Washington is a city at war - or rather at wars. They are mostly being played out in the greater Middle East. Even though the Bush administration claims significant advances on all fronts, none of these wars have ended yet, or have been won. Yet the president soldiers on, and the American public clearly approves of his muscular approach to the rest of the world - at least so far.

Here is a quick update on the various battlegrounds. First, the War on Terrorism. True, Osama bin Laden has not yet been located; true, Al Qaida, although weakened, is still apparently capable of planning and organising terrorist plots.

True, the costs of September 11, 2001, to the U.S. have probably far exceeded bin Laden's expectations. Whole sectors of the American economy, notably the airline industry, are still reeling under the impact. A major wedge has been driven between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

America's new security regime deeply alienates Arab and Muslim public opinion. Nevertheless, vigorous detective work and law enforcement, in co-operation with many governments, seems to have disrupted extremist networks; and there has been no repeat of September 11 so far, notwithstanding the constant warnings of U.S. government officials. The scorecard: neither victory nor defeat; but rather a standoff.

Second, the War in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime is gone, the Al Qaida bases are destroyed, and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has just declared that the "major combat phase" of this war is now over. But Afghanistan still does not have a stable new regime that rules the entire country.

Indeed, the Kabul government is little more than a government in Kabul. Regional warlords exert their own local sovereignty, and elements of, or close to, the Taliban are said to be making a comeback. President Hamid Karzai and the UN special envoy Lakhdar Ibrahimi regularly issue appeals for more help, but visits by high American officials such as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage are not enough. The scorecard: initial victory in danger of turning sour.

Our third and newest war is the War in Iraq. President George W. Bush, after his theatrical landing on a U.S. aircraft carrier, was careful not to claim a categorical victory, but he left no American in doubt that the military phase had been carried out brilliantly. Unfortunately, the post-military phase is being executed with considerably less lustre. A recent editorial in The New York Times was titled "Free Fall in Iraq". The list of failings is as shocking and awesome as was the military campaign: the failure of the U.S. and Britain so far to re-establish basic security, to attend to basic health needs, to prevent looting of Iraq's cultural heritage, to repair the electricity grid, to restart the oil industry, and above all to move expeditiously to create an authoritative new government.

To the surprise and dismay of the administration's neo-conservatives, and their misguided Middle East "experts", Iraqis freed from the oppressive grip of the defunct Saddam Hussain regime are not behaving like Jeffersonian liberal democrats, ready to operate within the narrow margins of political correctness being laid out by Pentagon officials.

Iraqis indeed want to rule themselves and have not been bashful in asserting themselves. If the new Iraq begins to look like Khomeini's Iran or civil-war Lebanon or a reconstruction of Saddam's "mukhabarat" state only without Saddam, Americans may begin to wonder what the war was all about - especially since neither weapons of mass destruction nor significant terrorist links to Al Qaida have yet been discovered. The scorecard: after winning the military battle, a real danger of losing the political war.

Old Europe and UN

The fourth war, which was precipitated by the war on Iraq, is the battle against "old Europe" and the United Nations. With its new strategic doctrine of pre-emptive warfare, the Bush administration is shaking up the traditional structure of the international system and alienating long-time allies across the Atlantic. Having bulldozed the Security Council out of its way, the administration has dealt a severe, perhaps fatal, blow to the UN as an effective instrument for international order.

Stung by French, German and Russian refusal to endorse the American project in Iraq, the administration, whose leaders are known to bear grudges, is instead promoting "new Europe"- former Soviet satellites - and other members of the "coalition of the willing", some of whose members did not want to be publicly identified and others who were unaware that they were on the list.

The scorecard: decisive victory for Washington, but the losers will be invited to participate in the Iraqi new order by helping pay for reconstruction.

This leads us to Washington's most important war of all - indeed, we might call it the mother of all the other wars. It is the war within the Bush administration itself. It is a titanic struggle between the so-called "neo-conservatives" (who might better be labelled "radical hawks"), who insist that America should utilise its overwhelming military power unilaterally to deal preventively with the new threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and the old-line middle-road "moderates" who believe in multilateralism, co-operation, and diplomacy.

To oversimplify, it's Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence, vs. Colin Powell, Secretary of State, battling for the heart and mind of Bush. The scorecard: General Rumsfeld and the "neo-conservatives" are on the offensive, but General Powell and the "moderates" are far from being defeated. Indeed, the failings of the neo-conservative approach are becoming more evident with the ongoing post-war setbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the most important battlefield in Washington's internal war may be in Palestine and Israel. While the U.S. is not a direct combatant, its massive economic, military and diplomatic support for Israel clearly shows where its sympathies lie. Bush may have occasional misgivings about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's excessive use of force and economic pressure against the Palestinians, but he is far harsher in condemning Palestinian violence.

He seems to have been convinced by Sharon that Israel and America stand together as victims of terrorism, and that a strategy of pre-emptive military intervention, including occupation, is the way to deal with it. Interestingly however, Bush (belatedly, to be sure) has also come to believe that in this war at least there is a role for diplomacy. He calls it the roadmap.

Now we have the remarkable spectacle of Bush, Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice — followed at some considerable distance by the other members of the "Quartet" (the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations secretariat) — applying pressure to both sides to restart a peace process. If Powell and Rice can push the Sharon government and the reformed Palestinian Authority to follow the roadmap then perhaps the tide of battle will turn in favour of the American moderates, and the recent agreements are a hopeful sign; but if the hawks in America and Israel, and among the Palestinians, have their way, the roadmap will take a detour to nowhere, and Washington will find itself ever more drawn i