America has just tested the limits of international law, killing and injuring a number of innocent civilians in a military adventure of dubious purpose. It has been assisted by another government, our own, which should have a much better sense of the dangerous ramifications of such an exercise of force. However, raids such as the bombing of Baghdad on Friday night have been carried out routinely for the past 10 years. What has changed is the decision of President Bush and his colleagues to court publicity for them. He is sending an early signal about how 'tough' he intends to be on rogue states like Iraq.
What this sea-change brings into sharp focus is the futility of an Anglo-American policy which has continued for a decade. Military pressure and sanctions have left Saddam Hussein more, rather than less, powerful, while seriously undermining the legitimacy of Western governments in the Middle East. We risk an Arab payback for what is seen as partisan highhandedness. We need a better policy than bombing.
President Bush sees it differently. He appears to believe that the US is encircled by danger that must be contested to the last, hence the signal to Saddam. It is part of a disturbingly unilateralist world view that extends beyond defence. This weekend, the new US Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, will tell fellow finance ministers at the G7 meeting in Italy that he is unconvinced of the merits of intervention in financial crises, and of economic co-ordination generally.
In these circumstances, Tony Blair should treat Mr Bush's new administration with great caution. He wants to prove himself the loyal ally, winning the trust of the US and upstaging our own hawkish Conservative Party. But it is a dangerous policy. Bombing Iraq is purposeless. The new US National Missile Defence System, to which we fear the Government has already privately agreed, will be dangerously destabilising. And international response to financial crises is an imperative to limit the contagion of panic and financial losses.
This is not just The Observer 's view, but the view of all European governments, except our own. Mr Blair should now make common cause with the rest of Europe and assert his entitlement to shape American policy rather than be shaped by it.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001