Washington diary - The strange ingratitude of Eye-raq

From the realpolitik of CYA (covering your ass) to the DC mayor's advice for Fido, America remains j

I fear we've seen nothing yet. Even if and when the US successfully "takes" Baghdad - and my prediction is that US and British troops will remain targets as long as they stay in Iraq, with a steady drip-drip-drip of deaths and casualties - Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon are now insisting on staying in charge of the "peace" as well as the war. No wimpy aid organisations or companies from countries opposed to the war need bother to try to get involved, thank you very much sir: the Pentagon will be in charge of whatever humanitarian aid it deems necessary, though the UN can redeem itself by paying the costs. Even the US State Department has been rebuffed in its efforts to have a role in postwar Iraq, and, despite some wobbling this spring, Colin Powell has put his protests in writing to Rummy.

Meanwhile, we are told that this was to be an "effects-based" war after all - one, in other words, to be spun rather than fought. A spot of shocking and aweing would terrify those weak-willed Saddam stooges into submission. In line with the very right-wing management tenets of our age that the Bush administration follows with biblical devotion, the workforce (that is, the military, in this case) would be sleek, slimline and ruthless - and if it failed to meet the goals set, it would be to blame. (Indeed, Lieutenant General William Wallace, the US army commander in Iraq, who says the enemy "is different from the one we war-gamed against", is already being bad-mouthed here in Washington.)

And only in the event of failure would extra reinforcements then be brought in. A smug hubris thus overrides all legitimate questioning or concerns. But management by intimidation is Rummy's style, shaped by his devotion to the wisdom of Al Capone and his days of wrestling at Princeton.

The effect so far, though, has been to alienate for life 250 million Arabs and a billion Muslims as well as much of the rest of the world - a truth that has yet to permeate the unsavoury crew of administration hawks who have prosecuted this war. Reports of civilian Iraqis sharing their food with hungry US marines do not feature in news reports, or are hidden in one or two lines in the middle of the interminably long special war supplements the newspapers are bringing out. Earlier official predictions that the invasion would be swift and bloodless are swept under the carpet. Television cameras are now not allowed to film the ceremonial arrival of the bodies of soldiers as they come back to the US - a clear case, if ever there was one, of politically motivated censorship in the America of 2003.

I commented last month on how both the US administration and the media mispronounced the Azores as "Ay-zores", with the accent on the first syllable. We also have Kudder (Qatar) - and, with us always, Eye-raq and Eye-ran. I used to think that botching foreign names was just a rather endearing foible of the Americans, but now I'm not so sure (despite our letter-writer on page 38) that it isn't yet another symbol of America's imperialist outlook: we'll make up our own pronunciations for these fly-ridden little nowhere places, buddy, and you'll just have to put up with it. I saw a menu blackboard outside a hamburger joint the other day which said simply: "Nuke the Bastards". Mispronouncing the names of your adversaries, I now think, is all part of the same aggressively redneck outlook - albeit a comic, barely conscious habit.

"CYA" - covering your ass - is perhaps the first principle of Washington realpolitik.

"The war plan," said Rumsfeld, on one of the Sunday morning news programmes as he neatly covered himself and placed the blame on another, "is Tom Franks's [head of the US military's Central Command] war plan." But today we have the magic of videotape, and the hawks cannot entirely eat their words.

Vice-President Cheney: "there is no question . . . they will welcome as liberators the United States". Richard Perle, the recently resigned chairman of the defence policy board: "it's a house of cards . . . support for Saddam, including his military organisation, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder". The deputy defence secretary and "intellectual" Paul Wolfowitz: "like the people of France in the 1940s, [the people of Iraq] view us as their hoped-for liberator". And our own Christopher Hitchens, now a devoted disciple of the new right: "this will be no war, there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention . . . [which] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling . . . it will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation, and I say, bring it on".

There is a lot of frantic CYA backtracking now to be done in Washington.

I was fascinated by General Wallace's reference to having war-gamed the invasion - and even more so when I discovered that there had, indeed, been a $250m war game, held last summer and entitled "Millennium Challenge 2002". It took three weeks and used 13,500 members of the US military, who fought mock wars in 17 simulated places and nine real ones. It seemed to prove that Rummy's new management style for the US military actually worked; no hungry marines materialised in the war game. The entire invasion of Iraq, indeed, can be seen as an experiment to find out if Rumsfeld's theoretical notions work in practice - a war to fit what is already exposed as flawed theory. Try telling all this now to the loved ones of those already dead or maimed, or even to the hapless General Wallace.

Saddam Hussein, we are told, hears only what he wants to hear, because his aides are too afraid to tell him unpalatable truths. I think the same can be said of the likes of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld (and, perhaps, Tony Blair). They live in a surreal world where they are told there can be a clean-cut takeover of Baghdad followed by the imposition of US-style democracy by Jay Garner, the retired general and friend of Rumsfeld whom the administration has appointed to run the so-called reconstruction of Iraq after the fall of Saddam's regime.

All are, in fact, unrealisable fantasies to anyone in touch with reality. Now we know that the Pentagon plans to stay in charge of whatever materialises in Iraq, despite what even Colin Powell may say; Iraq needs American know-how, you see. The problem is that nobody has ever canvassed the people of Iraq over whether they want to be liberated, or what should happen in their country once they are so shockingly and awfully liberated.

The atmosphere in DC, meanwhile, remains absurdly jittery. When the invasion started, a member of the administration told CNN that it was "all but certain" that there would be a major terrorist attack against the US within two weeks. Yet there has been no terrorist attack whatsoever in the US following the dreadful events of 11 September 2001, despite such dire forecasts. Now the Department of Homeland Security is putting out ridiculous, nationwide ads that tell us all how to remain calm in the event of a terrorist attack: "First, make an emergency supply kit. Set aside the supplies you'll need to survive three days at home. You'll need clothes, sleeping bags, non-perishable food and a gallon of water per person, per day. You'll find other items will be helpful too, for example a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit and toilet articles."

What is an old lady in, say, Lebanon, Kansas - the exact geographical centre of the US - to make of such nonsense? The staff of Washington, DC's mayor add a special concern: "If you have pets, make sure you have an identification collar and rabies tag, a carrier or cage and leash, newspapers and plastic trash bags for handling waste and any medications, and at least a two-week supply of food and water and food bowls."

Nice touch, that, with Fido apparently meriting 11 days' more food than the rest of us; it's as though somehow Americans actually yearn to be adversaries involved in what they perceive as the excitement of war.

To paraphrase what I wrote weeks ago, some time before John le Carre used the same opening line in the Times: sometimes I think this country is going mad, especially in Washington. So goodbye, for this week, from an out-of-touch and alarmingly overwrought Madness HQ.