The United States considers itself to be at war a war unlike any other which the US has fought in the past. The enemy is not Fidel Castro's Cuba or Hugo Chavez's Venezuela or even China, now the world's fourth largest economy, but "international terrorism" personified by Osama Bin Laden, the Al Qaida leader, whom Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a speech on February 2 likened to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin.
The enemy, Rumsfeld said, was hidden. Terrorists operated in numerous countries around the world; they could wait for long periods between attacks; they wanted to rule the world and had to be rooted out across the globe.
One of the toughest battles was to get the public to recognise the seriousness of the terrorist threat.
The day after Rumsfeld's speech, the Pentagon released its Quadrennial Defence Review, a four-yearly analysis of how the US military plans to address major security threats, 5, 10 or even 20 years hence. It opened with the statement: "The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war."
This then is the new slogan of the Bush Administration: the global war on terrorism is going to be a "long war", a war without end, a generational war that might last for decades.
"The only way the terrorists can win this struggle," Rumsfeld declared, "is if we lose our will and surrender the fight, or think it's not important enough, or in confusion or in disagreement among ourselves give them the time to regroup and re-establish themselves in Iraq and elsewhere."
Rumsfeld identified three main goals in this ongoing "long war": preventing terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction; defending the US homeland against "catastrophic" attacks such as with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons; and helping America's allies fight terrorism.
These American concerns are reflected in the budget proposals which the White House put to Congress recently. The 2007 budget which for accounting purposes begins on October 1 , 2006 provides for expenditure of over $500 billion on defence and homeland security. This is very nearly 20 per cent of the total 2007 Federal Budget, estimated at a record $2.77 trillion.
Of this total, the State Department's budget is a mere $14 billion less than one per cent of the Federal Budget which sends a clear signal that America's priority is war-fighting rather than diplomacy.
The rest of the world cannot escape American preoccupations. Whether it likes it or not, it will be sucked into the conflict. The US has bases and other military facilities in over 100 countries, all of which will, one way or the other, be drawn into the "long war". The United States has been pressing its European allies to increase their military budgets, to contribute more troops to the Nato mission in Afghanistan, to join in the global war on terrorism. The United Nations is being mobilised to pressure Iran over its nuclear programme, to isolate Syria, to shun Hamas, even though it won a democratic election in the Palestinian territories. "He who is not with us is against us," is Bush's message to the world.
The question which needs to be asked, however, is whether America's war on terror is not profoundly misconceived. Some would argue that Bush's rhetoric about the "onward march of freedom" and seeking "the end of tyranny in our world" is no more than a cynical cover for American hegemony. Many would go further and say that the US has itself created the enemy which it is now vowing to destroy.
Ever since the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US has refused to consider the impact of its own actions on Muslim opinion, such as its blind support for Israel's oppression of the Palestinians and its unprovoked war on Iraq. It has argued that the roots of terror lie not in its own policies but in the failings of Arab and Islamic societies, depicted as backward and fanatical.
Al Qaida's origins date back to the 1980s jihad in Afghanistan, when the US, with the help of its Saudi and Pakistani allies, trained, equiped and paid tens of thousands of Muslim volunteers from all over the world to fight the Soviets. But once the Soviets withdrew, the US washed its hands of Afghanistan, leaving behind an army of alienated young men who in the 1990s turned their guns against their own governments and against the US.
There is as yet no sign that Washington has grasped that the way to defeat terrorism is not by expanding an already bloated defence budget but by resolving the conflicts which feed Arab and Muslim rage against the United States.
If the United States were to spend a fraction of its $500 billion defence and security budget on removing Israeli colonists from Palestinian territory, on compensating Palestinian refugees, and on rehibilitating rather than destroying Iraq, the world would be a more peaceful and safer place.
- Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs.