PARIS – “Don’t underestimate panic. And don’t underestimate Donald Rumsfeld’s ambitions. You may have noticed his body language, how he has been moving to center stage since September 11. He’s running this show. The State Department is a sideshow: see how powerless and helpless [Colin] Powell looks in his mindless trips to Delhi and Islamabad. Bush is slipping in the polls. They need a war now, and badly. And if Bush sees that attacking Iraq is his way to reelection, he will do it sooner rather than later.”

The New York source is an American investment banker extremely well-connected to the industrial-military complex. He is saying the unsayable in an America in theory still gripped by patriotic fever. President George W. Bush may not have any diplomatic endorsement to engage in Desert Storm, The Replay. But Americans are increasingly reacting like the investment banker: they know that there’s no business like war business.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in Paris, professor Jean-Louis Dufour expresses what is practically a consensus in Brussels, in the European Union circles of power: a new Afghan war-style campaign against Iraq – aerial ballistic fury, special forces, a bunch of anti-Saddam Iraqi fighters, and a few GIs on the ground – is bound to fail.

Dufour repeats what is already common knowledge in Europe. The Iraqi opposition is opportunistic, deeply divided and displays no military capability. The CIA has already tried to convince the Kurds to join the American campaign – to no avail. This is obviously another planet – compared to the 15,000 to 20,000 fierce and ultra-motivated warriors in Afghanistan, members of the Northern Alliance. Europe also knows Saddam’s army bears no resemblance to Mullah Omar’s ragged Kalashnikov-toting bunch of Taliban fanatics.

Dufour points to crucial logistical problems. Because of the Afghan campaign, only next winter will the American navy have the required absolute minimum of six aircraft carriers essential to the Iraqi campaign. The army lacks laser-guided ammunition: it will need another six months, starting from now, to replenish its arsenal. Forces on the terrain will need at least two or three months to be positioned – even if the positioning had in fact already started very quietly last winter. Anyway: the Pentagon war machine will only be ready to roll by February 2003.

While the whole Iraqi drama has been reduced by the American government and media to a purely technical debate – how do we strike, with what kind of force, etc – there is still no thorough public analysis in America of the ultra-volatile political consequences of this operation.

They may not be exactly on good terms with Saddam Hussein – although there have been recent signs of detente – but Syria and Iran are extremely wary about the possible emergence of a Washington-designed puppet government right in their neighborhood. Saudi Arabia – which through Prince Abdullah has organized a long, tortuous but ultimately fruitful rapprochement with Iraq – will keep struggling as much as it can to keep its status as America’s number one oil source: this means fighting any source of instability. Jordan has officially made clear this month that it refuses to be used as a platform to attack Iraq. And Turkey is in the middle of nothing less than a political earthquake – with reverberations to be felt at least for the next few months.

As if this regional context was not incandescent enough, India-Pakistan tension may get out of hand during elections in India-held Kashmir in October. Ariel Sharon is bound to keep turning Palestinian’s lives into a living hell. And as much as Saddam’s regime rhetorically extols Iraqis to help the Palestinian cause, a targeted Saddam may in the end authorize a mass exodus of Iraqis to wage jihad and multiply chaos around Israel.

It is never enough to remind that America is alone – the Pentagon is alone – against Saddam Hussein, and the diplomatic initiative remains on the Iraqi side. Russia is against a strike. China is against a strike. The European Union is against a strike.

It is extremely unlikely that the Bush administration will be able to concoct a puppet, so-called “democratic” regime in Baghdad with central authority strong enough to balance the conflicting interests of the Sunni center, the Kurdish north and a Shi’ite south. “But Donald Rumsfeld obviously doesn’t care about these things,” says the American banker. “His vision thing is to keep running the show.”

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