PARIS -- THE WAR NOW is past tense, the dead gone, the wounded paying the price for all the cheers and relief.
The controversy resumes in the present and future tenses, over Washington's planned (or, as it seems, largely unplanned) pacification and reconstruction of Iraq as an economic and political society and over what may follow in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Oil Ministry was secured early in the battle of Baghdad, even if the hospitals and museums were not; that told us about one Bush administration priority.
Former general Jay Garner and his team of American officials and businessmen are already, in the political realm, up against the factions, sects, and religious and tribal interests of Iraq, its exile and internal opposition claims, and the influence of interested foreign powers, Iran and Turkey, the Arabs as a whole - the Muslim world.
In the short term, American power will impose its choices. In the long run, Iraq will prevail. This, Washington would say, is negative thinking, but it is true. However, positive thinking is the order of the day because the Bush administration's brave new world is already under construction.
The moment of victory has been seized to start reshaping the Middle East. Step one is the intimidation of Syria, a presumably weak regime with an ophthalmologist as dictator, enjoying office because his departed father put him there, with a weak and under-equipped army, no oil, and a feeble economy.
The maximum goal in Syria is regime change. The minimum goal is an end to lodging and support for anti-Israeli militias, notably Hezbollah in Lebanon, a country that Syria now dominates.
Lebanon in the new order of things will become an autonomous state under US and Israeli surveillance.
The international ''quartet's'' road map for the Middle East will lead nowhere, to Tel Aviv's satisfaction and Tony Blair's chagrin.
Washington would like to terminate the power of the ayatollahs in Iran. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Monday that ''all the nations of the region'' should now reconsider their positions. They undoubtedly are doing so, probably with a view to maximum dissimulation of maximum resistance to the new order.
President George Bush, pushed by the neo-conservative activists who surround him, has a second and more imposing ambition. It is to strip from the United Nations its political functions, leaving it to go about its humanitarian activities, continuing to provide its other useful and non-controversial international services, without interfering with the political decisions of nations, notably those of the United States.
Washington says the UN has ''failed,'' as the League of Nations failed. The league failed because its creators, Woodrow Wilson chief among them, built failure into it. They required unanimous decisions in both the assembly and the council of great powers. Even then, Poland defied it in 1920, France and Italy in 1923, Japan in 1931, etc. The United States, of course, never joined.
Those who defend the UN obviously do so because they don't want the United States to have unchecked power. That is why the forthcoming battle over the UN's role can be expected to become an embittered one. So long as the UN has universal membership and is generally recognized in international law as the sole authority that can legitimize violence by one state against another, it presents a problem for the Bush government.
The Bush administration wants a new international regime of democratic coalitions, which it says would possess a legitimacy the UN lacks and could deal expeditiously and effectively with threats to international order. Colin Powell says US interventions would come only on international request or when US interests are directly involved. But Colin Powell is not a neo-conservative.
NATO might be thought such a coalition, but Washington wants the problem to define the coalition so that each would be different and none would give members a veto over what the coalition does, as in the case of NATO.
Put simply, the Bush administration envisages a world run by the United States, backed by as many states as will sign on to support it.
Its stated intention is to maintain an overwhelming military advantage and do its level best to prevent other states from creating nuclear or other deterrent systems. It intends, where feasible, to disarm those already in possession of nuclear weapons. North Korea is a candidate for imminent preemptive disarmament.
Washington doesn't want any government in a position to check it through international institutions or legal opposition, which is why the UN has to go. Otherwise, the only obstacles to neo-conservative Washington's freedom of action (other than Chinese and Russian nuclear forces) would be Europe's economic power and potential political unity, and even there the American advantage is large, although not decisive.
Washington says that victory in Iraq was the first step in making a new Middle East and a new world order. There probably will be more resistance to both ambitions than it currently expects.
William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.