CAIRO – Cynicism. Hypocrisy. Orwellian newspeak. As photo-ops of political theater go, the Azores micro-summit was somber. How apt a metaphor: three isolated men in a remote island in the middle of the Atlantic – the American behaving like a bully and the two Europeans trying to bridge the unbridgeable.

As a show of unity, it was a fiasco. France, Germany and Russia were not even invited. On Saturday, this so-called “axis of peace” – helped by anti-war demonstrations around the world – may have preempted Azores with a call for a meeting of foreign ministers at the Security Council; but then on Sunday US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Spanish counterpart Jose Maria Aznar made their own preemptive move against the United Nations.

Bush set a deadline of Monday for the UN to endorse the use of US-led force to bring about Iraq’s immediate disarmament of suspected weapons of mass destruction. In setting the deadline on Sunday, Bush spoke of what he called a “moment of truth” at the UN. The Security Council was scheduled to meet on Monday morning US time, but it is not clear whether it will discuss the draft resolution, opposed by France, Germany and Russia, that threatens President Saddam Hussein with war.

Peace itself has been the first collateral damage of the impending war. A swaggering, visibly irritated Bush drawl said that “the UN must mean something.” But he didn’t give the impression that Washington is behaving according to international rules. Tony Blair’s future could be at stake, and he spends this Monday working the phones like a madman, but not Bush, he has seemingly decided that the US will not seek a second UN resolution – because there’s no way that it can be approved.

So Bush has decided to shoot down diplomacy altogether. He will deliver his own personal, unilateral ultimatum to Saddam, maybe as early as this Monday night. Speech writers were busy on the return trip to the Azores. Bush will have no “moral majority.” He will assemble a flimsy coalition of the willing, and he will do what he wanted to do in the first place – before his Secretary of State Colin Powell convinced him to follow the tortuous multilateral way of the UN.

Bush’s dislike of the UN process was evident by his body language and omission. The work of the weapons inspectors was not even mentioned. The blame for the diplomatic collapse was shifted to the ones who oppose an illegal war. Bush implied that he does not need the UN now because it does not fit his agenda. But he explicitly said that he will go back to the UN to get the expertise and the commitment to rebuild Iraq. He conveniently forgot to mention the European Union – whose main financial donors are none other than France and Germany. The UN may be useful only for nation-building – when Washington’s attention span moves from Iraq to the next war.

It will take a Biblical miracle this Monday in New York to avert a war with no explicit UN authorization. The undecided six, or U-6 (Guinea, Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan) cannot but refuse to take a stand under lethal crossfire. A dejected Italian diplomat comments that “you cannot go to war nowadays with simply no legitimacy – public and diplomatic.”

The whole Bush-Blair-Aznar argument rests on UN resolution 1441, which superseded all previous resolutions related to Iraq. Lawyers in the European Union in Brussels, as well as 16 eminent British academic lawyers, stress that 1441 specifically does not authorize the use of military force. If it had been the case, the resolution would never have been adopted. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has also stated the obvious: if the US and UN go to war sidelining the UN, they breach the UN charter. The conclusion on all quarters – except Washington – is that such war is illegal. And a supposed God-given mandate for regime change and occupation of Iraq is also illegal.

Saddam has dug in with a vengeance – and is menacing his own version of the Apocalypse. But Bush is fed up: he wants Saddam smoked out. The Franco-German-Russian axis is against a second UN resolution that would function as a war ultimatum. In the end, though, the only vector that really counts – and moves – in the whole complex equation is the Pentagon’s rolling thunder.

This reflects nothing but contempt for the democratic process: the absolute majority of Britons and Spaniards, the absolute majority of world opinion, and at least half of American public opinion – even conditioned by a warmongering corporate media – are against this war, right now, and in these terms.

The B2 bombers, darkest than the dark, supposed to be invisible, are now more than visible. None of the deaf, dumb and blind trio in the Azores pronounced a single word – even in newspeak – about what’s next in the script: Shock and Awe, with its Cruise missiles and microwave bombs will create carnage, with the possibility of many thousands becoming a part of the “collateral damage.” Practically half of the 23-million-odd Iraqi population is less than 16 years old. Severely under sanctions, 60 percent of the total population is dependent on the UN oil-for-food program – the meagre standard ration of flour, tea, sugar, soap and cooking oil – which will be obviously suspended by war. UN agencies and NGOs warn of a cataclysmic humanitarian disaster. If the Anglo-American armada goes to war without UN authority, without help of UN agencies and crucially without help from Iraq’s largest donor – which happens to be the European Union – the humanitarian disaster will be all but inevitable.

Blame it on France. The French have been on the receiving end of a Washington-orchestrated campaign of insults, with Powell saying that “France played an unhelpful note.” Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger barked against France and to a lesser extent Germany. France is against the logic of war. It has consistently stated the obvious. The inspections are working. Real disarmament is taking place – including the ongoing destruction of the Al Samoud 2 missiles that Iraq would be able to use to defend itself from Shock and Awe. Head arms inspector Hans Blix is presenting on Monday at the UN a “shopping list” of things to be done by the Iraqis in the next few days. Another measure of the contempt for the UN: American officials were furious because this report was originally supposed to be delivered on Tuesday, after the Bush-mandated Monday deadline, at which time it would have been irrelevant.

Diplomats are saying off the record that this is the most devastating, irrefutable failure of American diplomacy in living memory. Not even a full basket of carrots, “economic haggling instead of diplomacy,” according to a diplomat, including cash and aid for the Africans, lifting of sanctions for the Pakistanis, a mega-package for the Turks and the cynical last-minute unveiling of a road map for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could sway the waverers and the doubters. A diplomat in Brussels offers an explanation, “You simply cannot sell this war. It’s poison. It’s a colonialist occupation with further unstated motives. How can you sell this to your own, educated public opinion.”

Powell, the only sound voice at the top of the Bush administration, will take the fall for the fiasco. Not even the Powell doctrine survives: Shock and Awe will develop with the so-called “rolling start” approach, a concept of defense chief Donald Rumsfeld. Powell was left to suggest to humanitarian workers, journalists and the weapons inspectors themselves that they should start considering leaving Iraq.

Intelligence sources in Brussels confirm: the new al-Qaeda recruitment campaign is already in full swing, not only in the Middle East and Pakistan, but also in Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Blessed will be the damned and the bombed in Iraq. Washington’s hawks have got what they wanted. Their – French? – champagne is already in the freezer. But the verdict on this war will not be theirs. It will be offered by their most lethal enemy: world public opinion.

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