America - Andrew Stephen expects war in days

The Bush administration has made up its mind: there will be a short, devastating war, after which Am

What a duplicitous piece of work that socialist Swede Hans Blix is: the whole business of UN inspections of Iraq was always a trap intended to foil the US. That, in effect, is now the prevailing view inside the Bush administration. But will the US hawks fall for the trap? No, sir. "I'm firm on this, absolutely firm," George Bush told a friend of mine the other day. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I therefore expect the first missiles to be raining down on Baghdad probably before the next issue of the New Statesman comes out. Three hundred and thirty bombs dropped on Baghdad during the entire 1991 Gulf war; current plans call for a bigger bombardment this time on the first night.

International resistance is making the administration more determined to go ahead with its invasion. So Turkey refuses permission to base our troops there? Then we can base the 62,000 troops southwards in Kuwait instead, and Turkey can go without our $30bn bonanza. And the French are continuing to cause trouble? They are oily, ungrateful Frogs who can go to hell.

The US now has more than 1,000 planes stationed around the Gulf area, including F-15s, F-16s, A-10 Thunderbolts IIs, F-117 Stealth fighters and B-1, B-2 stealth and B-52 bombers; a hospital ship ready to take 1,000 casualties is also on the Gulf seas. As I have been saying for months, this administration means business - and cares little what others might say or think.

Bush is using what is known as a "leapfrog" strategy, discussing publicly what will happen in a postwar Iraq and ignoring the inspections, Blix and the UN as irrelevancies - hoping that the still-worried US population will also discount the UN and international opposition. He has already appointed a former three-star general to run Iraq after it is invaded and conquered: Jay Garner, 64, until a few weeks ago an executive of a leading defence contractor, has the qualification of being an old friend of Donald Rumsfeld. He, according to the administration, will spearhead the arrival of democracy in the area (never mind that a parliamentary majority in democratic, Islamic Turkey voted to reject supporting the US invasion).

It is all quite extraordinary. If Tony Blair thinks he is supporting the US on the simple matter of disarming a dangerous despot, he does not know how direly wrong he is. Having eschewed the notion of "nation-building"during his election campaign (following US policy since America's abrupt withdrawal from Somalia in 1994), Bush is now going in for nothing less than unilateral global rebuilding by the world's only superpower. Late last month, he switched back to his original notion over Iraq, that regime change was an essential aim of the invasion - repudiating what Blair has been telling Britons.

But Bush and his hawks - Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Condoleezza Rice - have a woefully simplistic vision of what they are doing. They believe American GIs will be welcomed in the streets of Baghdad like the liberating troops in Paris in 1945, Iraqi girls throwing themselves at the grinning, gum-chewing American boys. They believe "democracy", courtesy of ex-General Garner, can straightforwardly be instilled by American know-how into what they appear not to realise is a very large, sociologically complex and strife-torn country. They want to redraw maps the American way; their models are postwar Germany and Japan, and they believe that the rebuilding of Iraq and other countries of the Middle East can be accomplished in the same way.

In Bush's own words a week ago: "We meet here during a crucial period in the history of our nation and of the civilised world. Part of that history was written by others. The rest will be written by us." There is nil understanding of why such words send shivers up the spines of the rest of the "civilised world". America has right and might on its side. And it has a manifest destiny, ordained by God, to preach unto others how the world shall be ruled; the weak, meanwhile, can be kicked down or simply ignored. If the Turks complain of America's "bullying" attitude in negotiations, they, too, can go to hell.

So the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will quickly move in from Kuwait and take Iraq. Three hundred thousand troops are in the area; British troops will not be part of the triumphant march into Baghdad, but will instead be ghettoised to Basra and its nearby oilfields. CNN has 200 people in the Gulf; 500 battlefield places have been allotted to the media.

All this is just the beginning. Iran, North Korea and a host of undemocratic Middle Eastern countries will then have to be sorted out by Dubbya and his team of heroes.

Andrew Stephen was appointed US Editor of the New Statesman in 2001, having been its Washington correspondent and weekly columnist since 1998. He is a regular contributor to BBC news programs and to The Sunday Times Magazine. He has also written for a variety of US newspapers including The New York Times Op-Ed pages. He came to the US in 1989 to be Washington Bureau Chief of The Observer and in 1992 was made Foreign Correspondent of the Year by the American Overseas Press Club for his coverage.

This article first appeared in the 10 March 2003 issue of the New Statesman, America is no longer invincible