If there is one thing worse than the random shootings of the Washington snipers, it is the rampant bloodlust for the executions of the man and boy now arrested. The two are in federal custody, but of the four states where they are accused of committing murder, the Virginia and Alabama legal systems are thought to be the best avenues of prosecution. The reason? Both states are enthusiastic executioners, and would be happy to put 17-year-old John Lee Malvo - as well as his 41-year-old alleged accomplice - to death. But surely, you say, a child (as Malvo, legally, is) cannot be executed? The answer is that he can, as the US is not a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - which outlaws the execution of anybody under 18. This, the International Criminal Court and Kyoto: all smack of softy multilateralism and internationalism. The US of George W Bush wants no part of either.
The more I see of how this administration views its place in the world, the more I think we have already entered a new era. We are told that this past week has been make or break for the US and British UN resolution on Iraq, but Bush is making it clear that the deliberations at the UN do not matter a damn to America. Last Monday, at a campaigning stop in cowboy territory in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Bush "drew laughter" when he said he had told the UN "as clearly as I could, in Western language" of his intentions to go to war with Iraq. "If they [it's always "they", never "we"] refuse to act . . . the United States will lead a coalition and disarm Saddam Hussein," he said for the umpteenth time.
Quite why the UK has gone down this same road - given the huge damage to Britain's interests, particularly in the Middle East - remains a mystery. But the US is unequivocal: who cares what Russia, Mexico, Cameroon, Guinea, Ireland, Mauritius, China and Syria (being the current members of the 15-strong Security Council who were siding with French opposition to the resolution at the beginning of the week) think and vote? America could blow them all to kingdom come, and still have plenty of its weapons of mass destruction left. "Material breach" remain the two words the French are fighting over: if the UN votes that Saddam is in material breach of previous UN resolutions, the 1991 ceasefire pact with Iraq would effectively be nullified and the way cleared for war.
Even a 9:6 vote - nine being the minimum
number required to pass the resolution - would leave the UN and international harmony in disarray. With the US determinedly ploughing its lonely way, supported by Britain and Australia and a
handful of other countries, we are moving
from the postwar balance of power into an era of total US hegemony. The French
may have made a bid to become intellectual
leader of the rest-of-the-world opposition,
but we have moved into pax Americana. "An excess of power corrodes power," is the view of an old confidant of President Chirac's, Dominique de Villepin, now foreign minister.
The notion that the US is hellbent on imperialistic domination is one that would shock the average American, but a glimpse into the current mentality here was provided in last Monday's New York Times by William Safire, a former Nixon speechwriter. He (or, perhaps more accurately, the Bush administration) has already sorted out what will happen to postwar Iraq and how the spoils will be divided. "After our victory in the second Gulf war," wrote Safire, "Britain would replace France as the chief European dealer in Iraqi oil and equipment . . . if Turkey's powerful army on Iraq's border significantly shortens the war, its longtime claim to royalties from the Kirkuk oil fields would at last be honored." He went on: "The evolving democratic government of New Iraq would repudiate the corrupt $8bn 'debt' that Russia claims was run up by Saddam." There would, Safire wrote, be "economic consequences to nations that help or hinder us in the UN". So take that, you ungrateful Froggies and Russkies: US hegemony rules.
Just before the UN debate started, Bush went to Mexico as part of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation organisation. He had the Chinese president to stay at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but China still opposed the UN resolution.
He had a 35-minute meeting with President Vicente Fox of Mexico and found that lil' ol' Mexico was not going along with the US either. The countries he could possibly count on in the UN (besides Britain and Australia), he was told, were Bulgaria, Colombia, Norway and Singapore, but not any of the world's formerly powerful nations.
The world's one megapower is now acting as it wishes, and it doesn't care who knows it. In 1920, Iraq was placed under British control by the League of Nations: that was imperialism then, and what we are seeing unfold in 2002 is, in every way, the new imperialism of a different world order.