INADVERTENTLY, the Times last week discovered the rationale behind America's foreign policy. On Monday, under the headline "Duchess's column 'too boring for American readers'", it gave the sad tale of why Fergie's syndicated scribblings have not been a success in the States. The samples alone were convincing enough, with lines such as: "The great stone walls of Buckingham Palace are mortared with mystique". Such pebble-dashed prose is evidently not what America needs at the moment. Friday's Times headline told us everything else we needed to know: "United in the face of tyranny". The only mortaring the Americans want to hear about is with smart bombs on Saddam's palaces.

There has clearly been a massive public relations offensive on both sides of the Atlantic to convince us that Iraq must be bombed. Every paper gave frightening accounts of Saddam's potential - psychological and technical - to make biological and chemical weapons, but differed in their analysis of the real objectives of any bombing that may take place. Only the Sun offered a detailed campaign plan for our forces: on Friday "SAS Gulf war hero" Andy McNab wrote "How to take out Saddam".

Apparently what we need is a squadron of 60, arriving in helicopters with ECM (electronic counter-measures) flying on NVG (night-viewing goggles) with fast jets giving CAP (complete air protection). That's it! We'll bombard the bastard with acronyms. Anyway, that's what they think at the SUN (silly unbelievable newspaper).

All the papers gave accounts of Saddam's dirty-weapon capability. The Telegraph said he is "known to have the ingredients to make 44,000 gallons of VX nerve gas - enough to wipe out the world's population" and the capacity to produce more than two tons of Anthrax, of which, it said, 220lb can kill 3 million people. The Mirror said it is "enough gas to wipe out the planet", including 2,000 tonnes of VX nerve gas and 8,400 litres of Anthrax, of which, we were told "1lb could wipe out New York". The Mail echoed the Telegraph's figure of 220lb of Anthrax to kill 3 million, but said that it would have to be dropped from the top of a skyscraper to do so. All the same, they outbid the other papers by saying that Saddam has enough "to wipe out the world twice". The Sun went for a "bomb the size of an aerosol" of VX gas, which "strapped to an Underground train could kill 100,000 as it sprayed its lethal mist through city-centre tunnels".

But will bombing eliminate the threat? The Times leader writers are fully behind Bill Clinton and Tony Blair: "The alternative to intervention is the tacit acceptance that Saddam will accumulate more [biological and chemical weapons]. This would be the certain path to an enormous conflict in the future. That is why it is imperative we act now." The Guardian, however, has severe reservations: "UN inspectors do not know where Saddam Hussein's chemical or biological weapons are hidden or even whether they exist in usable form ... the disclosure raises serious concerns about the purpose and intended targets of the bombing campaign." In the Telegraph Sir Peter de la Billiere also advised caution: "Before launching into irrevocable and, of necessity, limited military action, it is wise to address the consequences should, as is probable, Saddam remain alive and in power after it is all over." While in the Independent, Patrick Cockburn wrote: "If the second round of the Gulf war is confined to air attack alone, then it is lost even before it has begun."

If the objective really is just to take out Saddam, the allies can be encouraged by the ease with which a group of amateurs planned and carried out an assault, with custard pies, on Bill Gates. You could glean something of each newspaper's policy on people who gain immense wealth through new technology by seeing on what page they chose to put a picture of the custard- splattered billionaire. The Times thought it was all a jolly romp and put him on the front page. The Independent had him on page three, advertised by a smaller version on the front page. The Guardian, perhaps concerned at the waste of good food, relegated it to page 18, while the Telegraph distanced itself by putting the picture on the business section on page 31.

Peter Davis is not, of course, remotely as rich as Mr Gates or a villain on the scale of Saddam, but in the early part of the week he gained almost as much coverage and a good deal of vilification. But did he resign as lottery regulator, or was he sacked? The Guardian hedged its bets on the matter. While its front-page headline of Wednesday read: "Lottery chief sacked", its leading article began: "It was right for Peter Davis, director- general of Oflot, to resign last night. He couldn't have stayed in his post with dignity after all the criticism heaped on his office recently." The Telegraph said: "Downing Street played down suggestions that Mr Davis was about to be sacked. But as the day progressed, its support for Mr Davis ebbed away." Is that what the Times meant when it said: "Peter Davis was dismissed last night on the direct orders of Tony Blair"?

Once Mr Davis had gone, several of the papers were quick to point out that they'd never liked him much anyway. The Independent referred to "a career which had managed to embrace controversy without ever rising above mediocrity". The Daily Mail called him "not a bad man or a corrupt one, but a pompous accountant who ... displayed all the savvy of a greenhorn in a gambling saloon".

The Times had the most sanctimonious reason for advising the departure of Peter Davis: "To restore public trust in the lottery". Curiously though, they did not cite any figures of a dramatic drop in ticket sales to support their contention that the public had lost trust, or even that they had trusted it to do any more than pay out their prizes in the first place. The great British public may be taken in by a rather squalid operation that is no more than a redistribution of wealth accompanied by a 50 per cent innumeracy tax, but they're not going to lose faith just because a fat, sweaty American clumsily tried to bribe a saintly British entrepreneur. What more would they expect of a nation that doesn't even enjoy Fergie's diaries?

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