PARIS – Six months after September 11, the Masters of War – as in the Bob Dylan song – just can’t get enough. According to a classified report obtained and published last Saturday by the Los Angeles Times, the Bush administration has told the Pentagon to plan the use of nuclear weapons – “on a contingency basis” – against at least seven countries: China, Russia, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria.

The “contingencies” are: against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attacks; in retaliation for attack by nuclear, chemical or biological weapons; and in the event of surprise military developments. September 11 was certainly a “surprising military development” – all the more surprising for the Pentagon itself. If it happens again, one wonders who and what the Pentagon would start nuking.

Arno J Mayer – a survivor of Nazi concentration camps and Emeritus Professor of History at Princeton University – would call the Pentagon plans “preventive state terror.” Gore Vidal – the most lucid of American intellectuals – commented at the time that shortly after September 11 Mayer wrote a crystal-clear text explaining why it happened. Everybody in America refused to print it. The text only appeared in Europe, in the widely respected French daily Le Monde.

Vidal quotes Mayer: “Since 1947, America is the pioneer and main actor of preventive state terror, exercised exclusively in the Third World and consequently under an almost pervasive indifference.” Mayer lists well-known Washington tactics: political assassinations, death squads, “dubious freedom fighters [bin Laden].” He stresses that Washington was behind the deaths of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and Salvador Allende in Chile, “not to mention assassination attempts against Castro, Gadafi and Saddam Hussein.”

As the greatest living American literary historian, Gore Vidal knows as an insider the machinations of the American political class and the industrial-military complex. In a text called “September 11th and After”, he writes that “for decades, the Muslim world is systematically demonized by the American media.” He derides the “disturbing incompetence of the Bush administration in every domain.” He reminds the “amnesiac media” that “we energetically supported Saddam Hussein in the war of Iraq against Iran … and next day our ’employee’ became Satan, and still is.” And after stressing that “since 1945, we have been engaged in what the great historian Charles A Beard calls ‘a perpetual war for perpetual peace'”, he refers to the “Enemy of the Month Club”: actually a long list of hundreds of American wars against all sorts of enemies (communism, terrorism, drugs or nothing much), compiled by the Federation of American Scientists.

During the Reagan years, the menace came from the Evil Empire – the Soviet Union. Now there’s the Axis of Evil. During the Clinton years, the menace came from the “rogue states.” Now there are “nukable” states, rogue or otherwise (these include recently acclaimed “friends” like Russia and China, although neither can even think of selling anything remotely suspicious to Iran or North Korea).

The motto of the day – even before September 11 – is “US fight, UN feed, EU funds.” The US directs and controls all military operations, the UN picks up the pieces and distributes a bag of wheat or two, and Europe pays the bill. No wonder the rest of the world is afraid. Very afraid.

In Europe, in Latin America, in Southeast Asia, in Africa, there is an emerging consensus that what is being defined in the current turmoil is nothing less than the course of history in the 21st century. The war against terrorism may concentrate on the Islamist menace – trying to defuse it, but also to eradicate at least some of its causes. Or we could go back to a mechanism reminiscent of World War I in 1914: a deepening hatred and widespread contamination by violence. The risk of a really global confrontation, transcending states and cutting through any community and society, would be enormous. The “clash of civilizations” – an idiotic concept per se – would then become historical reality. And Osama bin Laden would win.

Analytical minds in Europe are deeply afraid of the emergence of a military logic of confrontation – the “Dr. Strangelove” syndrome now characteristic of the hegemonic and unilateralist thinking of the White House and Pentagon. The ultimate motto of the day is really “I bomb, therefore I control.” Donald Rumsfeld himself spelled it out in late January. According to this not so new military doctrine, the US should be able to “defeat two aggressors at the same time while keeping the momentum to scale a major counteroffensive and occupy an enemy’s capital to install a new regime.”

After studying the effects of the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Kosovo War and the New Afghan War, think tanks finally forged the definitive version of the key concept in the new American military doctrine: “strategic control.” It involves selective massive bombing, no occupation of territory, minimal political objectives. It works, and the casualties are also kept to a minimum.

But this is only part of a mentality of Total War. There’s the missile defense system, to protect the US, its military bases and theoretically its allies against … nobody knows exactly who. It could be the “rogue states” – now promoted en masse to the nukable list. It could be China. Anyway, all candidates are now in the same bag: while there is no horrendously expensive missile defense system in place, they remain on the nukable list. In a report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff called “Joint Vision 2020”, China is qualified in no uncertain terms as a potential adversary. In the considerably sweetened version published in 2000, China is qualified only as a “peer competitor.”

If we refer to Vidal’s “Enemy of the Month Club”, the stars of the moment are the members of the Axis of Evil. It is nonetheless essential to point out that neither Iraq, Iran nor North Korea have any proven relationship whatsoever with al-Qaeda – the organization that actually managed to bomb the Pentagon with an American commercial aircraft. And neither Iraq, Iran nor North Korea are equipped with weapons of mass destruction.

It does not matter. The White House and the Pentagon have already decided that Iraq will be attacked first. This is the main priority. It may not be main priority for the Arab world.

Vice President Dick Cheney has already started his long Middle East tour while former Marine General Anthony Zinni has been sent back again to try to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians. Cheney’s trip was planned months ago. It is supposed to reinforce the Arab world’s support for the war against terrorism. But most of all it is meant to examine the possibility of Arab support for the inevitable attack on Iraq.

Last Friday was the bloodiest day in the Middle East for years: no less than 46 Palestinian dead, plus 6 Israelis. In the six years of the first Intifada (1987-93), there were 1,250 Palestinian deaths, and less than 200 Israeli. In only 17 months of the second Intifada, there are already 1,100 Palestinian deaths and 318 Israeli. Ariel Sharon may be the only political leader on Earth to get away with premeditated murder – actually announced in no uncertain terms for the whole world to hear. But his “policy” of killing as many Palestinians as possible totally collapsed. Even Washington could not take it anymore. And in the Arab world – which can be easily monitored in Europe – the anger against American inaction has reached boiling point.

Israel’s “preventive state terror” is never denounced by Washington: the “terrorists” are always Palestinians. Soon the State Department will publish its Report on Patterns of Global Terrorism. The pressure on the Palestine Authority will be immense. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a paramilitary group linked to Fatah, is bound to be included in the list of terrorist organizations. The report might even include the Tanzim – Fatah’s military organization, extremely close to Yasser Arafat. Zinni will use the report to increase the pressure on Arafat.

A top European diplomat says off the record that Washington is sending Zinni to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while Cheney will talk only about Iraq. But he is not convinced Arab countries will fall into the trap: they know Zinni is just a side player compared to Cheney. The Arab priority, especially little more than two weeks before a crucial Arab summit in Beirut, is not an attack on Iraq: the priority is a solution to the bloodshed in occupied Palestine. While a deadly military confrontation waits for a political solution, Washington has its sights on provoking a military confrontation elsewhere. There’s no respite from the logic of Total War.

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