Washington's war is going à la carte. Each passing week is placing both new targets and new justifications for attack on the menu for military action. There is now not the slightest pretense that the scope of the US's regime-change wishlist is in any way tethered to the attacks of September 11. Instead, the world is witnessing the rapid emergence of a plan to dispose of any government hateful to the sight of US ultra-conservatism.
First there was the Taliban. Beyond them lay the improbable axis of evil - at the apex of which is Iraq, clearly still the next target for the unilateral attentions of the Pentagon. Now the administration's planning has moved "beyond the axis of evil", in the words of John Bolton, one of the creatures of the night occupying sub-cabinet rank in the Bush regime. The under- secretary of state identified Syria, Libya and, above all, Cuba as states that needed to come round to Washington's view of the world before Washington comes round to them, guns blazing.
The rationale behind the Bolton addendum to the axis - threadbare is perhaps too kind a word for it - is that the latest "rogue" trio are preparing to threaten the US with weapons of mass destruction. It is therefore paradoxical that Mr Bolton's boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, was at almost the same time asserting that weapons of mass destruction were no longer really here nor there. When it comes to removing Saddam Hussein from power, Powell said, the issue of weapons inspection was now to be considered "separate and distinct and different" from the need for "regime change".
That may seem prudent: with no justification to hand, why not make it clear that justifications are no longer required? So rumors of possessing weapons of mass destruction may serve as sufficient pretext to get a regime on to the "must change" list, but the subsequent provable absence of them will not get it off again. Only the British government is still playing along with the pretense Everyone else has twigged that this is not a "war on terrorism", nor a "war on weapons of mass destruction". Nor can the nudge-and-a-wink sponsors of the coup against Venezuela's elected government convince anyone other than hapless Foreign Office junior Denis MacShane that they are leading a "war for democracy".
It is instead an open-ended war to make the world congenial for the most chauvinistic elements in US public life. Every government in the world they dislike is to be removed, every grudge they have been nursing from the cold war (there can be no other reason for targeting Fidel Castro) is to be exorcised. Military force may be used in some cases; while in others the well-tried methods of destabilization, sanctions and coup will be deployed.
Where evidence and argument fail, the administration relies on effrontery. The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, demanded that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez "respect the constitution" on the day he was restored to office, following the failure of the US-backed military coup against the constitution. Bolton, Rice et al seem to regard themselves as masters of the universe, and show every sign of planning to implement their maximum global program before the US people gets the chance to elect anyone slightly more sensible.
Optimistic Europeans have clung to the illusion that September 11 would help Bush rediscover the rest of the world. If it has, then that world is to be called Texas. That may recommend itself to a British prime minister eager to dock benefits from the impoverished parents of children who truant, a Lone Star idea if ever there was one. However, he is almost alone. Even governments and peoples who may admire the US economic and political system increasingly fear the brazen lawlessness of this administration, and worry at the implications of the endless war, with its ever-expanding list of governments to be ousted.
Already the axis of evil embraces governments of widely differing kinds on three continents. Now, three more countries have been casually added to the hitlist. And who can believe that this represents the limit of US ambitions? The Bush administration and its friends don't seem to like Europeans much either. Tony Blair may imagine that by supporting the war to make the world safe for the US, he is helping in some way to make the US safe for the world. Every utterance from John Bolton and his cronies exposes the hollowness of that pretension. Britain appears to be determined to defend the ever-increasingly indefensible - right over the edge of the abyss.
Andrew Murray is chair of the Stop the War Coalition.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002