Unsurprisingly, the UN security council has capitulated completely, recognized the occupation of Iraq and approved its re-colonization by the US and its bloodshot British adjutant. The timing of the mea culpa by the "international community" was perfect. Yesterday, senior executives from more than 1,000 companies gathered in London to bask in the sunshine of the re-established consensus under the giant umbrella of Bechtel, the American empire's most favored construction company. A tiny proportion of the loot will be shared.
So what happened to the overheated rhetoric of Europe v America? Berlusconi in Italy and Aznar in Spain - the two most rightwing governments in Europe - were fitting partners for Blair while the eastern European states, giving a new meaning to the term "satellite" which they had previously so long enjoyed, fell as one into line behind Bush.
France and Germany, on the other hand, protested for months that they were utterly opposed to a US attack on Iraq. Schröder had owed his narrow re-election to a pledge not to support a war on Baghdad, even were it authorized by the UN. Chirac, armed with a veto in the security council, was even more voluble with declarations that any unauthorized assault on Iraq would never be accepted by France.
Together, Paris and Berlin coaxed Moscow too into expressing its disagreement with American plans. Even Beijing emitted a few cautious sounds of demurral. The Franco-German initiatives aroused tremendous excitement and consternation among diplomatic commentators. Here, surely, was an unprecedented rift in the Atlantic alliance. What was to become of European unity, of Nato, of the "international community" itself if such a disastrous split persisted? Could the very concept of the west survive?
Such apprehensions were quickly allayed. No sooner were Tomahawk missiles lighting up the nocturnal skyline in Baghdad, and the first Iraqi civilians cut down by the marines, than Chirac rushed to explain that France would assure smooth passage of US bombers across its airspace (as it had not done, under his own premiership, when Reagan attacked Libya), and wished "swift success" to American arms in Iraq. Germany's cadaver-green foreign minister Joschka Fischer announced that his government, too, sincerely hoped for the "rapid collapse" of resistance to the Anglo-American attack. Putin, not to be outdone, explained to his compatriots that "for economic and political reasons", Russia could only desire a decisive victory of the US in Iraq.
Washington is still not satisfied. It wants to punish France further. Why not a ritual public flogging broadcast live by Murdoch TV? A humbled petty chieftain (Chirac) bending over while an imperial princess (Condoleezza Rice) administers the whip. Then the leaders of a re-united north could relax and get on with the business they know best: plundering the south. The expedition to Baghdad was planned as the first flexing of a new imperial stance. What better demonstration of the shift to a more offensive strategy than to make an example of Iraq. If no single reason explains the targeting of Iraq, there is little mystery about the range of calculations that lay behind it. Economically, Iraq possesses the second largest reserves of cheap oil in the world; Baghdad's decision in 2000 to invoice its exports in euros rather than dollars risked imitation by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the Iranian mullahs. Privatization of the Iraqi wells under US control would help to weaken Opec.
Strategically, the existence of an independent Arab regime in Baghdad had always been an irritation to the Israeli military. With the installation of Republican zealots close to Likud in key positions in Washington, the elimination of a traditional adversary became an attractive immediate goal for Jerusalem. Lastly, just as the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had once been a pointed demonstration of American might to the Soviet Union, so today a blitzkrieg rolling swiftly across Iraq would serve to show the world at large that if the chips are down, the US has, in the last resort, the means to enforce its will.
The UN has now provided retrospective sanction to a pre-emptive strike. Its ill-fated predecessor, the League of Nations, at least had the decency to collapse after its charter was serially raped. Analogies with Hitler's blitzkrieg of 1940 are drawn without compunction by cheerleaders for the war. Thus Max Boot in the Financial Times writes: "The French fought hard in 1940 - at first. But eventually the speed and ferocity of the German advance led to a total collapse. The same thing will happen in Iraq." What took place in France after 1940 might give pause to these enthusiasts.
The lack of any spontaneous welcome from Shias and the fierce early resistance of armed irregulars prompted the theory that the Iraqis are a "sick people" who will need protracted treatment before they can be entrusted with their own fate (if ever). Such was the line taken by David Aaronovitch in the Observer. Likewise, George Mellon in the Wall Street Journal warns: "Iraq won't easily recover from Saddam's terror" - "after three decades of rule of the Arab equivalent of Murder Inc, Iraq is a very sick society". To develop an "orderly society" and re-energize (privatize) the economy will take time, he insists. On the front page of the Sunday Times, reporter Mark Franchetti quoted an American NCO: "'The Iraqis are a sick people and we are the chemotherapy,' said Corporal Ryan Dupre. 'I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him.' " No doubt the "sick society" theory will acquire greater sophistication, but it is clear the pretexts are to hand for a mixture of Guantanamo and Gaza in these newly occupied territories.
If it is futile to look to the UN or Euroland, let alone Russia or China, for any serious obstacle to American designs in the Middle East, where should resistance start? First of all, naturally, in the region itself. There, it is to be hoped that the invaders of Iraq will eventually be harried out of the country by a growing national reaction to the occupation regime they install, and that their collaborators may meet the fate of former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Said before them. Sooner or later, the ring of corrupt and brutal tyrannies around Iraq will be broken. If there is one area where the cliche that classical revolutions are a thing of the past is likely to be proved wrong, it is in the Arab world. The day the Mubarak, Hashemite, Saudi and other dynasties are swept away by popular wrath, American - and Israeli - arrogance in the region will be over.
Tariq Ali's new book, Bush in Babylon: Re-colonizing Iraq, will be published by Verso in the autumn
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003