02/12/2006 02:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

In Frantic Search of a Constant Enemy

Philippe Sands' updating of Lawless World only reinforces his previous case, that the Iraq war had little to do with Saddam Hussein and was part of a wider interventionist agenda post-9/11 in the Middle East, fixed soon after 9/11 but envisaged by some conservatives beforehand. The agenda was only in part to secure oil supplies and protect Israel's eastern flank. It was also what Arthur Miller (referring to both Salem witches and McCarthyism) called a "paroxysm of murderous credulity," a burst of power in frantic search of a constant enemy.

Since writing on Iran I have been inundated with American responses, the gist of which is "Are you European wimps going to make us free you yet again from a ruthless tyrant." I cannot tell you how depressing it is for an America-loving observer to handle Washington's belligerent reaction to every world problem (except where expediency demands appeasement, as in China and Pakistan). Last year we were shocked to hear that a majority of world opinion thought America the "greatest threat to world peace." Today I might join that majority.

I have watched America (with Tony Blair's assistance) reopen the Afghan opium trail and readmit the Taliban to southern Afghanistan. A friend returning from Baluchistan, probably the most lawless place on earth, reports that it is awash in drug and oil money, available on demand to Taliban and al-Qaeda. The perception that America is cutting and running from the region is enough to drive the big Arab money back towards the Taliban. The idea that 3,300 British troops, now returning to the area, can police it is laughable.

Meanwhile southern Iraq is being handed over to Tehran-dominated militias under the fantasy that this has something to do with "democracy." The occupation of Iraq has destabilised the old Sunni-Shia balance, crucial to Arab diplomacy for a century. But nothing, absolutely nothing, has remoralised the fanatics so much as Washington's missile-rattling against Iran's pathetic Ahmedinajad. Remember this is 70m people, some very rich, not Iraq. It is run by a chaotic coalition of parties and interests with elections and a parliament, not by a dictator. It should be the easiest place on Earth to manipulate, cajole, bribe and seduce. The one thing the crazies crave is an American missile attack. Yet it is the one thing Washington seems to threaten. A missile attack on Iran at this juncture makes as much sense as would an attack on Russia in 1980. Not only can America not police the world. If it policed a church meeting it would turn it into a riot.

I keep telling Europeans that not all Americans are this daft. I point out that half America voted Democrat, that it is a pluralistic democracy, etc, etc. But, boy, is it getting difficult.