While President Bush was in Washington painting a picture of the sunny uplands of Middle East peace and democracy after the invasion of Iraq, his administration was in Ankara putting the final details on a deal that gives us quite a different picture of the cost of the war and the regional settlement that will succeed it.
The direct cost is some $30bn in grants and loans. But it is the indirect costs that are more worrying. For a start, there is the movement of around 40,000 Turkish troops into Northern Iraq to make absolutely sure that there is no Kurdish self-determination or any passage between Kurds in Iraq and those in Turkey. More worrying still is the intervention of America to stir up the Turkish military to put pressure on the new, democratically elected Islamic government. Some 90 per cent of the Turkish electorate on recent polls are against the Iraq war, which is why the deal still hasn't been put before the Turkish parliament. The joint council of the government and the military takes place on Friday, which is why the vote has been postponed until Saturday.
Bush's "coalition of the willing" is looking more and more like a coalition of the bribed and the bludgeoned. Kuwait and Qatar have agreed to provide facilities for the invasion in return for their regimes being guaranteed by American power. So much for democracy in the Gulf.
When it comes to the members of the UN Security Council, straight bribery will probably do it for most of them. Mexico, Bulgaria and Chile have no particular interest in the Middle East. But none of them can afford to offend America and all of them could do with some extra aid. Angola, Cameroon and Guinea have ties with France and a desire to keep in with the US, and are now the objects of an unseemly bidding war between Paris and Washington. But it is hard to see, when euro comes to dollar, the US being outbid.
When you consider Russia, China or even Syria, the same will probably apply in the end. The cost of offending America and the benefits of gaining its favour are hard to resist. A free hand in Chechnya and an oil concession in Iraq for Moscow, suppression of the Turkomens and sway over Taiwan for China. Who could ask for anything more?
It's not a pretty sight, although that is not necessarily a reason for outrage. Heavy-handed diplomacy has always been part of international affairs. The UN was founded around it. America is the only superpower and there is little point in even the French railing against it.
But for anyone expecting the overthrow of the Iraqi regime to presage a new order of peace and self-determination, it has to be said that this is not the way it is playing out. Iraq will be under military occupation for the forseeable future with the specific objective of holding it as a unitary state. The royal regimes of the Gulf will be supported in power. Palestinian resistance to Israel will be firmly sat on. China and Russia will have a free hand to suppress their own minorities. Democracy in Pakistan will be put back while the military regime is sustained.
It's not that America does not desire democracy for all. But this is a war for security, with liberation of Iraq as a side benefit, not the other way round. Nor is it that the Middle East, and other parts of the Muslim world, are unready for political change. Just look at Iran, or Syria, or Egypt or most of North Africa, and you can sense the tectonic plates shifting beneath the surface. But the fact that change is being imposed by the US from outside, and the fact that Washington is inimical to any change from the street or the mosque (witness Algeria) is only going to make change more difficult and more explosive.
And it goes deeper than the anti-Islamic crusade which an all-white invasion of Iraq will be seen as in the Muslim world. The fundamental question that the end of the Cold War posed to the world was how to accommodate or control tribal and minority forces that had been suppressed by half a century of East-West standoff and several centuries of colonial rule. The Marsh Arabs in Iraq, the Tutsis in Rwanda, the Albanians in Kosovo, the Kurds and Shias of Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan... the list goes on.
Europe, for all its many faults and failures, has tried a form of regional association that stands to subsume the inherent ethnic conflicts and allow a degree of self-determination in a greater whole. America, a unitary state itself, has tended to support and defend states as they are. That is what they have assured the Turks in the case of Iraq and what they will ensure elsewhere. Liberation movements are not on Washington's support list. They're accounted terrorists.
For every 100 Iraqis cheering the American tanks entering Baghdad, there will be a thousand Palestinians, Chechens, Tibetans and others forced to abandon hope for their own future.
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