Tony Blair misled our American allies as to the danger of the European army. This is already causing splits within Nato which is encouraging those who wish to see the demise of the Alliance."

Duncan Smith is a man Washington can do business with. He speaks the same language as American conservatives. Indeed, he often outdoes them in the gloominess of his prognoses. America and Britain are always facing mortal peril at the hands of "rogue states", armed with terrible weapons. At the American Enterprise Institute in 1999, Duncan Smith spoke of the "iron chains of missile proliferation . . . growing in power and strength" from the Pacific to North Africa. The "iron chains" were obviously meant to recall Churchill's "iron curtain". The American right idolises Churchill, and the reference was not lost on Duncan Smith's audience. Speaking at the right-wing Heritage Foundation in February, in a lecture entitled "The European Case for Missile Defence", he conjured up images of "Spitfires and Hurricanes defending during the Battle of Britain". He spoke of "appeasement". American conservatives lap up this kind of stuff. He reminded the audience - as if it needed reminding - that the people who are against missile defences today are the same people who protested against nuclear weapons back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Duncan Smith has other obsessions. Last February, he addressed the New Atlantic Initiative on the theme of "Intractable Conflicts, How Democracies Deal with Terrorists, and Other Challenges for the New Administration". The New Atlantic Initiative, based at the American Enterprise Institute in DC, is a group dedicated to persuading Europe that, without Nato, life has no meaning. Sitting next to Perle, he declared: "If . . . Milosevic had possessed . . . a weapon of mass destruction and the means to deliver it, let's really examine what might have happened in the Kosovo conflict . . . We only have to believe that he is likely to possess it. And then he says that if a bomb drops on Serbia, I simply target Rome or Athens. Now, he's not targeting Washington . . . So now there's the question whether or not the deterrence can be used against him and he's not targeting us. Of course, Rome would wonder whether or not we're likely to do that . . . And the very idea that he might do it would have crashed, I think, the coalition apart." This is standard American conservative fare. The west is always terribly vulnerable to bullying by tiny countries. What was unusual was the conjunction of Slobodan Milosevic and "weapons of mass destruction". It is a theme that Duncan Smith, the ex- captain, repeats in speech after speech - yet even the most rabid Milosevic-hater could not really believe that he was ever capable of, or willing to threaten, using weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration will unquestionably do everything in its power to get Blair out of 10 Downing Street and Duncan Smith in. At the Heritage Foundation, Duncan Smith called for a "US-led system of global missile defence to which America's allies might contribute". One of the reasons he gave was that "it would provide protection for UK expeditionary forces in a much-changed security landscape, thus strengthening the war-fighting and deterrence capabilities of our conventional forces". He did not specify where these "expeditionary forces" were to be deployed, or for what purpose. But one can be sure they will be wherever the Americans want them to be.

Men of Duncan Smith's kind come along once in a lifetime. It would be foolish and naive to believe that he will be a pushover for Kenneth Clarke. Once the United States determines a policy, it can be a very formidable force.