At first it looked like a collection of hazy slogans, but gradually it is becoming clear that it has definite - if hidden - aims.
The plan is unconnected to the famous "war on terrorism", to the personality of Saddam Hussein or to the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq is producing, like all the other states in the region, from Pakistan to Israel and Egypt.
Critics of the war plans (including myself) have pointed to the disastrous political results that must be expected: Iraq would break into three parts (Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center, Shi'ites in the south), the Middle East would be exposed to the onslaught of Iranian fanaticism, pro-Western Arab regimes would collapse. Israel would be surrounded by aggressive Islamic fundamentalism, like the Crusader kingdom with the advent of Saladin.
This evaluation is based on an assumption that has been true for some time: the United States is not ready to keep large numbers of troops in far-away countries. This would mean that after the conquest of Iraq the troops would return home, leaving Iraq to its fate. But it is quite possible that this assumption is not valid anymore.
The war plan of the Bushies makes sense only if the US leadership is ready - more than that, is actually longing for - the occupation of Iraq in order to remain there for many-many years.
Such an occupation will necessitate a big investment of troops and resources. It will commit large military forces for a long time. That is why the plan is opposed by the American generals (including the Secretary of State, General Colin Powell). But in the eyes of Bush and his advisers, this is a very worthwhile investment that would yield immense benefits. Among others:
* The main objective of the American economy (and therefore of American policy) is the oil of the Caspian Sea. The exploitation of this gigantic reservoir, the biggest in the world, has not yet started. Its control will ensure that America has cheap fuel for decades to come. Bush, a typical oil man who despises alternative "environment friendly" sources of energy, considers this a major aim.
* On its way to the market, the oil must reach the open sea. There are several possible routes - via Afghanistan and Pakistan or Turkey. Iraq is close to all of them, and American air and ground forces stationed there will guarantee American domination over the entire region.
* The existence of a secure American base in the heart of the Arab world will also enable Washington to bully all the Arab regimes, lest they stray from the straight and narrow. The pressure on Saudi Arabia will be immense. Not only will the American bases in Saudi Arabia become redundant, but by manipulating the oil prices America could bring the kingdom to the brink of bankruptcy.
* The new situation would finally break OPEC. Washington will decide the price of oil and how it is distributed.
* The new situation will destroy the last remnants of Arab independence. Even today, almost all the Arab countries are dependent on America. A massive American physical presence in their midst will put an end to any pretense of Arab power and unity.
* Neighboring Iran, too, will lose its appetite for opposing the American Big Satan. Iran will be threatened on both sides by the American bases in Afghanistan and Iraq.
* Total American control over all the oil resources, from Kazakhstan in the north to Saudi Arabia in the south, will put an end to any European hopes of competing with the economic and political might of the United States. He who controls the oil controls the economy. Increased oil prices might throw millions of workers into the streets of Europe and East Asia.
How will the occupation function? When Americans think of occupation, they rely on their experience in Japan. There, after the capitulation, an American general, Douglas McArthur, reigned without limits. The Japanese obeyed dutifully, because they were instructed to do so by their revered emperor, the Mikado.
Now some people in Washington dream of installing an Iraqi Mikado, somebody from the Hashemite dynasty that ruled Iraq until 1958, when the last king was murdered. Why not put another family member on the throne, some relative of the king of Jordan - or, come to think of it, why not unite Iraq and Jordan under one crown?
A grandiose, world-embracing, yet simple and logical design. What does it remind me of? Indeed, the style sounds vaguely familiar. In the early 80's, I heard about several plans like this from Ariel Sharon (which I published at the time). His head was full of grand designs for restructuring the Middle East, the creation of an Israeli "security zone" from Pakistan to Central Africa, the overthrow of regimes and installing others in their stead, moving a whole people (the Palestinians) and so forth.
I can't help it, but the winds blowing now in Washington remind me of Sharon. I have absolutely no proof that the Bushies got their ideas from him, even if all of them seem to have been mesmerized by him. But the style is the same - a mixture of megalomania, creativity, arrogance, ignorance and superficiality. An explosive mixture.
Sharon's grand design floundered, as we know. The bold flights of imagination and the superficial logic did not help - Sharon simply did not understand the real currents of history. I fear that the band of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, Rice, Wolfowitz, Pearl and all the other little Sharons are suffering from the same syndrome.
Iraq is not Japan, and the Iraqis will not obey a Mikado brought in by the Americans as they now obey a local nationalist dictator. Islamic fundamentalism is not an animal that can be tamed easily. Hundreds of millions of enraged human beings all over the Arab and Muslim world are a great danger, even for a mighty military power.
Sharon may believe that he will be the big winner of such an American move, though history may show that he brought a historical disaster on us. He may succeed in exploiting the ensuing anarchy in order to drive the Palestinians out of the country. But within a few years Israel could find itself surrounded by a new Middle East - and not the one Shimon Peres is driveling on about. A region full of hatred, dreaming of revenge, driven by religious and nationalist fanaticism. And in the end, the Americans will go home. We will be left here alone.
But people like Bush and Sharon do not march to the beat of history. They are listening to a different drummer.