PARIS -- Last Friday the most prominent of Washington's neoconservative policy groups, the American Enterprise Institute, held what one witness, a Financial Times correspondent, described as a "victory celebration."
Richard Perle, corporate consultant and member of the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Board, told the audience that the Iraq war was going well - that "there are more anti-war demonstrators in San Francisco than Iraqis willing to defend Saddam Hussein." He said that the pro-American coalition was growing, and Saddam Hussein's fall would be "an inspiration" to Iranians.
The members of the group, which is described as "the Bush administration ideological vanguard," discussed what to do about Iran, considered by them as even more dangerous than Iraq, in terms of its nuclear weapons program.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel has already told visiting U.S. congressmen that Iran, Libya and Syria must be stripped of nuclear weapons, and Undersecretary of State John Bolton replied to him that it would be necessary to deal not only with Syria and Iran but also with North Korea. Israel's defense minister has already asked American friends of Israel to press for action against Iran.
An administration official was quoted Monday in a New York Times dispatch as saying, Iraq "is just the beginning. I would not rule out the same sequence of events for Iran and North Korea as for Iraq."
This enthusiasm for more war is familiar to those who follow neoconservative arguments in the Washington debate. One might have thought the American Enterprise Institute would have been discreet enough to hold off its victory celebration until victory arrives, and its cost is known. At this writing, the cost is proving more considerable than expected in neoconservative circles.
Their celebration of victory at the war's beginning suggests to what extent these policy intellectuals and much of the administration itself live and act within a closed intellectual world, in what one commentator, Philippe Grasset, calls virtuality - where reality is both perceived and treated as they want it to be, and not as it is.
As an example, on the day the war began the coalition command assembled journalists and television crews to fly to Basra, to capture images of "flag-waving crowds hugging British and American soldiers." Thus "an immediate positive image" of the war could be given worldwide.
The war began the next night. A week later, despite reports of a civilian uprising against Saddam's forces, Basra still has not been taken.
Ominously, the supply train of the troops headed for Baghdad, which eventually will stretch to 500 kilometers - farther overland from their logistical base than American forces have ever before operated - has been attacked by what appear to be irregular forces, who have sprung up elsewhere in southern Iraq.
The cheering crowds have not appeared. The Wall Street Journal's front page lead on Monday said the coalition, "far from being hailed as liberators," has "faced deep hostility and gunfire" from civilians. It seems rather early to plan the next step in what Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute describes as "an epochal war … Iraq may turn out to be a war to remake the world."
It has, of course, already remade the world. It has divided the world between the United States and Britain on one side, and nearly everybody else on the other. Washington talks about its "ever enlarging coalition" of indebted and impressed microstates, but the reality was revealed by the UN Security Council votes and the General Assembly debates that preceded President George W. Bush's decision to go to war.
The American Enterprise Institute meeting heard that the United Nations is now finished. It might be allowed some humanitarian jobs but otherwise is "irrelevant." In political and security matters the United States will henceforth ignore it.
Since in Bush ideological circles, more war is what we need, in order to right the world and make it a better place, the president would waste his time going to the United Nations with his projects. Americans are on their own now, Lone Rangers, riding toward the sunset.
Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune