First it was to be a crusade. Then it became the "War for Civilization". Then the "War without End". Then the "War against Terror". And now believe it or not President Bush is promising us a "Titanic War on Terror". This gets weirder and weirder. What can come next? Given the latest Bush projections last week "we know that thousands of trained killers are plotting to attack us" he must surely have an even more gargantuan cliché up his sleeve.
Well, he must have known about the would-be Chicago "dirty" bomber another little secret he didn't tell the American people about for a month. Until, of course, it served a purpose. We shall hear more about this strange episode and I'll hazard a guess the story will change in the next few days and weeks. But what could be more titanic than the new and ominously named "Department for Homeland Security", with its 170,000 future employees and its $37.5bn (£26.6bn) budget? It will not, mark you, incorporate the rival CIA and FBI already at each other's throats over the failure to prevent the crimes against humanity of 11 September and will thus ensure that the intelligence battle will be triangular: between the CIA, the FBI and the boys from "Homeland Security". This, I suspect, will be the real titanic war.
Because the intelligence men of the United States are not going to beat their real enemies like this. Theirs is a mission impossible, because they will not be allowed to do what any crime-fighting organization does to ensures success to search for a motive for the crime. They are not going to be allowed to ask the "why" question. Only the "who" and "how".
Because if this is a war against evil, against "people who hate democracy", then any attempt to discover the real reasons for this hatred of America the deaths of tens of thousands of children in Iraq, perhaps, or the Israeli-Palestinian bloodbath, or the presence of thousands of US troops in Saudi Arabia will touch far too sensitively upon US foreign policy, indeed upon the very relationships that bind America to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and to a raft of Arab dictators.
Here's just one example of what I mean. New American "security" rules will force hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Muslims from certain countries to be fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated when they enter the US. This will apply, according to the US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, to nearly all visitors from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan, most of whom will not get visas at all. The list is not surprising. Iran and Iraq are part of Mr Bush's infantile "axis of evil". Syria is on the list, presumably because it supports Hamas' war against Israel.
It is a political list, constructed around the Bush policy of good-versus-evil. But not a single citizen from Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan has been accused of plotting the atrocities of 11 September. The suicide-hijackers came principally from Saudi Arabia, with one from Egypt and another from Lebanon. The men whom the Moroccans have arrested all supposedly linked to al-Qa'ida are all Saudis.
Yet Saudis who comprised the vast majority of the September killers are going to have no problems entering the US under the new security rules. In other words, men and women from the one country whose citizens the Americans have every reason to fear will be exempt from any fingerprinting, or photographing, or interrogation, when they arrive at JFK. Because, of course, Saudi Arabia is one of the good guys, a "friend of America", the land with the greatest oil reserves on earth. Egypt, too, will be exempt, since President Hosni Mubarak is a supporter of the "peace process".
Thus America's new security rules are already being framed around Mr Bush's political fantasies rather than the reality of international crime. If this is a war between "the innocent and the guilty" another Bush bon mot last week then the land that bred the guilty will have no problems with the lads from the Department of Homeland Security or the US Department of Immigration.
But why, for that matter, should any Arabs take Mr Bush seriously right now? The man who vowed to fight a "war without end" against "terror" told Israel to halt its West Bank operations in April and then sat back while Mr Sharon continued those same operations for another month. On 4 April, Mr Bush demanded that Mr Sharon take "immediate action" to ease the Israeli siege of Palestinian towns; but, two months later, Mr Sharon a "man of peace", according to Mr Bush is still tightening those sieges.
If Mr Sharon is not frightened of Mr Bush, why should Osama bin Laden be concerned? Last week's appeal by President Mubarak for a calendar for a Palestinian state produced, even by Mr Bush's absurd standards, an extraordinary illogicality. No doubt aware that he would be meeting Mr Sharon two days later, he replied: "We are not ready to lay down a specific calendar except for the fact that we've got to get started quickly, soon, so we can seize the moment."
The Bush line therefore goes like this: this matter is so important that we've got to act urgently and with all haste but not so important that we need bother about when to act. Mr Sharon, of course, doesn't want any such "calendar". Mr Sharon doesn't want a Palestinian state. So Mr Bush at the one moment that he should have been showing resolve to his friends as well as his enemies flunked again. After Mr Sharon turned up at the White House, Mr Bush derided the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, went along with Mr Sharon's refusal to talk to him and virtually dismissed the Middle East summit that the Palestinians and the world wants this summer but which Mr Sharon, of course, does not.
In the meantime, as well as Mr Sharon, all of the men who claim to be fighting terror are using this lunatic "war" for their own purposes. The Egyptians, who allegedly warned the CIA about an attack in America before 11 September, have been busy passing a new law that will so restrict the work of non-governmental organizations that it will be almost impossible for human rights groups to work in Egypt. So no more reports of police torture. The Algerian military, widely believed to have had a hand in the dirty war mass killings of the past 10 years, have just been exercising with NATO ships in the Mediterranean. We'll be seeing more of this.
It was almost inevitable, of course, that someone in America would be found to explain the difference between "good terrorists" the ones we don't bomb, like the IRA, ETA or the old African National Congress and those we should bomb. Sure enough, Michael Elliott turned up in Time magazine last week to tell us that "not all terrorists are alike". There are, he claimed, "political terrorists" who have "an identifiable goal" and "millenarian terrorists" who have no "political agenda", who "owe their allegiance to a higher authority in heaven". So there you have it. If they'll talk to the Americans, terrorists are OK. If they won't, well then it's everlasting war.
So with this twisted morality, who really believes that "Homeland Security" is going to catch the bad guys before they strike again? My guess is that the "Titanic War on Terror" will follow its unsinkable namesake. And we all know what happened to that.
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd