This is a young country, prone to simplisme

The poor yen. It plunged last Monday after President Bush, on his visit to Tokyo, spoke about "devaluation" when he meant "deflation" - a mistake he did not go on to correct. Yes, Bush still has his comic value. But I fear the gulf between his administration and the rest of the world is now becoming downright dangerous: you really have to live here (by which I mean you need to have deep roots in the community, not the fly-by-night lives of most correspondents) to appreciate just how profoundly bellicose and triumphalist, and deaf to reason, this nation and the administration that leads it have become since 11 September.

Never before have I felt such a foreigner in a land that waves flags so freely, but is still not quite sure exactly what it is waving them for.

Indeed, there is now a mutual and pretty total miscomprehension between the US and Europe - let alone the Arab and Muslim worlds - with Britain teetering somewhere on the fence. Tony Blair is still seen as something of a cheerleader, but Jack Straw scored no points for his master when he said to a small group at the British embassy (including me) that Bush's State of the Union address was meant for a domestic audience with elections coming up: a remark that brought a swift and humiliating rebuke from the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. And British "intellectuals", quoted from the British newspapers, are increasingly being sneered at by the uniform ranks of what the television networks call America United - who automatically see the tiresome rest of the world as being at fault. If anyone cares about overseas opinion, the knee-jerk reaction is that the task facing the US is how to convince the rest of the world of the errors in its thinking, not to question the US's unwavering rightness.

There are, I suspect, several strands that come together to produce this American intractability. First came the ending of the cold war and then the idle, insouciant years of the Clinton presidency - which, combined, meant that Americans grew to luxuriate in the notion that the only superpower was all that mattered in the world. Second, the economic boom of those years added to the American sense of comfortable infallibility. Third were the atrocities of 11 September, leading to self-righteousness and hubris - a sense that a unique evil had been perpetrated on the US, and must be avenged with blood. Fourth came what is universally seen here as the "victory" of the war in Afghanistan by an invincible military, despite its failure to apprehend Osama Bin Laden, or virtually any of the rest of the top al-Qaeda leadership, or even the pathetic Mullah Omar.

That has all led to what the late Senator J William Fulbright called the "arrogance of power" here. Even Colin Powell has rudely and condescendingly turned on America's European critics. He said that Chris Patten, one of two Europeans who are the nearest thing the EU has to foreign secretaries, had "worked himself up a bit" and that he would "have to have a word with him, as they say in Britain". Of the French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, Powell said he was "getting the vapours" (translation: he's a garlic-and-frog-guzzling French wimp).

Last Monday, Dick Cheney - heading off to 11 Middle Eastern countries (four bordering Iraq) and Britain in March - struck a macho pose in front of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter and two F-18 fighters and spoke of "hand-wringing" over US policies (though he avoided even a day's military service himself).

What America never takes a moment to consider is that, despite its mightiness, it is a young country with much to learn. It had no real direct experience of the First and Second World Wars. Britain has had IRA terrorism (but try telling any American that the Troubles have claimed more lives than the 11 September atrocities). France has had to cope with bombs on its Metro, Italy and Germany with Red Brigades, Spain with the Basques, and so on: each country knows from experience that declaring war on terrorists is easier said than done, that rhetoric is much easier than successful action against largely invisible enemies. No wonder, indeed, that Vedrine sees current American foreign policies as "simplisme".

The US, meanwhile, is putting out private assurances that there will be no direct action against Iraq until May at the earliest, when Bush flies to see Vladimir Putin - now, perhaps, the most important ally of the US. But the likelihood is that, if there is to be direct military action, it would then wait until after the Iraqi summer - until, say, October.

But all this gung-ho simplisme may yet come crashing down. If the current chaotic situation in Afghanistan starts to unravel further, the US will have to decide what to do rather than simply be content to leave mopping-up to such junior staff as the British. And, I suspect, increasingly credible stories will emerge about mistreatment and torture of prisoners: even John Walker Lindh, the all-American boy from Marin County, says he was kept naked, tied to a stretcher for three days and locked in a metal container. In the early, emotionally charged days after 11 September, I am told, Bush gave the go-ahead to the CIA and the US military to use torture against captives; this, I suspect, could return to haunt him.

Not with the American public, who in their current mood would heartily support Bush and endorse not only torture, but slow death by strangulation and molten iron if they could. But such visible unravelling and official wrongdoing, if exposed, would certainly give the rest of the world a bad case of the vapours. And the US will have found that, in its enthusiasm, it has burnt bridges to overseas which, it will turn out - perhaps before too long - Americans need desperately.

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